You have probably associated with a group or a club before, either as a member or as a leader. In some of those groups, you have probably grappled with dwindling numbers or numbers that just won’t increase, despite tremendous efforts put into flyers, newspaper ads and several announcements. You have probably had situations where meetings are always of the same few committed familiar faces; where you wonder where people are and why majority don’t show up for meetings or activities. In this section we will take you through how to get alumni to join your Association and stay involved. We hope that you will be able to gain the following from this section:

  • Why you should always sign-up new members.
  • The benefits your association gains from recruiting.
  • What you gain personally from recruiting.
  • The importance of making clear what kind of association you are asking people to join before you start recruiting.
  • How to set clear, specific membership criteria to get the kind of members you really want and how to make these criteria work.
  • How to find people with the values, background and interests that are right for your association.
  • How to deal with money and dues.
  • The real reasons people join associations.
  • The most practical and effective method to recruit people.
  • How building relationships builds associations.
  • How to recruit volunteers for a specific task in your association–some practical guidelines.
  • How to think about media and mailing in recruiting.
  • When to go for “numbers” in recruiting
  • How to motivate and keep members and volunteers
  • How to build member “ownership” of your association

One sure way of killing your alumni association is not to sign up new alumni into the association. Some people think they already “have their members.” They think they don’t need any new members. They don’t go looking for them. These people create troubled associations. They may not look troubled right away. But associations that are not always bringing in new members lose strength. That’s something all alumni associations have in common.

In order to be effective in signing up new alumni, you need to start by asking yourself why you need to recruit. The answer may seem obvious. But don’t overlook it. Why are you asking people to join? Why do you need them? Take a few minutes. Be quiet. Then take some time to answer these questions. Why are you doing this recruiting? What does the association need? You may get other personal benefits from recruiting? What is in the recruiting for YOU? What do you get out of recruiting?

Here are some of the reasons often given for signing up new alumni to your association.

Association/ Public Oriented Reasons

Private/ Personal Reasons

We need to recruit more alumni because…

1)    There’s strength in numbers

2)    With more people we can get better ideas.

3)    We can have more skills.

4)    We need a “critical mass” to be effective.

5)    Those in authority won’t listen to only a few of us.

6)    It makes us more powerful.

7)    I can’t get what I need from the “system” by myself. I need the group.

8)    ……..


I know that I like to recruit because….

1)    I like to hear people’s stories.

2)    I enjoy with people.

3)    I generally get a new idea when I talk to someone else.

4)    I know other people think differently than I do and they will help me see things in ways I can’t.

5)    I like the sense of “community” that comes from the group. People know who I am and ask for me when I don’t show up.

6)    I can’t do it all myself. I need the association.



Take the time to reflect on your reasons and look over your answers to the questions asked. Make sure you have not left anything out. It will help you later when you hit the bricks. Remember them. Write them down so you can look them over some night when you are wondering why you are bothering to recruit. It will help you when people question why you’re spending so much time on recruiting. You will need to remember the association reasons, as well as your own personal reasons. There will be times when recruiting will seem hard. People will not return your calls. They won’t meet with you. The people you do meet will not do anything, or worse, will say they will and then not follow through.

Then, other times recruiting will make a lot of sense. One such time might be the election day in your association. If you are trying to “get out the vote” you know you have to contact by phone or in person 5,000 people the evening of election day. No matter how fast you dial you can’t do it by yourself. If you recruited people ahead of time, you have 100 people. Each person can call 50 voters election day. You reach your goal and win the election. if you did not recruit well, you have only 10 people. You can call only 500 or 1,000 voters. You will not reach the 5,000 people you need to win. You lose the election. In this case, the need to recruit and the capacity of one volunteer is clear. It is easy to see the need and benefit of recruiting.

Other times it may not seem so clear. You may not have an election coming up with a big and obvious need for volunteers. It may seem like you can take care of business better and more quickly if you do it yourself. But that does not build your association It does not build community. In the long run it does not build efficiency. You will burn out when the tasks pile up and there is no one around to help. In the short run, it may seem efficient to “do it yourself.” In the long run it is deadly to the association–and to yourself.

Associations need to always recruit to replace the members lost. Members die. They move away. They develop relationships that are more interesting than the association. (In fact, someone may have joined the group looking for a relationship.) People burn out. Almost all associations experience some regular fall off in membership. If you are not bringing in new people, your numbers decline.

