Member recruitment

This section looks at a number of aspects of member recruitment, including:

  • Who you should recruit as members
  • Creating a valuable membership proposition
  • Developing a recruitment strategy
  • After recruitment

Who should you recruit as members?

Think carefully about the members you want to recruit. Look at the purpose and strategy of your co-operative and the kind of people you need. Target those who:

  • Form part of the constituency you want to represent or work with.
  • Identify with the aims and objectives of your organisation.
  • Support and want to work for your cause.
  • Have skills and experience that will help your work.
  • Can influence other people and get them to also join the organisation.

Creating a valuable membership proposition

When looking at the value of membership, it is important to recognise that the prospective member is not making a donation to the organisation; they are making an investment (financial, time, opportunity cost), and expect to see something in return.

Some key reasons for becoming a member might include:

Reasons for individuals to be members

  • Support for the business’ mission (and wanting to contribute to its success)
  • Benefit from access to products, services or employment

Reasons for Businesses to be members

  • Generate new business  or benefit from shared marketing.
  • Benefit from economies of scale or reducing expenses.
  • Raising their profile.
  • The missions of both businesses align.

You need to be able to articulate that return – and it should be more inspiring than ‘you’ll get a monthly newsletter’!

  • Articulating value is a matter of explaining how the member will realise a successful return on their investment.
  • You need to be able to state the outcome the member is expecting to realise and how you can help them achieve it. As different people desire different outcomes, it is important to understand which segment the person you are speaking to falls into so you can be confident of the message they need to hear.

Recruitment strategy and methods

Before you start a recruitment drive, make sure you have a strategy in place.

  • You have to be clear about who you want to recruit - your target group.
  • Decide a goal for how many members you want to recruit and how much time it should take.
  • Your recruiters must understand your organisation and the interests of the target group and what they can say to persuade people to join.
  • Different areas, organisations and sectors where you will find potential members, must be identified.
  • A membership system must be in place. 
  • Consider the human and material resources you have available to use for recruitment, and understand what is achievable.
  • Decide on the best methods and times for recruitment.
  • Work out an action plan and budget.

How to develop a recruitment strategy and plan

Set your goals and targets

  • Do not start recruiting members until you are clear about what members your organisation needs.
  • Think about your organisation's goals and plans and discuss who you should target to become members - for example: are you looking for people from a specific constituency or people with specific skills or people with specific views.
  • Decide how many members you want to recruit (target number) and where you are most likely to find them. Set a deadline by which you want to achieve your goals and target number.

Determine the message you want to communicate to potential members

  • Why should anyone join your organisation? Unless you can answer this question, you will not be able to persuade people to join.
  • Discuss what you can offer your target constituency and how you will persuade them to join.

Identify where potential new members can be found

Once you have decided who your target members are, you have to discuss where you can find them. You have to know your area well and understand the constituency you are targeting. If your constituency is, for example, school students, you can simply go to all schools in the area. If you want to recruit more broadly from a geographic community you have to look at the best way to find new members. Work out whether you should recruit by calling a public meeting, or by going from door-to-door, or by approaching organisations and sectors and going to their meetings and events, or through sending recruiters to busy public places, like shops.

Recruitment methods

Having read the above, it will be clear that there are no silver bullets for member recruitment. Each co-op will need to analyse its audiences and devise methods of communicating its message to those audiences. The following, therefore, just provides some top-level ideas:

Set up a team

Depending on the size of your co-op and of your recruitment drive, the task could be enormous. More than one person should development the recruitment plan and consider the staffing required to implement it. Other members should also be encouraged to recruit new members whenever they can.

Gather necessary resources for recruitment

It is important for the recruitment team to ensure that, before recruitment starts, all resources like recruiter forms, pamphlets, telephone numbers of members that can be contacted for joining, etc are available.

Time recruitment well

Recruitment can happen at any time and should be an ongoing part of your work. But it is an especially good time when you are:

  • Doing a membership drive
  • Running a campaign
  • Holding public events.

Sectoral work

If you want to recruit through other organisations and sectors, make a list of all the sectors and organisations, the name of a contact person and the telephone numbers where they can be reached when needed. Write to them or meet with them and ask if you can come and address one of their meetings or set up recruitment tables at their events.

Target key people for recruitment

Your organisation will also need additional skills and talents and may want to target specific individuals for recruitment. You could also target someone who has influence over others and will be able to popularise your organisation. Make a list of key individuals in your community that you would like to have as members and contact them personally.


Identify a target area in your community and sent recruiters from door-to-door to discuss your organisation and to persuade people to join.

Information tables

Tables staffed by recruiters can be set up in public places like shops, sport events and railway stations. You should have a table at all of your own meetings or public events. Make posters and decorate the table so that it attracts attention.

Personal contacts

The best recruitment method is through personal contacts. We all know people who share our interests and members should be encouraged to bring their friends to meetings.


Traditional advertising (eg in local newspapers) can be costly and untargeted. Social media advertising allows you to target by gender, interest and geographical location, and can be more cost-effective depending on your messaging.

Getting stories into the local paper or on the radio can be free, and allow you to convey more developed key messages about your organisation, the role of members, forthcoming meetings, etc.  You can also send letters to individuals or use leaflets to encourage people to join up.

After recruitment

Once you have recruited someone, you should work hard to keep them happy and active in the organisation. There is a natural process in organisations where:

  • Some of your supporters in the community will become members
  • Some of your members will become committed activists
  • Some of your activists will become leaders.

If you want to keep on generating more activists and leaders for the future, you have to have programmes to develop members into activists, and activists into leaders.

Recruiting members should be only the beginning - if you do not manage your members well, communicate with them and motivate them to work for the organisation, you will soon have to recruit more members. 

HR training

Co-operatives UK offers a number of one-day training courses for co-operatives – find out more.

Updated: 26/03/2019