Membership Communication Tips to Help You Succeed

by Alice McLoughlin (She/Her)

member communications

Membership Communications Can Help Accomplish Your Goals!

In our post-COVID-19 pandemic world, having a thoughtful membership communications strategy is more important than ever. For labor unions and advocacy organizations, effectively engaging members across mediums can make a real difference in realizing organizational goals and visions. Motivating members to act, such as turning out in elections or putting pressure on lawmakers to pass legislation, is a core part of member communications.

Here are some of our tips for taking your membership communications programs to the next level:

Plan ahead for both short- and long-term programs. While you can’t predict every occasion around when and how you’ll need to engage your members each year, plan as much as possible for the events you can anticipate. Have a sense of your goal, budget, message, and target audience. Get feedback and buy-in from your organization’s leadership early. Having these plans in place can help prepare you to hit the ground running with communications rollouts when the time comes.

Think about your timing. Whether you’re planning for the years ahead or a quick-turn campaign happening that same month, it’s important to have a sense of the key dates you’ll want to communicate with your members around. Is there an upcoming special election where your members can make a difference by voting? Is there a public comment period for a proposed environmental regulation that ends next month? Work backward from key dates as much as you can. Build out a timeline to keep track of what’s coming down the pike and when you hope to have certain deliverables to help you achieve your larger goal.

Have a clear call to action. With all membership communications, you should have one specific call to action. Do you want your members to sign a petition? Call a legislator? Donate? Make it clear to your members what the goal of your outreach is, and always give people a way to learn more if they want to get further involved.
Be relevant. If you want your membership communications to resonate with readers, focus on the issues your members are likely to care about. Your organization can’t live in a vacuum—make sure you’re responding to the current climate to avoid coming off as tone-deaf. This might mean ditching your planned content for the week when important events unfold, like protests or international conflicts.

Survey your membership. You don’t have to play guessing games—ask your members what’s important to them. Keep your finger on the pulse of your organization to figure out the priorities of your membership. If you don’t have the budget to implement a robust member survey to glean data, don’t shy away from gathering anecdotal information through email, Survey Monkey polls, Facebook Live question-and-answer sessions, and beyond. Listen to what your members have to say. Use testimonials—personal stories are more compelling than a wall of numbers or statistics. Highlight these testimonials from your members as much as you can to make issues feel more tangible to your larger membership. If you’re using a testimonial for a direct mail piece, be sure to get high-resolution photos of the person you feature, along with written sign-off on any quotes you attribute to them.

Highlight the stakes. Don’t beat around the bush. Be crystal clear in your membership communications about the stakes around every election or legislative vote. Be direct with your members about the consequences of different outcomes so that folks are more likely to get involved and engage their personal networks.

Set clear, achievable goals. Keep in mind that you can’t tackle every single goal on your list with a single piece of your member communications. Be intentional when you set a goal for a piece of communication, and make sure the tactics you use to reach your members will help you achieve said goal. Don’t bite off more than you can chew and make sure you have reasonable, clear expectations.

Use the right tactics. Not every method of communication will work for every subset of your members or for every issue you want to communicate around. If you want to figure out how your members feel about an upcoming ballot measure, pin down the most efficient and effective ways to gather this information. If you have a small membership base, maybe this means sending personalized mail to folks on top of emails. If that base is larger, do you have the budget to do mail and digital ads in tandem to amplify your message? Can you afford to reach everyone, or do you need to focus on engaging a specific subset of your membership? Reevaluate your tactics often. 

Communicate regularly. Talk to your membership regularly—not just when you want something from them. Find the sweet spot, whether it’s communicating via email once a week, hosting a weekly Facebook Live, or doing phone or text outreach once a month. Remind your members that they’re part of something bigger than themselves. Just don’t reach out too much—your members probably won’t love hearing from you on a daily basis.

Know your audience. Cater your communications to the people you’re engaging. If you’re doing outreach to a subset of your membership, strike a tone and highlight issues that will resonate with these folks. If you’re sending a get-out-the-vote email to members who have never missed an election, thank them for being a super voter before reminding them to turn out again. If you’re reaching out to members who don’t vote regularly, think about including light social pressure messaging such as suggesting you’ll be reaching out after the election to see how the voting process went. If you’re talking to all of your members at once, keep things general and relatable.

Harness your personal networks. A message may be more compelling if it comes from someone you know, and you can use this tactic in your member communications. Think about ways you can activate one member around an issue and encourage them, in turn, to reach out to two more people in their personal network around the same issue. This method is called vote tripling, and it’s a highly effective strategy that can help your organization expand its reach without paying to talk to everyone.

Innovate and experiment. Don’t be afraid to shake things up. If your engagement rates are low, try something new. A lot of our clients have gotten on the user-generated content train, encouraging their members to submit short videos around an issue to be disseminated to the larger membership or general public.

Embrace paid and organic communications. Having a consistent organic social media presence on platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter won’t cost you any money, and this can be just as effective as communications that you have to pay for. If you’re interested in paid communications to get your message out, you don’t have to break the bank with this method either. There are lots of cost-effective ways to do paid membership communications on a limited budget. While Facebook used to be our top recommendation for an easy self-service platform to engage your membership, it’s become significantly harder to use this platform for political and social issue advertisements. It can still be an effective tool, just make sure you know your dos and don’ts. And don’t fret—there are plenty of other tactics you can turn to for list-matched communications, such as IP targeting.

Create resources. Having a backlog of relevant and useful resources surrounding the issues and goals you are communicating with your members about can be a very effective way to educate your members. Empowering your members with the tools and information they need makes it easier for them to take action and engage in advocacy efforts. For example, you can create a toolkit that lives on your website that you can link to in your communications or include as a QR code on your direct mail pieces. 

Maintain consistency across channels. Maintaining consistent branding and messaging across all communication channels, including social media, email, website, and offline materials, makes it easy for members and potential members to recognize your communications and can increase your reach. Consistency helps reinforce your organization's identity and ensures that members can easily recognize and engage with your content, regardless of where they encounter it.

Stay flexible. Know that you can’t plan for everything. Your goals can and will evolve, and you can learn every step along the way. 

Do you have more questions about building an effective membership communications program? Whether you’re a local union, a statewide advocacy group, or a national organization, we want to hear from you! Drop us a line.