The community changes too. New ideas will be needed to meet changing times. Associations that have only veteran members may not be interested in trying new technologies, methods, or strategies that may be needed to meet current challenges. Being able to recruit new members shows your association still means something to people today. Recruiting people is in a sense a test of your association’s worth and present importance.


“I didn’t sign up for this”– Ever encountered that phrase? It’s the phrase used by disgruntled, frustrated and disappointed members ready to quit the association because of unmet expectations. Too often, people start recruiting before they know exactly into what association they are bringing people.

Before you can effectively recruit people to join your association, you need to know WHAT THEY ARE JOINING! People want, need and deserve to know what they are getting themselves into. You need to know WHAT you are asking them to join. What kind of group is it? Who can be a member? Unless you are clear about this NOW, you will run into problems later.

Most associations start off informally. People get together for something. They often don’t think about who is a member, who is in and who is out. It may seem unnecessary or obvious. (‘The members are us.”) But when you start to get more people, you need to think: What does it mean to be a member of this group? What does a member need to do? What does a member have to believe in? What kind of person do we want? Do we take just anyone who walks in the door? If we do, what might that mean in the future for our association?

If you are going to be successful in recruiting people, you need to know what constitutes membership. You may define a member any way you want. But at some point, your association will need to set some “boundaries.” You need some way to distinguish a member from just anybody who walks in the room during your meeting. Membership might have its privileges. It should also have its responsibilities and criteria. The membership criteria you’ll want to set up will depend on your group. If you are trying to build a democratic association, some common criteria for membership might include:


Generally, a member is someone who pays dues or makes some financial contribution–even if very small–to the group. All associations, except the most Informal, at some point in their life, will need some money to keep going. It may not be much, but if you ever want to get things done, you are likely to need some money. It helps to talk about money at the start. If you intend to try to ask for money, it is harder to bring It up later. Even if it is only a shilling for biscuits or copies of the minutes for the next meeting, ask the group to pay for It. Pass the hat. People who start associations are often reluctant to do this. But if you pay for it, it becomes “your” association. If the members pay for the group, it becomes their group. People will value what they pay for. If they pay for it, they will own it. They will expect something from the group. If your members pay for the association, they run it. If someone else pays for it, they are likely to have a big say in what issues it focuses on and how it is run.


If you want to learn how to get people to join and get involved in your group, you need to understand why someone would join. The first thing to recognize is that most people you want to recruit are like you in their willingness to join and get involved in an association. So, think. How did you get involved in the group? Think of some time, any time in your life (it could be far back in your childhood or last week).

  • What group or groups did you join?
  • What led you to join?
  • What was the immediately preceding event?
  • Think of how you heard about it, from whom or in what way.
  • If a person asked you to join, how did they ask you? Was It in person? Over the phone? By letter? What did they actually say?
  • What else do you remember about what happened just before you joined?

If you are like most people, you joined a group because someone asked you to. And not only someone, but someone you knew and trusted and s/he asked you in person. It means that if you want people to join your group you have to ask them in person. This is what works. Person to person. One on one.

You can try other things. Letters, flyers, newspaper ads, sky writing, computer generated direct mall, public service announcement’ on T.V. or radio, and other “media” extravaganzas but what works, over and over again, is one person asking another person. Your group will likely be no different.

Again, think back to your own experience. Why did you loin that group? What happened Just before you joined it? Who was it that asked you? You will likely remember his/her name, even if it was a long time ago.

You may wonder. Isn’t this very slow? It may seem slow, but it gets you members –faster than anything else. It is what works. We may be so bombarded by T.V., billboards. magazines and newspapers that we think that personal contact is not effective, that we need more “modern methods.” But ask yourself, how do you feel when someone you know asks you to do something? As opposed to how you feel when you see an ad on the T.V.? Which group will you stick with? You are not selling toothpaste. You are asking people to make a meaningful commitment.

Another point about asking people is that you have to go to them. You can call a meeting, send out a flyer, but you will wait a long time for people to come. You have to go to people to get them involved. You have to show up in person, face to face, look them in the eye and ask them to help, to come to your meeting or join your association.

