We all know how important new members are to our associations. They bring ideas, they renew organizational energy, and they help to ensure long-term success. But in today's economy, employer-funded memberships are taking a big hit. Many people are forced to make choices about their ties with professional associations. Fortunately, there are some fairly straightforward strategies to encourage new members to join your association and current members to stay connected.

Strategy No. 1: Begin at the Beginning

Before you decide where to go, it helps to know where you are now. Review your roster of members and categorize them by discipline. Your goal is to span the full range of services in the profession your association represents. For instance, a real-estate association would want attorneys, brokers, lenders, and so forth — everyone needed to complete a real-estate transaction. After you've identified the gaps, focus your recruitment efforts on two or three under-represented areas — particularly for in-demand careers.

Strategy No. 2: Catch Them on the Web

Don't neglect a key source for prospective members: your association's Web site. Track visitors and follow up with them.

Strategy No. 3: Broaden Your Appeal

If your association isn't already structured with various levels of membership, this might be the time to do so. Offering levels of membership helps to attract a wider variety of people. For instance, reduced dues to new graduates might encourage younger people to get involved now instead of later.

Also, consider making it easier for members whose companies no longer pay their association fees to stay connected. Provide the option of attending and paying for individual events so that they aren't personally committed to the cost of a full year's membership upfront, but can still be involved.

Strategy No. 4: Capture Their Imagination

Make renewal rewarding. Have a drawing for a free one-year membership or some other valuable incentive for members who renew by a certain date. Consider offering group discounts for companies that have multiple professionals involved in your organization.

Strategy No. 5: Go for Variety

Shake up your meeting and event schedule to add variety and accessibility for your members. Instead of monthly chapter or regional programs and an annual conference, offer some smaller, more frequent events focused on networking. Also consider new venues in a variety of locations that enable members to more easily get to meetings and events.

Strategy No. 6: Get Sponsor-Friendly

Corporate sponsors have also been affected by the economic downturn. Just as with your members, it might be a good idea to implement a system of sponsorship levels so that you can keep those critical relationships intact in the months ahead as the economy recovers.

While you're at it, think about reaching out to new potential sponsors. One often-overlooked area is companies that are not directly in the profession your association represents but are in support professions. For instance, in the area of real estate, an association might consider accounting or financial services firms that have real-estate divisions.

Strategy No. 7: Cut — But Wisely

Cut where you can. Don't overspend on printing and other back-office functions. Save money by holding board meetings by teleconference rather than gathering in person. At the same time, don't skimp on important association business, such as providing scholarships or funding, that enable your board members to attend conventions and other key meetings.

In everything you do, keep strong ties with your members and sponsors through regular and open communication.

Jennifer Hafner is the 2010 president of Commercial Real Estate Women-Los Angeles and an appraiser with The Renken Co., a full-service real estate firm.