The surprising new power of a traditional outreach tactic

Believe me, I didn’t believe it at first either.

When a lot of us think of a Millennial or member of Gen Z, we think of them with a phone in their hand, connecting with friends via social media or texting. Wired magazine reports people are checking their smartphone an average of 150 times per day. But actually using the phone to….talk? Really?

But that’s what they told us. According to the young members who participated in our Young Members 2.0 study, 78% of Millennials and Gen Z reported that phone calls are either somewhat or very effective in engaging them. Not texting, an actual phone call.

Reflecting on it further, it makes sense. According to author Sherry Turkle, author of Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in the Digital Age, the endless streams of texts, tweets, Facebook posts, instant messages and snapchats – simultaneous, rapid-fire “sips” of online communication – are leaving us parched for real conversation and connection.  And when it comes to membership, those real, one-on-one connections really matter.  When Personify asked how important it was that an association facilitates connections with authentic people who understand their unique needs, 94% of young members identified it as important, with almost two thirds suggesting it’s very important.

Digital communication isn’t going anywhere there’s an opportunity for associations, and nonprofits of all stripes, to revisit the simple phone call. And while surprisingly effective with young members, a phone call delivers value across all segments. Phone calls allow for more organic conversation, follow-up questions and clarifications in real-time. They also feel more personal, giving you the chance to hear important cues that provide additional insight into how your organization (and messages) are being received.

For organizations, phone calls also offer a low-cost, high-impact, easy-to-implement way to engage members, both those who are making the calls and those picking up on the other end. You’ve already invested in your membership database. We know in-person conversations are meaningful, and you have access to both members and a board who probably have a telephone they can use for a few phone calls. What should you talk about?

While many organizations leverage call campaigns to drive dues renewals, take this opportunity to expand the conversation and engage members in a way that’s not so explicitly tied to an ask. Here are 5 ideas to get you started:

  • Ask how a member is enjoying membership. Are there things they’ve particularly enjoyed, or programs they’ve been disappointed in?
  • Invite them to an upcoming event that they may not know about. Sometimes being asked personally to attend can make all the difference.
  • Tell your story. If you have members who are new to an organization, welcome them with a phone call and allow them to hear the value of membership firsthand.
  • Share research. Many organizations work to provide their members with valuable information and perspective. Phone calls are a fantastic way to get the word out about and creates the opportunity for them to ask questions and share their own reaction.
  • Solicit ideas! As your feet-on-the-street, members often have great perspective on new content, events or concepts you can bring to your membership.

It’s inexpensive, it’s easy, it’s meaningful. As we mentioned in our recent webinar on creating connection with young members, Philadelphia ad agency NW Ayer & Son’s was on to something with their 70’s ad campaign for AT&T which encouraged consumers to reach out and touch someone. The full line was actually, “To communicate is the beginning of understanding. Reach out and touch someone.”

40 years later the telephone – whatever its shape or form – continues to be an invaluable tool in building connection with young members. Not just texting either, be real conversations between actual people. Maybe it’s time to revisit the humble phone call.

Looking for more ideas specific to improving your understanding, acquiring, engaging and retaining young members? Check out our all new Young Member Spotlight, with on-demand webinars, ebooks, links to other blog posts and much more!