Recruiting new members is the biggest challenge leisure-time music groups face. Unfortunately, this is not an exact science and there are no quick fixes, but there are some improvements you can make. Work your way through this five-part toolkit to help you build a recruitment strategy, starting with thinking about who you want to recruit.
The joining journey
When someone joins, it is probably due to a combination of multiple circumstances and influences that could take place over days or even years.
Your new member may have:
The above list shows 11 events and influences over several years leading up to joining a group. Some of these are out of your control, but not all of them.
- The friends in step two, four and ten could have been current members in your group who actively promote it.
- The concert advertised in step seven could have been your group.
- The group found online (with an appealing website) in step eight could have been your group.
Of course, for some people it might be steps three, eight and ten only - and there might be a matter of days between them.
Whatever steps an individual takes to join a group, your recruitment job is to try and be in in the right place at the right time to take advantage of the circumstances and influences.
Of course, that's easier said than done. But it's not impossible. The point is that effective recruitment is a cumulative process. It’s not as simple as 500 flyers = 20 new members. 500 flyers might be a good idea – but it should be part of a range of things you do.
Your aim should be that when an individual follows their version of the steps above, you have maximised the likelihood of it being your group they end up at.
Who do you want?
Before you start thinking about how to recruit, take some time to think about who you want to join. Understanding what you are trying to achieve with your recruitment makes executing it easier.
What do you want? What do you need?
The two things we most commonly hear from members is 'we need more young people' and 'we need more male/lower voices'. It’s worth unpacking that a little bit.
- What does young mean? In a group of people in their 60s and 70s, people in their 40s and 50s are young.
- Do you need more men or would you, ideally, like more basses?
- You might have a full trombone section and need more viola players - but would you turn trombonists away?
The point here is to think about what your group wants versus what it needs, and to be clear about what you are trying to achieve.
Exercise - define your recruitment aims
Step one: A good way to think about this is picturing your 'ideal world' – put this at the top of the page – then work down to the bottom where you will have your minimum requirement (which might be simple as 'some new members') – putting different permutations at each step. We've listed some examples below. As you will see they could be very simple or as complex as you want with many variables (age, voice/instrument, experience/standard, regular commitment/occasional players).
Step two: Your ideal world is likely based on specific factors (musical considerations, age etc.) that the bottom of the list might not address. Ideal worlds are rarely achievable so think about what is most important and where you can compromise. Where can you realistically get to on the list? What is achievable?
You might decide that 'ten new recruits some under 40 and some male/lower voice' is achievable and what you are aiming for - but the minimum requirement is still an acceptable outcome.
If numbers are low perhaps a more flexible approach could work:
If numbers are generally good but a few more lower voices or violas would be useful that’s fine, you have a specific target and you can make a specific recruitment plan.
Step three: have a very simple statement setting out what you would like to achieve to help plan your recruitment:
Protected characteristics and discrimination
If your recruitment target does involve age or sex it is worth bearing in mind the Equalities Act 2010. The act has 11 protected characteristics that form the basis of discrimination laws. If you make a decision about who can join your music group based on these characteristics, it could be deemed discrimination. However, the act also provided for positive discrimination which you can use to increase representation of a protected characteristic in your group.
- You have one space in your wind orchestra and two applicants of equal quality. These is an equal balance of ages in your group. If you decide to accept one applicant because they are younger – this could be discrimination based on age.
- You have one space in your swing band and two applicants of equal quality, one is 28 and one is 54. There aren’t any people under 30 in your band. You could use positive discrimination to accept the 28-year-old to increase the representation of under 30s in your group.
Our resource on Creating an accessible and inclusive group has more information on providing equal access to opportunities and the Equalities Act.
For your own processes and for external communication, it is useful to know and articulate what level of musical skills someone needs to join your group. Your group may need people to have some essential skils – to be able to read music notation, to be able to play their instrument to a similar standard to the existing group or to sing accurately in tune. Be honest and clear about this; it can be tempting to say 'everyone’s welcome' but this can cause problems further down the line if you couldn’t accommodate a musician who needed more support. But can you include more people in your definition of standard? For instance, say 'confident to play and learn quickly' rather than 'Grade 5+' or 'can sing along accurately and clap in time to a song you like' rather than 'previous choral experience'.
For more guidance on selecting for musical skill in an inclusive way, read our Welcoming new people by building diversity and inclusion resource.
When do you want them to join?
When you take on new members is an interesting one. There are two basic approaches:
- Drip-feed – always open for new members, happy to take on board whenever people apply.
- Fixed intake points throughout the year.
There are benefits to both as well things to be aware to make sure you are making the most of whichever you do.
|Specific intake points
|A steady flow of new members and new income throughout the year
|Can make recruitment planning easier – targeted campaigns at specific times
|You don’t miss out on the new members who might look elsewhere if you are not taking new ones
|Gives you more control over the process. If you already know that in the summer term you do 'easier', more popular music, then you could recruit for summer with that in mind
|Musical directors (MD) and existing members can give them more attention and make them feel welcome - and so increase the likelihood of retention. Also, if another new member comes along in a few weeks, they aren’t the newest member anymore
|Taking on entire groups of new members means they have each other for support
|Things to be aware of
|Make sure your website is promoting the fact that you are always open for new members and what the process is (e.g. turn-up, email first etc.)
|A big intake can disrupt the group dynamics – you need to manage this (icebreaker warm-up games, welcome social events etc.) and get support from existing members
|Make sure someone is monitoring email accounts and responding to new member queries
|Have clear info on your website about when intakes are, what the process is (e.g. waitlist) and have good communication with potential new members (e.g. acknowledging waitlist request, updates in the lead up to intake dates)
|Does joining at any point cause musical problems for the new members (doesn’t feel up to speed, always playing catch-up) and MDs (different people at different points of progress)? Can you provide extra one-on-one/small group catch-up sessions before or after rehearsals for new members?
|It can be hard for the MD and existing group members to give new arrivals the necessary care and attention
|It can be daunting joining a new group on your own
|Potential new members might lose interest in your group if they're kept waiting for too long
The value of a waiting list
Making people wait isn’t always a bad thing. Of course, don’t turn people away for the sake of it - but if your numbers are good then a waiting list is not only a way to keep people who have expressed an interest engaged, but can also suggest value and help create demand beyond that.
A good waiting list should be well managed;- keep them updated and involved (an email every few months just to say hello and update them on the list) or invite them to events, perhaps for free or with a generous discount.
Access and inclusion
We have a series of resources that look at how groups can make sure everything they have to offer is accessible to everyone who would like to take part. Spending some time thinking about this can help open potential new recruits.
- Creating an accessible and inclusive group
- Welcoming new people by building diversity and inclusion
- Planning and running accessible and inclusive activities
- Inclusive communications
After doing some thinking and completing the exercise you should have a clear idea of what you are trying to achieve. In part two of the toolkit, we look at reviewing your joining processes to make sure it is as easy as possible to sign up.
We hope you find this Making Music resource useful. If you have any comments or suggestions about the guidance please contact us. Whilst every effort is made to ensure that the content of this guidance is accurate and up to date, Making Music do not warrant, nor accept any liability or responsibility for the completeness or accuracy of the content, or for any loss which may arise from reliance on the information contained in it.