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The Recruitment and Retention Toolkit: Your Successes

The Recruitment and Retention Toolkit: Your Successes
  • 11 July 2022

Pathfinder u3as who have contributed to the recruitment and retention toolkit share their success stories

Since 2020, the u3a Pathfinders group has been made up of u3as providing a set of tools and resources about how to retain and recruit members. The group included every sort of u3a from small to large, rural to urban, well-established to recently started. Below are extracts from some of the u3as involved on what they've tried and their successes. This is just a snapshot of some of their initiatives.

You can access the full toolkit on the u3a website - and here is a guide to using the toolkit. 

Ilkley u3a


We already had fairly robust Recruitment activity but we wanted to raise the profile of the issue with other Trustees and there’s always new things to learn from others. Through the Covid period, we also concentrated on RETENTION, not just recruiting, with a lot of hard work being done by our Membership Secretary. (We had 271 NEW members in 2021)

What We Did (The Highlights)

  • Our Communications Team upgraded all our publicity material and the website, Newsflash, Eye newspaper, Facebook page in the new branding.
  • Continued with excellent visibility in the local press.
  • Established ‘Otley Ambassadors’ to address the relatively low membership rate in the town, compared to Ilkley’s
  • The ‘National u3a day’ converted into nearly a week with our presence at local Farmers’ Markets etc – this did a lot to raise awareness in the towns concerned.
  • Reduced (half price) membership from January each year.


We took on lots of new members and also lost fewer than in pre-Covid years. Largely through reminders and follow-up phone calls. 

Fleet u3a


The priority was to attract new members at the younger end of the u3a spectrum. u3a research suggested we should target people who were keen to learn new skills/knowledge, who wanted to be busy and who wished to meet new people. We believed that simply describing u3a as an organisation for retired people tended to have less appeal to potential members. We created a Recruitment Working Group, made up of committee members, group leaders and new members. It offered practical suggestions for what we could offer members, where we could find new members and how we could retain members.


Our main activities were:

  • A stall and window displays in Fleet’s main shopping area
  • Clearer information on website about how to join and which groups had vacancies.
  • Website made more attractive with greater use of photos
  • Special meeting to try to attract more group leaders
  • Increased use of Facebook including paid-for promotion
  • Coffee mornings for new and potential members, virtual at first but now in person
  • Build links with local Nepalese community to increase membership diversity
  • Articles in local free publications


Membership now stands at 1644. We have attracted 113 new members this year, which is above the pre-Covid average. As you might expect, they are younger than our existing average member. Overall membership is now steady year on year.

Face-to-face remains the most effective form of recruitment. This means going to places where new members may be such as shopping centres and markets, community centres and encouraging each existing member to do their bit for one-to-one recruitment. 

Penicuik & District u3a

What we did (the highlights)

Member retention - objective - retain as many members as possible.

  • Our member retention plan started with committee members phoning around those who had not renewed
  • Our first hybrid open meeting had an attendance of 37 (with a COVID-imposed hall limit of 42) and 18 at home on ‘Zoom’. With more groups coming out of hibernation and/or seeking meeting other than on ‘Zoom’, numbers have increased
  • Some groups which meet in homes are still hesitant to meet this way. So, we’ve found two useful alternatives in community hubs which are either low cost or free, with the happy proviso that you buy their refreshments.

Member recruitment - objective - advertise in a targeted and low cost way to attract new members, hopefully younger.

  • In September, we started a campaign of mailing our new posters and copies of our 2021/22 programme to local free newspapers, community hubs, targeted local clubs, local surgeries, noticeboards in shops and supermarkets, community and leisure centres, libraries and churches.
  • We asked our members who were members of other groups (e.g. Menshed, Rotary, Probus, ramblers, Pilates) to spread the word. We made posters/leaflets available for them because we believe that our members can be our best ambassadors
  • We had displays at two street fairs using our u3a beach flag and our Pathfinder display panel (steadied with essential guy ropes!)
  • We continued to advertise at no cost on Facebook using two local residents pages as well as ‘nextdoor’. This exposes us to an audience of several thousand.
  • We also feature (at no cost) an article in two local monthly magazines, describing what we are, what we do and invite readers to contact our secretary, seeking permission to join us for a maximum of two meetings with no cost involved.
  • During lockdown, we started two new outdoor groups (Nature Appreciation and Petanque), inviting members of our other groups to join in, even temporarily. Recently we started another two groups, “Hill pechers” (i.e. more strenuous walking) and Scrabble.
  • The cost of these many promotions was essentially limited to printing (a few inkjet cartridges), paper and postage.
  • All of our own literature and u3a-supplied literature contains our QR code which allows smartphones direct access to our website, without typing in a complicated web address.


In 2019 we had 123 members, 114 in 2020, 124 in 2021 and 133 in January 2022. We had a real mix of younger and older new members. 

u3a in London


The u3a in London is different to many other u3as as it has a meeting place - The Old Town Hall in Belsize Park, our social centre with an office staffed by volunteers every weekday. As we have an array of classrooms for talks and classes, we rarely need to have waiting lists. Any time in the year there are usually places available for new members.

The age profile of our u3a is around 77 years so people are aging and we also need younger people to sustain the growth of the u3a and encourage new ideas and activities.