Although it is generally necessary to ask someone to join, asking is not enough. And, although simply asking may get someone to join, this is not likely enough to keep them motivated and involved for very long. If they know and like you well enough, they may join as a favor to you. But it won’t keep them involved for very long. They need to join for their own reasons and needs.

Again, think back to why YOU joined some group. The deeper reasons you joined are likely to be the same reasons others will stay involved. So, think. What was and is in it for you? Remember, most people you are trying to recruit will be like you. They will want and need to get something out of being part of the group. But what is that? You need to learn what is in it for them. This is complex. People join for many different reasons. Think back to all the things you may have gotten from a group you joined. Some may be quite personal while others may be more related to conditions where you live or work:

Sample Personal Reasons


1)    A chance to enjoy the company of others.

2)    The feeling that people appreciate your ideas.

3)    A chance to express your ideas.

4)    A chance to use your skills and abilities.

5)    An opportunity to grow intellectually or spiritually.

6)    A chance to sing in a chorus.

7)    A place to meet a mate or a new friend.

8)    A chance to be with someone you really like.

9)    A chance to feel some sense of power in your life.


1)    A chance to make a difference in the problem of poverty, drugs, AIDS, crime, etc. something that really bothers you.

2)    A chance to network and get to know people you don’t really know. You just want to belong to the association…

3)    A chance to participate in the cause of the Association e.g. better working conditions for teachers, better schools, etc.

4)    A chance to protect the environment e.g. clean up a park, or cut down the noise in the neighborhood.

5)    A chance to do something about things you are angry about e.g. bullying in schools, strikes by students…


Do any of these reasons sound like yours? Do you have other reasons? Are there other reasons you joined and stayed?

Many of us have limited knowledge of why other people will join a group. It is easier to understand your own reasons. We may think that others are only interested in the “issue” the group is pursuing. The immediate issue may be something like better schools, cleaning up a stream, getting rid of a drug problem, restoring reputation of the alma mater, etc. But you will miss much if you treat people as interested only in “the immediate issue.” In fact, if that is all they are interested in they are not likely to last long in your association. If you don’t look beyond the immediate issue as a reason people want to join, you may not be able to keep them in your group. You need to be able to get under their skin: to know what makes them tick. Aside from asking them in person to join or help out with the association, you need to learn what makes them tick. You need to learn what there may be in it for them.

Remember, you are building a relationship–not a following. You are looking for leaders, people who will take responsibility, people who will, eventually, take on work on their own initiative. Not everyone will do this. Many people will not take initiative without encouragement. Many people have had their initiative and natural intelligence beaten down or humiliated out of them by the time they are still very young. But you are looking for openings. You are not looking for full blown leaders who are eager to take responsibility. You are not likely to find them. And if you do, such leaders are more likely to be out looking to recruit you–or someone else. You are looking for people who have some good values, who want to do something, who probably have some time in their busy lives, and who will do something that advances their own personal interests. But you need to develop a beginning relationship. You need to find out in what they are interested and get a sense of who they are.


You are building relationships for many reasons. Strong relationships build effective associations. Associations will withstand stress if the personal relationships among its members are strong. The tasks the association undertake will also be done more efficiently and effectively when relationships are strong. When morale and communication is strong, tasks are completed more productively. Strong relationships are the foundation of team-work. It is not enough to have a common goal for an association to be productive. It takes coordination and communication. Good relationships are the foundation of these. Strong relationships are also a reward in themselves. Look at the reasons you joined a group in the first place. Look at what has kept you in that group. For many it is the quality of the relationships they find in the group that keep them involved.


How do you do recruit? You listen. Asking people to join or come to your meeting is only a start. This might get them to come one time, if they like you well enough. But then they will be doing it for you. You will be developing a follower. If you are trying to build a long-lasting association where people Invest their time, energy and ideas (and those are the associations that will be effective and last), then you need to build an association of many leaders. You need people who will participate voluntarily at many levels of responsibility. You need people who will work without your nagging them constantly. You need people who will work for themselves, not only because you asked them.

You find out who they are and what might be a real, long lasting reason for them to join and stay in the association by listening to them. By listening you can discover what the association might mean for them. You can discover how they can best participate in the group, what role or task they can best manage. So, how do you listen? That depends on how much time you have, where you are, and how much time you want to spend right now with each person. There are a great many situations where you will be recruiting. I will cover two basic situations. Your own situation will likely be a little different or perhaps a mix of these two. This is meant as a general guide. Feel free to do it your way as long as you follow the general outline: 1. Listen, 2. don’t sell.

