Firstly, I must say that I don't have a magic wand. When things are going badly, and our members are outraged or disenchanted, there is little any of us can do as individuals to calm things down. But what we can do is to develop an environment where the member feels valued and is thus less likely to walk away when times are difficult.
What must be remembered is developing our membership base requires two different but equally important strategies:
- Adding value to our existing membership offer to encourage renewals and minimise resignations, and
- Pro-actively seeking new and innovative ways to attract new recruits.
Firstly, I would like you to ask yourselves why anyone should join, then retain their membership of, the Conservative Party? Even if the member adores David Cameron, is enthusiastic about the coalition and is dedicated to helping achieve more of the same, it takes a certain degree of sado-masochistic self flagellation to be a member. They pay an annual subscription of at least £25.00 for which they receive a plastic membership card and the opportunity to purchase summer and Christmas draw tickets, contribute to the election campaign appeal and give up their day off to walk the streets delivering leaflets and being abused by strangers. Then, of course, there is the branch social event where their wallet will be emptied of even more hard earned money for which they will receive a plate full of food they wouldn't feed to their dog and get cornered by the type of man who wears a suit on a Saturday and is desperate to share his views on why we shouldn't be sending aid to countries which can afford their own space programme.
And what about all those innocent people who join us thinking they might actually be able to discuss policy? Poor misguided fools. The lucky ones will have joined an Association where intellectual discussion if frowed upon, and they can simply drift away disappointed after the first year. The unlucky ones will find themselves at the local Policy Discussion Forum, which are invariably run by a retired disciplinarian school teacher or a parliamentary hopeful who thinks such altruistic work will enhance his or her chances of being selected. Personally, I would rename these groups "Ranting Forums" or in many cases "Barking At The Moon Forums" where every discussion ends up blaming Europe for all of society's ills.
In Tonbridge & Malling we do try to do things differently, and the onus is on putting a small percentage of our income back into adding value to our membership offer and ensuring our members are thanked and valued.
Every other year the Management Committee host a Members' and Donors' Thank You Party. Two years this was held at Hadlow Manor Hotel, which provided wine and canapes for £8 pp. We asked local hand bell ringers to come along and play for £100 donation to their funds. Invitations were sent to all members and donors with the Christmas Draw tickets. Although there was no charge to attend, it did improve the raffle response as very few people returned the acceptance without enclosing at least one book of tickets! Around 140 members attended, resulting in a cost of £1300, of which £700 was offset by a raffle on the night. I calculate another £300 was raised via increased sales of Christmas Draw tickets. In the end, we were able to provide a complimentary thank you event for 140 of our most generous donors for about £500. A small price to pay for the goodwill it generated.
Thank you letters; we are fortunate to have a reasonably large and generous membership who usually purchase about £3500 worth of raffle tickets twice a year. Approximately 200 members or donors respond to our draw appeal. Following each draw, we always write to ticket buyers and thank them for their support and send a winner's list. The postage cost is about £65.00, again, a small price to pay for their support.
Association Calenders; Last year I ran a competition and invited members to submit photographs taken in their own ward or village area. About 40 photographs were submitted with the best 12 photographs being selected for a desk calender. I persuaded our printer, who does very well from our election contract, to print the calenders at cost price in exchange for an advert of the back cover. Through this deal I was able to produce 1000 colour desk calenders for £250. Each member received one as a thank you gift, with the opportunity to purchase more for stocking fillers. In the end, we sold 300 calenders, raising sufficient money to pay for the printing costs. This exercise alone (i) provided members with a platform to show off their photography skills, (ii) enabled me to send each member a Christmas gift of a smart desk calendar containing very nice photographs from around the constituency, and (iii) raised sufficient additional funds to cover the cost. An all-round win!
These are just some of the ways we try to thank our members for their support and, at the same time, add value to their membership.
Tomorrow, I will post some of the innovative ways we have sought to recruit and retain new members.