Attracting and retaining participants

Use this page to learn more about attracting new participants and retaining existing members.

There are more participation opportunities for people than ever before with a range of community, sports and recreational activities to choose from. This includes organised and pay-as-you-go options. People's leisure time can be limited by busy and irregular work schedules and family commitments, such as shift work, that may conflict with fixed participation times like team training. These are just some of the factors you should consider when developing your organisation's participation strategies.

To grow your organisation, focus on delivering participation opportunities that meet your target audience needs.

Why focus on attracting and retaining participants?

The attraction of new participants, and retention of existing ones, leads to a larger membership and/or participation base and can improve your:

  • organisational culture
  • financial position and stability (particularly if participants are retained)
  • potential pool of volunteers
  • ability to be flexible and offer a range of services
  • word-of-mouth referrals – an effective way to generate more participation 
  • ability to deliver events that engage the community and create greater awareness of your programs and services.

Essentially, your participant or membership base influences and increases your capacity to generate income, deliver quality services, inspire volunteers and generate referrals. It isn't just about numbers though!

Your participant base also creates your organisation's culture.

Consider who you are targeting. Focus on attracting participants that create and reflect your organisation's vision and support its future development.

Having clear target audiences and strategies to attract and retain participants to your organisation, is just as critical as having the right people in management, committee and volunteer positions.

Consider how you currently attract and retain participants

When thinking about how your organisation manages participation, consider the following questions.

  1. Do you take an innovative and/or proactive approach to connect with target participants?
  2. Do you provide participation options that meet the needs of the people you want to attract?
  3. Are you consistently successful at recruiting new participants?
  4. Are you effective at retaining participants and keeping them involved through opportunities such as volunteering?
  5. Do you know what your participation capacity is?
  6. Has your participation base been stable, increased, or decreased over time?
  7. Will your facilities reach participant capacity in the next few years?

Motivators and barriers to participation

Be mindful of what motivates people to participate in community, sports and recreation activities, as well as the common barriers.

Common motivators are:

  • fun and enjoyment
  • health and fitness
  • social engagement and meeting new people
  • skills development
  • relaxation and stress reduction.

Common barriers are:

  • lack of participation opportunities that meet community needs (e.g. timing or location)
  • awareness of available opportunities (e.g. what you offer, or how to get involved) 
  • competing priorities and a lack of time
  • cost and/or socioeconomic disadvantage
  • injury, illness or disability
  • anxiety about group participation
  • access (e.g. physical access, lack of transport, accessibility for people with a disability)
  • environment, venue quality, and concerns about safety
  • age and feeling 'too old'
  • risk (e.g. child safety, fear of injury).

By understanding the motivators and barriers that commonly stop people from participating, you can explore different strategies to attract people to your organisation and become more accessible to the community.

Socioeconomic disadvantage can be a significant barrier to participation. Children and adolescents from low-income communities have been found to be less likely to participate due to financial barriers. To overcome this barrier, you could investigate the potential to incorporate a subsidy scheme, provide payment plan options, or have varying fees for different levels of participation in your membership profile.

The perceived benefits versus cost and time remain the key elements that people consider when choosing to participate.

Understand your participant capacity

Before trying to attract new participants, it is critical you understand the capacity of your facilities and organisation.

While many organisations strive to increase their participation, there are others who are already at capacity in terms of the facilities available versus the number of participants and available usage hours.

You should consider how many participants you can manage in terms of your facility capacity, as well as resources such as equipment, volunteers and staff needed to deliver your services.

If you have sports fields, be mindful of field overuse and remediation needs when determining your capacity. Ignoring these aspects can be costly to your organisation in terms of field recovery costs and downtime.

Know your participants

Your participants are the foundation of your organisation's success. Without them, your organisation wouldn't exist. Long-term growth and success depend on understanding who is participating in your organisation.

Think about the following to understand your participants better.