One of the best ways to recruit people is to recruit people to an activity. Many people want to DO something useful, not just go to another boring meeting.

When you have people, who are already interested members of your group, you want to get them more involved and motivated. You want them to take responsibility. You want it to not be “always the same few of us doing everything around here.” There is likely too much work for those doing it. You need the help! But there might not seem to be something for them to do. Or you don’t think they could do what YOU can do. Your job is to find something for them to do. “Idle hands are the devil’s playground.” In this case, the “devil” might be some other group that will find out what they like to do and allow them to be useful. Since you’re working with volunteers, you can’t tell them to do it “or else.” You have no formal “authority” over them. You are not their “boss”–as in a paid work setting. They are not working for money. They are working for meaning. You need to find out what has meaning for them. How do you find this out? How do you recruit people to a task? These are guidelines I have found helpful.

  • Ask them to help. The first and most important guideline. Just as in getting someone to join, you need to ask someone to help. People are unlikely to help without being asked. If you don’t ask, they are not likely to know you need help.
  • Ask them what they like to do. It doesn’t help to ask someone who hates to make phone calls to make phone calls. Maybe they will hold a house party, or hand out flyers, or bake cookies. Find out what they like to do.
  • Come with a “menu” of things they can do. This menu should be in your head. Don’t refer to a paper when you are recruiting people. You want them to look at you and see you looking at them. If you give them a piece of paper, they are more likely to look at the paper than at you. You recruit people with people, not paper. When you ask them what they like to do, you should be ready with a list of needed projects. For instance, “We need someone to weed the hedges around the building, bake lasagna for the supper, sell tickets, collect tickets, sign in guests at the dinner, put up signs on the telephone poles along the road to direct people to the dinner, make phone calls, etc.” Tell them when they ask what they can do: “It depends on what you like to do. You can choose.” (This is probably an opportunity they won’t have in a paying job!)
  • Know your overall project. Know its parts. Divide the whole into as many parts as is reasonable–things people can do without bumping into one another. Make many small tasks rather than a few big tasks. You need as many people as possible in your association, and each of them needs to feel needed. And they are needed! Before you start recruiting for tasks, take some time to divide up the jobs.
  • There is something for everyone to do. Participation breeds involvement. Let everyone help as much as they wish, even if it is only a very small lob. If they don’t want to bring cookies to the meeting, ask them to come early to set up the chairs. Try to find something for everyone. If they don’t want to do something on their own, it is often easy to ask them to help someone else with a task.
  • One person is in charge (For now, it’s You). The buck stops with you. You need to know all the pieces and how they fit together.
  • Don’t guess or think you already know what people like to do. Even if you think you know, ask. People like to be asked to get their first choice.
  • Provide a context for their job. Explain the importance and how their job fits in the overall campaign or project. People want to know how important their job is, and where it fits with the whole. Every link of the chain is necessary.
  • When someone has taken on a task, see how they are doing. Don’t assume everything is going fine. Often people won’t ask if they don’t know how to do something. Check in. You want to let them know you care (“How is it going? Do you need any help?”) But allow volunteers their “space” too. You don’t want to be a pest or seem like you don’t trust them to do their job. When in doubt about the right distance to keep, you can ask them: “Is it O.K. if I check in on how it’s going every week? Is that too often?”
  • Appreciate people for the work they do. Thank them. If they are doing a good job, let them know you know. This takes very little time, costs little, but is worth a lot. Written thanks lasts.
  • If someone is doing a good job, think how they might take more responsibility. Ask them if they want to take on more responsibility. Encourage them to do this. Think about what might be a good “next step” for them–something that is right for them and helpful to the group.
  • Hand off as much responsibility as possible as quickly as possible into responsible hands. You want to build the leadership of many people. Leadership means taking responsibility. The group will function better when more people take responsibility.
  • Be friendly but direct. Ask specifically for what you want. (DO NOT ASK: “Can you help us out tonight at the club?” DO ASK: “Can you help us tonight with the club membership by calling 25 people tonight between 7 and 8 PM?”)
  • Be clear about what you are asking someone to do. Especially about time limits. If you say work will be completed by 9, stop by 9, not 9:05 or 9:10 or 9:15 or later. You want your volunteer to return.
  • Avoid doing it all yourself. You are terribly competent. You know the Job will be get done if you do it–even if it takes you until 4 a.m. This is often the path of “least resistance” for many hard workers, but also the path to other things: like burn-out, no family life, no association, and no members.
  • Ask for a specific number. If you are asking someone to make phone calls or recruit new members, be specific. If you ask for too many, you can generally go lower. NOT “Can you make SOME phone calls?” SAY: “Can you make 20 phone calls? – Or 10 phone calls, if 20 is too many. Or 5 phone calls, if 10 is too many.
  • Get a clear commitment about what they say they will do. Write it down If necessary so YOU remember what they said.
  • Be truthful about the limits you set. If you say you are only going to ask them to do so much and no more, stick with it. Remember you are building a relationship (and an association based on relationships), not just getting a job done. Completing the task is not the goal. Building the association is the goal.
  • Emphasize the need for help. This is real. ‘We can’t do it without you” is a positive and true statement.
  • Rule number one again. Don’t forget to ask for help.

