Develop Connections With Nonmembers At Your Annual Meeting

An annual meeting is a prime opportunity to engage with nonmembers—whether you want to gain a better understanding of their needs, start building connections, or showcase what your association has to offer.

Though most annual meetings are filled with members looking to learn and network with peers, there are usually some nonmembers in attendance as well. While they haven’t joined the association, they are clearly interested in what your meeting offers.

That’s why the annual conference can be a great opportunity to talk to these nonmembers and better understand how they perceive your current offerings. Doing so can ultimately help your association improve member benefits and other products and services—and perhaps convince some nonmember conference attendees to join your ranks. Here are some ideas on how to create a strategy around engaging and collecting feedback from nonmembers onsite.

Connect Peer to Peer

If your association has a method of identifying nonmember attendees, such as a label on their name badges, it’s a good idea to take time to chat with them. Alexandra Bradley, director of marketing and communications at the American Board of Foot and Ankle Surgery, recommends introducing nonmember attendees to an available board or committee member. If you have a membership booth or other area at the meeting, ask board or committee members to sign up for 15-minute increments to talk to prospective members who stop by.

“You may not want staff approaching nonmember attendees because they may feel like you’re trying to sell them membership,” she said. “However, talking with a board member feels more personal and valuable, because it’s a conversation with one of their peers. You want these attendees to feel connected to the organization and its brand.”

Bradley also suggests asking these volunteers to reach out to nonmember attendees after the conference wraps up. Authentic follow-up messages from members can help build on the positive memories that nonmembers have of the meeting and the organization.

Learn the Why

In addition to creating connections with nonmember attendees, you want to take time to pinpoint their barriers to membership. Asking them to complete a quick survey at the meeting can be a great tool to do that. Bradley recommends getting member volunteers to ask nonmembers the survey questions.

“Make the survey quantitative,” Bradley said. “You don’t want open-ended responses. Some good questions to include are ‘If the membership were $XX, how likely would you be to join?’ or ‘Would you like someone to reach out to you on becoming a member?’”

If your association has the budget and support, Bradley also suggests inviting nonmember attendees to participate in an onsite focus group to share their thoughts and provide feedback.

“I recommend getting a nonmember to facilitate the discussion, so your data is clean,” Bradley said. “If the facilitator is someone from your organization, you may not get honest feedback.”

Thank Them

No matter how you choose to engage with nonmembers at your meeting, make sure to reward and thank them for their time. Ideally you want to find something that’s of equal value to the effort and time they gave.

If they helped you with a small ask, consider giving them a small gift card or an association-branded giveaway. If the ask was more time-consuming, such as participating in a focus group, you could provide breakfast or a gift card with a larger monetary value.

“Even if not all of these attendees become your members, taking the time to engage with them at your conference and thanking them for doing so will encourage them to keep coming back to your association because of the positive feeling they get,” Bradley said.


Hannah Carvalho

By Hannah Carvalho

Hannah Carvalho is Senior Editor at Associations Now. MORE

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