Recruit or Attract: Which Membership Approach Is More Effective?

Jim HenryBy Rtn. Jim Henry

Editor’s note: This article was posted at the Zone 33-34 blog “Retention Central” on March 16, 2014. It is re-posted with permission.

Rotary International (R.I.) and The Rotary Foundation (TRF) continue to be seduced by the enchanting rhythm of the “Recruiting” death dance.  Both continue to encourage clubs to do whatever they can to recruit members and donors.  And, for both, recruiting is simply the wrong attitude, which fuels ineffective approaches.

Recruiting is a common practice and an industry accepted standard when organizations want to fill positions with qualified people.  Most organizations continually recruit employees; colleges continually recruit athletes and students, etc.  Those being recruited usually have a specific value the organization is seeking.  The recruiting approach centers on what the organization needs and/or wants.

Successful businesses and charitable organizations continually search for new customers, donors, or volunteers.  Those that achieve the most long term success do so by striving to attract them because the attract approach centers on the needs and/or wants of those they wish to attract.

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The difference between recruit and attract is subtle, real, and extremely important because it resides in the thought processes of the decision makers – those seeking to exchange resources for needs and/or wants.  Recruiting organizations seek value and make decisions on the resources they are willing to exchange for desired values.  Attracting organizations understand that those they target will make the decision on how many personal resources they are willing to exchange for the value they expect an organization to deliver, whether it is a product, service, or opportunity to contribute to society.

Perhaps the most important result of this subtlety is the influence each approach has on personnel attitudes throughout the organization, which affects everything the organization does.  The recruit attitude centers on the organization’s wants and needs, i.e.”The organization wants what you have to offer.”  The attract attitude centers on the customers, members, and/or donors needs and wants, i.e. “The organization has something to offer you.”

The recruiting attitude and approach is arguably the major reason R.I.’s retention rates are declining.  Recruiting generates interest, but interest is easily diverted if much of a commitment is expected or required, or when a new interest comes along.  The attract approach generates interest and, once the attracted target commits, they expect to have the reasons they committed to be met with an equivalent or greater value proposition.

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As a final argument, examine historical membership data.  Over the last twenty years, the recruiting attitude and approach has neither halted North America’s membership decline nor jogged loose worldwide membership.  It is sheer stupidity to expect different results without changing attitudes and approaches.

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