When you are asking them to do something, remember: It is an opportunity for them, not a favor to you or the association. You and the association are not only out for yourselves. Certainly, there are tasks the group has to accomplish. You also want to provide an opportunity for them to do something that will be a benefit to them. It is a balancing act.


Many associations successfully use the media and the mail to recruit members. Some associations, particularly when an issue is “hot,” can effectively use the media to recruit large number of members. Many successfully use mail to solicit members but I am focusing on face relationships because evidence is that strong lasting associations are more likely to be built by person to person rather than through the media or direct mail recruiting. Flyers, announcements and mailing can often help to remind people of an upcoming event. But generally, from one thousand flyers, you will get one person to a meeting. Remember that flyers and media won’t bring people. People bring people.


Most of this toolkit describes how to get people actively involved in an association. But many associations need people who will join, pay their dues, but not do much else. That is O.K. The strength of an association can be measured not only by its active members, but by the number of its members. If people are willing to pay for membership it indicates they value the association and what it stands for.

Depending on your association, you may want to put some emphasis on getting large numbers of people to join. Sometimes someone who joins, but who does not intend to get actively involved, can be a good prospect for active involvement later. People in associations come and go. They move away, change their life situation. their needs, etc. At one time, someone may be happy just to support the association with their cheque. Later they may be willing to do a little more.

If your association is trying to show the support it enjoys in the community, one of the best ways is to show how many dues-paying members you have. So, although the emphasis here is on methods of gaining active involvement, don’t forget the need to have people who join and show their support by their dues alone. There may be times in your association’s life that you are looking for more members–not necessarily more active members. That’s O.K. As long as you know what you want and why you want them. For this kind of recruitment, you will use more of the shorter visits (“door-knocking”), or media or direct mail. You can make it clear that you are looking for financial and moral support, not necessarily active involvement.


Successful associations recognize and reward people. One winning political campaign took instant photos of all the volunteers and plastered the walls of the campaign office with the photos. People liked seeing their faces on the wall. They felt important, recognized, and appreciated. It helped people know each other’s names. If they saw someone they wanted to get to know, they could easily find their name on the wall.

People like to be appreciated. Verbal thank you’ s are always welcome. Gifts and other tangible also motivate people. Awards, even the simplest paper certificates, build associations and keep volunteers. Notice how a meeting sparks up when someone is given an award. It not only helps the individual getting the award, but it builds the morale of everyone else. Since people like to be appreciated, when they see someone receiving an award, they might think of doing the association’s work themselves–so next time they might be up at the front receiving the award and applause of the group.

Effective Associations celebrate. They know that people join for more than the issues. They join to develop community, a sense of belonging. Recognize that associations working for people’s interests are made up of people- -with all their complex wishes, hopes and dreams. Effective associations recognize that putting people first taking time out to resolve conflicts, to say thank you, to celebrate, to listen to “personal” problems–is not a “frill”- -but an essential part of building an effective association for the long haul. Celebrations parties, music, dancing, and food –are part of any recruiting effort.


Here are some ideas and events you can use to recruit alumni, even when they are still in school. You may add to the list…

  1. End-year Party and alumni Induction Day for final year students
  2. Bring guests to meetings
  3. Advertise in social media and mainstream media
  4. Put together guest information packages