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Ashbourne & District u3a: How we grew our membership

  • 24 April 2023

Sheila from Ashbourne and District u3a shares the plan they used to increase their membership - which is now at over 490 members.

Ashbourne and District u3a is a longstanding branch, formed in 2007 I think.  We're a relatively rural branch, our catchment is a total population of around 12,000. From prior to the pandemic to now we've increased our membership from less than 350 to more than 490 currently.  

We've done it by focusing on a clear communications plan, and seriously upping our communications aimed at the wider community in our catchment, including social media and leafletting.  As a result I think we've also been bringing in a significant number of younger members who, as you might expect, have energised our pipeline of ideas for new groups.  

The key aim for our communications is to ensure that anyone in their third age in our catchment area knows of u3a and something about what we do.

Target audience: 

Obviously this includes anyone either in or just coming up to their third age, which we define as those who no longer having their every waking hour taken up by work and or family.  But it's wider than that, because most adults will know someone in this primary target audience and should know enough about us to point them in the right direction.

What media do we use:

  • We continue to use the local paper as we have done for years gone by, and what we do in there hasn't changed.
  • Our previous Chair was very keen that we got out to every household in our entire catchment once lockdown began to lift.  So we had several thousand leaflets printed, courtesy of a council Covid recovery grant.  We paid from our own funds for a leaflet distribution to every household in the catchment.
  • 2021 saw our first steps into using Facebook.  We knew that newsprint is declining in importance all the time, so we had to do something different.  To begin with it was a post every now and again, now it's a few posts a week ideally, including our Events calendar.  Key posts are shared with community Facebook pages for our town and surrounding communities.  We're getting a monthly 'post reach' of almost 12k, more 1500 of whom engage with posts.  We spend no money on Facebook ads.
  • In September 2022 we staged a big exhibition in our local library to coincide with u3a's 40th anniversary.
  • We had lots of leaflets left over from the leaflet drop, so we make sure they are available in venues we use for groups, on community notice boards (supermarkets, leisure centre, parish, etc), and in solicitors and estate agents used by house movers. 
  • What is the most effective media for recruitment?  Probably Facebook - and by a long way.
  • And how are we going to move forward?  We will keep on doing more of most of the above, and expand our social media into Instagram.  No plans for another leaflet drop, solely because of the distribution cost).

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