What We Did (The Highlights)

  • We started to develop a new website.  The How to Guide Transforming your website into your shop window’ and ‘Transforming your website: 3 presentations’ from the toolkit were very helpful. We also gained inspiration from other u3a websites, particularly Chepstow and Croydon. Developing the website has taken over a year and is ongoing.
  • In the meantime, the team decided to subscribe to Google Ads to increase footfall and hopefully attract new members. From August 13 campaigns have been running with a good click through rate (the number of clicks) and a good conversion rate (the number of enquiries made by email/phone.) It is difficult to know how many new members this has attracted, but our numbers are steadily increasing and we gained around 140 members since running them.
  • We are still developing various ways of encouraging new membership and, wanting to reach out to younger new members, are now beginning work on setting up Facebook and will consider using Facebook adverts.
  • We are also celebrating our 40th anniversary as one of the first u3as to be established, along with the National 40th Anniversary and have decided to reduce our membership fee for this celebratory year.
  • We are also opening one of our rooms as a common room where members can meet to socialise as many members like to linger after or between classes to carry on discussions, relax or meet others. Our commitment to recruit new members continues and we find ideas that other u3as have tried particularly useful. 

Witney u3a


In May 2021, Witney u3a Pathfinders drew up an Evaluation of our aims for retention and recruitment, actions taken and evaluation of those actions. From that Evaluation, we drew up a Roadmap to be followed for the following twelve months.


Witney u3a believes groups are at the centre of what we do and the main attraction for retention and recruitment. It is therefore essential that they are well organised and supported. Also, that information about them is up to date at all times and across all media.

Some of the ways we supported them are:

  • Pro-active Groups Co-ordinator contacted all members by Beacon to establish members’ interests not yet met.
  • New groups are being formed mostly by new, enthusiastic members supported by existing Group Leaders and the Groups Co-ordinator.
  • The Groups Co-ordinator is in regular contact (often by telephone) with the Group Leaders.
  • ‘Do you have any skills and experience you feel you could contribute to Witney u3a?’ has been added to the Application Form to identify potential group leaders/committee members and volunteers.
  • Interviews with Group Leaders of successful groups are regularly published in the Newsletter to encourage other groups.
  • An annual Group Leader meeting for coffee or lunch gives the opportunity for the Committee to thank leaders on behalf of all members, and for ideas to be brainstormed and exchanged.


We take the view that retention is a priority.

Here are some examples of how we tried to encourage retention:

  • Introduced ‘Early Bird’ subscription in 2021
  • Provided IT support by Committee members by telephone, email and Zoom for members struggling to use the internet during lockdown.
  • Set up virtual coffee mornings by Zoom during pandemic to keep members in touch. Continued until demand fell as restrictions lifted.
  • Initiated hybrid Speaker Meetings once restrictions lifted.
  • Keep all members up to date with wider benefits of u3a membership through publicising local u3a network events and national u3a online events and courses at Speaker Meetings, through Newsletter and the website.


In order to attract younger members, we aim to develop social media and website promotion. Here are some ways we did that:

  • Develop Witney u3a FB events page to link to other local FB groups to attract younger age groups
  • Website has been re-developed to be a lively and attractive ‘shop window.’
  • Generic posters showing u3a information, and all Witney u3a contact details including QR code have been designed based on Brand Centre images.

Committee and succession

We want all Committee members to enjoy their roles and feel they are part of a team. Here are some things we introduced:

  • A Support Team has been set up to support the Groups Co-ordinator, the Website Administrator, the new members and the member volunteers
  • Potential Committee members can be identified at new member meetings at the Drop in Café
  • Committee roles were updated in 2021 and will be updated annually prior to the AGM.

Holmes Chapel & District u3a


Through 2020 and 2021, both challenging years, our focus was on the retention of our membership through continuing effective engagement, and if possible, to expand our membership. Supported by our Committee, a Re-launch Steering Group was formed to develop and implement communication and activity plans.

What We Did (The Highlights)

The key has been communication: keeping existing members on board and involved and raising awareness of our u3a in the area to attract new members. This included

  • issued extended monthly newsletters (copy attached) and occasional special bulletins
  • designed an issued Christmas and New Year cards to all members
  • used Zoom for monthly and interest group meetings and 2 pioneering “virtual” AGMs
  • successfully pursued the placement of articles in the local Press and free issue magazines

Our 10th Anniversary in 2020 was the springboard for a series of events and competitions, all designed to engage individuals and groups whilst respecting Covid restrictions. :

  • creation of a u3a garden
  • mass tree planting and maintenance, and an anniversary tree with plaque
  • extensive yarn-bombing in Holmes Chapel and Goostrey
  • 500-mile/12 week solo walking
  • the Chairmen’s Challenge (“What the u3a Means to Me”)
  • Project 10 (“The 10 Best…..” from our interest groups),
  • We formed a partnership with Dane Sound Radio: our interest groups created six 2-hour anniversary programmes, broadcast online in late 2020. This continued from March 2021 to date with 3 monthly programmes: Jazz, Americana and Country, and an “Insights” magazine programme, all produced by our members.

In 2021 we introduced 4 major initiatives, planned and led by the Re-launch Steering Group:

  • 2 June: u3a Day 2021 was an undoubted success: 17 new members.
  • 4 August: a members’ “Picnic in the Park”, outside and with live music, bringing 120 members together in our first mass gathering for some time. (Special bulletin attached.) This is likely to become an annual event.
  • 21 August: a “Showcase” exhibition open to the public and featuring our GLs and displays by interest groups, again attracting new members. Attendance was 170.
  • July – November: 3 member questionnaires, focused respectively on Groups and Group Leaders, Communications, and Member Support and Services. The valuable responses and comments from members have been converted into action plans and have been fully reported to our membership.


There has been some (inevitable) loss of individual members, but our net membership number has expanded from 673 at July 2020 to 727 today, up 8%. Crucially, this did include extensive personal follow-up with non-renewing members in September 2020 and 2021.

See the u3a website for the u3a Recruitment Toolkit.




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