Mark von Dadelszen, author of Law of Societies, 3rd Edition, 2013, and Member’s Meetings, 3rd Edition, 2012

Many community organisations reach a point where they ask (or should be asking) this question – does our organisation have a future? Before adopting a negative or defensive attitude to that question it is worth reflecting on some fundamentals:

  • What do we really know about:
    • Our potential and existing members?
    • What keeps existing members interested?
    • How to engage our members?
    • What might attract new members?
  • Would a name-change or a re-focussing of our activities attract new members?

The world has changed, and will continue to change

In reality, much has changed in the last century – for instance:

Early 20th century family:  Early 20th
Early 21st century family:  Early 21st



  • People will not necessarily give their time (or have time) for traditional voluntary activities, and
  • Those who have been leaders in community organisations (baby boomers) are retiring


Issues for community organisations to consider and:

  • Are new members joining – if not, why not?
  • Are new members leaving after a year or two – is so, why?
  • Are member resignations/deaths increasing – if so, why?
  • Are you struggling to get people to your activities and events – if so, why?
  • Are you battling to recruit quality volunteers – if so, why?
  • Are you having trouble gaining or retaining sponsor – if so, why?
  • Is the average age of your committee members greater than 50?
  • Are other organisations or activities competing for your potential and existing members’ engagement?

The self-fulfilling prophecy:

Your organisation will be doomed if you sound or act despondent:

  • We can’t get younger people to join (i.e. if you’re young, you’ll be surrounded by the elderly and defeated).
  • We can’t get people to join the committee (i.e. if you join there’ll be too few people to do all the work).
  • We can’t get a chairman/president (i.e. we’re leaderless).
  • We need to put up the subs to cover costs (i.e. it’s becoming more expensive to belong).
  • We may have to wind-up (i.e. it’s not if, but when).
 volunteers        grave stone

Common problems:

  • A lack of a positive vision,
  • Skilled staff and volunteer leader shortages, and
  • Many members resistant to making necessary changes

Understanding change

Referring to a “generation” used to be a helpful indicator of likely behaviour – but no longer:

  • 1926 – 1945       Silent Generation
  • 1946 – 1964       Baby Boomers
  • 1965 – 1980       Gen X
  • 1981 – 1994       Gen Y/ Millennials
  • 1995 – 2010       Gen Z
  • 2010 –                 Gen Alpha

Reference to a “generation” is now a less useful indicator of likely behaviour because:

  • Patterns of work have changed (working hours, use of technology, both partners working, people holding down more than one job, etc),
  •  Young families carrying more debt (student loans, housing etc),
  • Grandparents still working or are commonly busier with grandchildren, and
  • There is a broader range of leisure activities available, at home and away.

The generational, career and family lifecycles have also all changed:

Child                                      1 – 5 years

Primary student               5 – 12 years

Secondary student          13 – 18 years

Graduate                             18 – 21 years      Student loans

Career started                   18 – 25 years      Marrying, and student loans

Career builder                   25 – 40 years     Young children, and student loans

Consolidator                      45 – ~60 years   Children less dependent

Pre-retirement                 60 – ~65 years

Retired                                 ??? years              Grandparent duties


Do we need to change our thinking?


Membership is a choice, and then an investment, NOT a donation

Community organisations need to:

  • Arouse and maintain the interest of potential and existing members,
  • Market themselves – every member must be a marketer,
  • Deliver value by making a meaningful contribution to the lives of members,
  • Find out what keeps their members interested and involved, and
  • Then, satisfy those needs or desires.

Membership mantra:

  • An organisation that does not satisfy the needs or desires of its existing members does not deserve to exist, and
  • An organisation that does not satisfy the needs or desires of its potential and existing members will wither and die.

Efficient organisational processes maximise opportunities:


Membership recruitment is not why members belong to an organisation, BUT all members should “recruit” new members.  join now

Communicating with potential members

How you communicate with potential and existing members is as important as WHAT you communicate – do it incorrectly, and you will offend/alienate potential and existing members.  shoutingsocial media
Social media is too popular and powerful to be ignored, but it is just another tool:

  • Know what it is useful for, and how to use it successfully, and
  • Don’t ignore other communication tools.

Potential members and new members:

  • Often don’t know what your organisation does, and
  • Cannot be expected to know unless you tell them clearly

Perception is reality – What potential and new members perceive is very often different from reality.

A challenge – Can your organisation’s purposes be briefly and accurately stated (a brief “mission statement” for use in publicity and membership material).

Potential members and new members

You need to:

  • Excite them tick
  • Educate them tick
  • Engage them tick
  • Prove your value tick


To do this, you need to provide:

  • New member packs and “buddies”
  • Interesting and fulfilling activities
  • Regular newsletters
  • Value for members’ investment of time and money

Great Activities and Events are Essential


  • Review activity and event venues, formats, frequency, duration, and content,
  • Review engagement mechanisms for activities and events,
  • Check whether you are meeting the expectations of members with diverse cultural and ethnic experiences and expectations, and
  • Check whether activities and events are relevant and engaging for newer and younger members.

Imperative for success – creating a strong member community

  • Newer and younger members want to be a part of a dynamic, engaging and innovative organisation.
  • Ad hoc volunteering is a decisive transition between uninvolved and involved membership.

Community organisations need to:

  • Create an engaging, innovative and strong organisation/community – both online and offline,
  • Become facilitators and enablers of communities, and
  • Connect members in ways that will provide every member with meaningful, positive outcomes

Continuum of membership engagement



This is one of a series of articles on societies and charitable trusts. If any reader has examples of issues that have arisen or questions about societies or charitable trusts that might be a suitable subject for one of these articles please contact Mark at