Here’s the hard truth: your members really aren’t thinking about you (much), unless you serve a purpose in their day.

Ouch, that was harsh. After all, YOU wake up thinking about them and the organization. YOU understand and believe in the mission. YOU believe every word in your member communications is worth reading.

Did you see what I did there?

In two short paragraphs, I used the word “you” or “your” seven times (go ahead, count). “You” narrows your customer-focused marketing strategy. It is a fantastic megaphone that announces who the message is for/about. In this instance, it’s about you. Not me, not us, not we.

Now pull out your most recent member communication. Take a look at your welcome letter, or the latest email announcing a new program. Or even the pre-header on an email.


A recent email we received had a preheader that began “We’re so proud…” Ouch. This is an all-too-common start to messages, and the most damaging phrase you could use if you’re hoping to develop a long-term relationship with the recipient. Here are a few more examples of message beginnings that won’t end well for you:

  • “We’re pleased to announce …”
  • “We invite you to …”
  • “We worked with X to bring you Y …”
  • “We couldn’t be more delighted …”

You just made it all about YOU. How do you suppose that made the member of your community feel? The person you serve? The individual without whom you wouldn’t HAVE a community?

Let’s try again:

  • “Congratulations! You have now joined the most exciting, active community of …”
  • “This benefit was created with you in mind …”
  • “You are invited to explore …”
  • “You made a great decision when you …”

It takes a little effort and requires putting aside institutional ego, but the payoff is worth it in engagement and retention.


“We” is a guardian blocking the gate. “You” is the gate flung wide and the welcome mat spread out.

It’s like walking around to the other side of the table. The side where your members live. Like turning the mirror so it reflects the audience instead of the backstage mechanics.

“We” can set up an adversarial barrier. “You” says the organization is built around, well, YOU (the member).

When you discipline yourself to think “you” first in your member communications, you are likely to see a change in how you perceive the members, and more importantly, how they begin to perceive you. And isn’t that really what you were trying to get them to do in the first place? To think about you, listen to you, and say “yes” to what you have to offer?

You’re never going to get them to think about the organization when they wake up. That’s your job. But you CAN get them to believe they are important, and represent the future of the organization when they do read what you’ve sent, visit your website, or attend an event.


A “You”-focused culture means the member is the “why.” Your members are why you develop authoritative information, why you speak on their behalf, and why you make sure they have access to special offers designed for their needs.

You work FOR the member, or the prospect (although avoid being a servant lest you find yourself on the rocks with your members and your staff). They are the “you” present in every strategy, and the “yous” counted in every campaign response summary.

Frankly, there is no “we” without them.


Absolutely. Your members joined because they perceived a value in flocking together. To be a part of a group that can speak as one voice, represent a position, bargain for values a single buyer may not be able to get on their own.

But they never really lose the fundamental motivation of WIIFM (What’s In It For Me).

So your challenge as a leader of an organization is to reconcile personal motivations with the power of community dynamics.

Over time, your most loyal members will stop making a considered decision at the time of renewal and willingly give you the “Next Yes.This happens when they stop (and you stop reminding them) that the membership is “worth $X in savings” and move toward less quantifiable reasons (networking, connections, access).


Nowhere is this more necessary than in the first year of membership. Successful acquisition often comes in the form of savings. It’s one of the simplest ways people justify a time-talent-treasure exchange. “Join and you will save…” is likely to work much better than “Join because you like the feeling of belonging…”

Immediately after a new member joins, begin your onboarding journey of integrating them into your community. Show them how to access exclusive information. Connect them with a peer group. Listen actively to what they THINK they signed up for and what they believe they are receiving. Look for disconnects, patch the holes.

Deliver money-saving discounts if that’s what you promised, but don’t hang your entire future on the prospect of savings. (Seeing value in “savings” requires a need to buy, and not everyone is in the market for what you have to offer at the same time.)

First-year members are “tryers.” They are giving you a chance to prove that affiliation with your community has personal value worthy of the next yes. Getting them through the gauntlet of the first renewal is your biggest opportunity after acquisition.

You’ll navigate that gauntlet more successfully the sooner you can move the motivation to continue affiliation away from transactional value (like savings) to more relational value. Here’s where “we” takes on its power, but only with qualifying words and phrases, like “together, we” and “as a whole, we.”

Proving long-term value of a community (“we”) takes time and commitment to delivering value, one “you,” one member, one yes, at a time.

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