By Debra Posner


Attracting New JCC Members - Top 4 Sources

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Debra Posner
Chief Marketing & Membership Officer 
Mandel JCC of Cleveland

The cure for anything is salt water: sweat, tears or the sea. Isak Dinesen

Have you ever tried to make a recipe and realized the moment you put the pan in the oven that you had forgotten the crucial ingredient?  Today at lunch, someone gave me the recipe for skinny muffins.  I thought it was just eggs, egg whites, spinach, mushroom and onions.  So I proceeded to mix up those five ingredients and popped them in the oven.   Then the moment the oven door shut I had a gnawing feeling that I probably needed to add baking powder or baking soda to get the lovely bloated muffin top that we find so attractive on muffins and cupcakes and so unattractive on our bodies. I belatedly Googled the recipe and discovered there were 3 or 4 other ingredients—including baking powder—that I definitely should have added. Here’s the official recipe if you are interested.


And that’s probably a metaphor for marketing.  If you are like me, you always have a gnawing feeling that you are missing the secret ingredient, the one thing that will help attract more members, larger audiences, more camp registrants, more early childhood families, more film and book festival audiences, more adult class participants, yada yada yada.   If only there was a way to Google the long tail “marketing ingredients for surefire nonprofit success” and get the answer.

But alas, as we all know, there isn’t one simple answer. It’s doing a whole bunch of things simultaneously, juggling many balls in the air, keeping lots of irons in the fire, tap dancing backwards, trialing all kinds of test balloons and paying, as always, an obsessive attention to the details.  Keeping that insatiable marketing pipeline filled is simply a never-ending quest.

With that in mind, I thought I would share a few things that have worked for us:

Over time, we’ve been able to identify the four top sources of new members so we continue to mine these four sources. In no particular order they are as follows:

  • Member referrals
  • Lapsed members
  • Direct mail
  • Web/website/paid search

Direct mail

Direct mail

88% of our members come from 8 zip codes. Given that, we mail out brochures to households in our target area 6 times a year. We spend a lot of time developing the list we purchase. On all of our direct mailings we promote “attend an open house.” We host weekly open houses. Our open houses are sparse—no food, balloons, prizes or giveaways but they seem to work because we find people don’t want to commit to a tour or an appointment and feel much more comfortable walking in during an open house.

Member referrals

member referrals

We get a lot of new members from member referrals.   To capitalize on the potential of member referrals, we offer a gift for every referred member that joins. We use to give $25 in membership credit for a member referral but found that our members prefer gifts.  Past member referral gifts include pullovers, fleece jackets, duffle bags, sling bags, umbrellas, hooded sweatshirts, etc.  The umbrella was our least popular item and the bags and fleece jackets the most popular.  We are always looking for something fun and cool to offer so send any ideas my way.

Lapsed (but not least) members

Members who quit and return are another significant source of new members.  When members leave us we try to make it as easy as possible to quit so that if/when they decide to return they don’t hesitate to come back.  This probably seems like basic common sense but just Google tried to cancel gym membership or tried to cancel fitness membership to read some horror stories.  And, of course, we continually market to lapsed members via mail and email blasts to try and entice them to return. 

Web/website/paid search/retargeting/FB ads/email blasts

Without a doubt one, one of our most important lead generators, is all things web.  I know this is a website blog and I also know I should be departing profound advice on web practices.  Perhaps I should be providing the top five ways to increase web traffic or the seven ways to generate more traffic to your site

All I can say is we are constantly working to increase our search page rankings, improve our click through rate, improve our web content and SEO, improve our retargeting ads, keep our web site current, increase our FB likes.  We use a national company to help us with paid search for fitness and aquatics terms and use a local freelancer to help us with Early Childhood and Camp searches.

No matter what we do, though, there’s always more we could be doing. And yes, at times, it’s simply exhausting. That notwithstanding, in the last 18 months we’ve generated more than 7500 web leads for membership, aquatics and swim lessons, camps and early childhood so while we are never content, we’re feeling something akin to gratitude.  

So on that note of gratitude; I’ll end my short lived blogging career with a new appreciation for anyone who thinks it’s easy to blog. If you have questions or just want to vent, I am just a phone call or email away and, as the two of you who are still reading can tell, this is one subject that’s very dear to my heart.

Contact me at (216) 831-0700 x1394 or

PS Here’s a photo of the second batch of muffins—this time I added baking powder! 



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