A Nonprofit’s Base Increases their Effectiveness

By Cynthia Segura —

In order for a nonprofit to succeed, there needs to be the cooperation of its members. Members even may be viewed as a resource needed in order to help a nonprofit fulfill its mission. However, finding methods to recruit new members can be a costly process.

There are many components to developing a recruitment strategy. Each will be different depending on the size, location, goal and type of nonprofit. According to info.cq analyzing new member retention, the first step of this process is researching the reasons for low membership and developing a target audience to recruit. After determining an audience, it is important to reach out to these potential members and survey the existing members.

In spring 2016, Students Consulting for Nonprofit Organizations (SCNO) worked with Youth Music Illinois, formerly known as Central Illinois Youth Symphony, to research reasons for low member numbers and implement a new recruiting strategy.

Youth Music Illinois is an organization located in Peoria that mentors students in elementary through high school to develop music and life skills through performing. According to the Youth Music Illinois website, the organization has been running for over 50 years and has influencedthe lives of 2,500 student musicians.

“As a student musician, we require our students to participate in their school’s music programs,” said Jeffrey McSweeney, Youth Music Illinois’ Executive Director. “So they take what they learn from us and go back to their schools and improve their music programs as well.”

In order for Youth Music Illinois to succeed, there need to be young students who are passionate about developing their musical skills. When researching reasons for low member numbers, SCNO consultants looked at location, entering and exit surveys and the competition to other symphony organizations.

Entering and exiting surveys were methods used to analyze the reasons for low member numbers. The entering survey would consist of questions for the parents to gauge the logistics of attending. The survey would also question students to assess where they are at their musical education when they first joined, and to find the best rehearsal times. The exiting surveys would also consist of questions for the parents and students. However, the exiting surveys were used to see if parents viewed the program as worthwhile and how students think they improved and if they enjoyed their experience.

To analyze where exactly kids were coming from, the consultants created a “heat map” by compiling a list of members and the respected cities that they resided in. This heat map was created using the “heat mapping” feature in Excel. The map organizes the cities where most kids are coming from as first, to the cities where the least amount of kids are coming from. Similar heat maps were created for competing youth symphonies. The consultants also used an application known as “Mapline” to show where they are experiencing the most and least amount of sales.

From this heat map, it was discovered that 17 of the varying cities represented in Youth Music Illinois come from a 40-mile radius around Peoria, IL. The consultants then recommended that Youth Music Illinois should focus recruitment on the 40-mile radius and try to increase students strictly around Peoria, IL.

Another method used to research reasons for low member numbers was competition analysis. The analysis was done by comparing differences in offered programs, cost, recruitment range and scholarships. By comparing these qualities between Youth Music Illinois and other youth symphonies, SCNO was able to note the differences and possible reasons for member retention.

Another form of competition Youth Music Illinois faces is the competition between students’ extracurricular activities. One goal to combat this struggle is to recruit students at a young age.

“If you’re involved with soccer and you start in the fifth grade, you are used to soccer being a part of your life. You grow up into that and you will just continue to play soccer,” said McSweeney. “We have to do better at placing ourselves earlier in the kid’s life and their pattern of extracurriculars.”

According to Katie Kissel, a consultant on the project, it was determined that root causes for low member numbers were from a lack of availability in terms of rehearsal times, space scheduling, student’s availability due to other extracurriculars, and the other top competitors in the industry.

“We need to spread the word to surrounding schools and we need to make the Youth Music Illinois rehearsal times the best they can be for the schools we are targeting,” Kissel said. “We made our strategy through research and understanding who our target market is.”

In order to combat reasons for low member numbers, SCNO developed recommendations for recruiting new members.

One method SCNO recommended was the use of flyers. The consultants created a flyer that Youth Music Illinois can use as a marketing tool, especially for upcoming audition seasons.

Their recommendation entailed posting flyers and sending out entering surveys to new students via Google Docs and then analyzing these surveys. The flyers had information such as a description of the organization and contact information.

Another recommendation was made by looking at the cost and scholarship differences between Youth Music Illinois and other competing youth symphonies. This recommendation entailed decreasing costs of programs through instrument acquisition.

SCNO researched organizations that would possibly be open to donating or repairing a collection of instruments. SCNO then created an email template to send out to these potential donors. The email template included information such as a description of Youth Music Illinois, an explanation of the declining enrollment and reasons Youth Music Illinois would benefit from their organization.

Analyzing reasons for declining enrollment is needed in order to formulate a recruitment strategy. Members can be seen as an asset and are vital components to an established and successful nonprofit organization. Analyzing low membership can be done by looking at factors such as cost, location, time, convenience and comparing other top competitors. From these results, it will be possible to formulate a recruitment strategy tailored to the specific organization and its mission.

It is important to strategize and recruit a variety of students for Youth Music Illinois so they may experience diversity, learn about each other and learn the strengths and weaknesses of each other’s development McSweeney said.


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