Toastmasters International, a nonprofit devoted to communication and leadership skills development, has seen 23 years of consecutive membership growth. What’s the secret? An aggressive acquisition strategy.
Today, we’re raising a glass and toasting to Toastmasters International. With more than 352,000 members worldwide in 141 countries, it’s one of the largest and fastest-growing organizations dedicated to helping individuals become better communicators and business leaders.
If you’re a membership pro, there’s no doubt that you’re probably paying attention to Toastmasters, simply because its membership acquisition is astounding—2017 marks its 23rd consecutive year of membership growth.
Toastmasters has been around for more than 93 years, and Daniel Rex, CEO, says the organization’s membership growth goes hand-in-hand with a retention strategy that aims to keep members well beyond their first year.
“There are a couple of reasons why we continue to grow. One is that our product actually works,” Rex says. “It enables men and women to become better communicators, but the reason people stay is that of a sense of community.”
To paint a picture for how the Toastmasters community has grown within the last year, here are a few stats:
- 2.1 percent increase in membership
- 1,539 new clubs formed, a 4.8 percent increase
- Approximately 700 new Toastmasters clubs chartered
- 74,000 education achievement awards earned by members, a 3.7 percent increase
Rex feels confident about the future of Toastmasters, and he has good reason—about 35 percent of its membership growth came within the last 10 years.
“Our growth strategy has primarily been member-to-member,” Rex says. “Our members ask people to come and experience a meeting, and they go often thinking that it’s going to be people practicing speeches, but what they realize that there’s much more.”
Recognizing Opportunity Moments
While word-of-mouth can get you in the door and involved within the Toastmasters community, getting a member to return is always a much bigger challenge, Rex says.
One of its latest initiatives has been coordinated branding and marketing efforts. Like some associations, Toastmasters takes a unified approach to communicating and reaching its members, many of which are smaller, independent clubs spread around the world.
These clubs use a centralized resource page where text, photos, and marketing materials can be freely shared. And many of the marketing materials are specific to what Rex calls “opportunity moments”—when a prospective member engages with Toastmasters and decides whether or not to join.
“We don’t ask our clubs to stand alone because that can result in inconsistent marketing and communication,” Rex says. “Instead, we find a series of ways to reach people, whether that’s an invite that embeds into a corporate newsletter or a broadcast email supported by the CEO.”
A focus on brand alignment has been a real priority for Toastmasters, especially as it grows outside of its traditional base of operations.
While the United States and Canada (two of Toastmasters most-established markets) continue to see membership growth ranging from 2 to 5 percent, most of its latest membership success has been in new and emerging markets.
“Countries like India and China are in a 15 to 25 percent growth phase,” Rex says. “There’s definitely a new opportunity for us, where we now have 350 million English speakers in India and China. That’s roughly the size of the market in the U.S.”
“It’s a strengthening and awareness of who we are around the globe,” Rex says. “And everything matters when it comes to visual continuity—from the ad inviting a new member to the meeting agenda or website.”
Engaging Member to Member
Pretty much from the earliest days of our civilization, humans have gathered around open flames to talk and share stories. That’s something that’s not lost on Rex, who says a big part of Toastmasters inherent value as an organization is its ability to build community and share stories.
“Communication and leadership skills can be found in plenty of self-help books, but the community, in which the learning and camaraderie happens, is our true differentiator,” he says.
And it’s a well-rounded value that thrives on direct member-to-member engagement. Toastmasters recently conducted research and found that member mentoring was a critical factor for new members staying beyond a year. The organization uses a self-evaluation survey to match a new member with an existing like-minded member.
“What the mentor does is have a deep discussion about the individual’s expectations,” Rex says. “Asking, why did you come here? What do you want to get out of this? And realizing that not everybody wants to take the same journey through an organization or association. We’ve had to modify our approach to customize and meet that experience.”
And of course, Toastmasters specialize in the art of a thoughtful and surprise toast.
At any point in the new member experience, a mentor will stand up and deliver what’s known as a spotlight speech, recognizing the new member’s talents and ambitions. It’s one of the many surprise and delight tactics, Rex says, that makes members feel welcome and a part of a community still growing strong.