This table includes matters for consideration when getting to know the participants in your organisation.
Who your participants and customers are
  • Which target audience/s do you attract to your organisation and what are their common or key characteristics?
  • What are their demographics, personality and lifestyle?
How they behave
  • Where do they spend their time and money?
  • What media sources do they use to access information?
What they value
  • Do they value high-quality facilities, convenient participation opportunities, or paying for services versus volunteering?
Their barriers
  • What barriers can you help your participants to overcome (e.g. payment plan options, alternate participation times)?
What groups they identify with
  • What social, professional or cultural groups do they identify with and value?

Knowing your participants, enables you to understand their motivations, needs, wants, and how you can best target your efforts, including how you communicate. Being responsive to their needs is key to your success. For example, older people may prefer activities with a health and fitness and social engagement focus, rather than a competitive sports focus.

Do you offer a range of participation options to cater for different interests or target groups, or do you provide specific activities to a niche group?

Remember to extend your scope of understanding to your volunteers and staff, as they are also customers and stakeholders in your organisation.

Visit our Brisbane Community Profiles page to obtain data such as demographics for your local community.

Create a positive organisational culture

An organisation's customs, traditions, behavioural norms, core activities, processes and general way of doing things are the visible manifestation of its culture.

The creation of a positive organisational culture is not only important to the overall harmony of your organisation; it also drives participation and inclusion. It can also bring benefits such as enhanced trust and cooperation, fewer disagreements and more efficient decision-making.

The effects of a poor organisational culture can be significant, challenging to reverse and have wide-ranging community impacts. An ineffective culture can result in a high turnover of committee members, volunteers and participants and can ultimately impact the viability of your organisation.

Your organisation's culture is built over time. It is created and maintained through relationships and common interests.

Actions you can take to build a positive organisational culture

  • Have a clear vision and goals including core values that are widely and regularly communicated.
  • Develop policies and procedures that support and reward positive behaviours, enable issues to be dealt with quickly and easily and make people aware of organisation expectations.
  • Have a structure that makes sense. Document clear and transparent processes for decision-making. Make sure your constitution and organisational chart reflect what you do. Have roles and responsibilities that emphasise teamwork. Ensure your participants know how your organisation works and the roles they can play in it.
  • Provide roles and responsibilities for both volunteers and paid positions so people know who does what and where to go for help and support.
  • Have welcoming introduction/induction and support processes in place for new participants.
  • Offer rewards and recognition that align with, and represent, your organisation's values.
  • Ensure the leaders in your organisation consistently demonstrate and foster the values and goals of the organisation.
  • Provide reliable and consistent levels of service and quality participation opportunities.
  • Take care of your facilities and assets so they remain in good condition and others are also motivated to value and appreciate them.
  • Offer social gatherings and events to bring people together and create a sense of belonging.

Applying appropriate policies and procedures to all areas of your operations ensures your participants and customers receive a consistent, quality experience every time.

The creation of a consistent culture reinforces positive behaviours and social involvement.

Think about how you would want others to describe your organisation. Do you want to be thought of as an organisation that provides high-quality services, is well-organised, fun, family-friendly, innovative and/or inclusive?

Attracting new members and increasing participation

To attract new members or target groups to your organisation, you need to develop strategies to attract people and provide pathways for them to get involved.

Does your organisation:

  • have a good website, or social media presence (e.g. Facebook). Are you easy to find on the web?
  • provide information to potential participants in a timely manner?
  • deliver any unique benefits or offerings to participants and if so, what are they and how do you communicate these?
  • understand how inviting, welcoming and inclusive your current operations and facilities are to potential participants and what could be improved?
  • understand the needs and wants of the people you're trying to attract? 

Actions to attract new members and increase participation

This table includes actions community organisations can take to attract new members and increase participation.
Dedicate time and resources
  • Make membership/participation a regular committee meeting agenda item to ensure it's regularly monitored and given the attention it deserves.
  • Appoint a dedicated participation coordinator to focus on attracting new participants and understanding how your culture, programs and services retain existing participants.
  • Develop a participation plan/strategy.
Determine your capacity and targets
  • Work out your participation capacity, both in terms of your facilities and the other resources needed to deliver your services such as volunteers, coaches and equipment.
  • Determine your participation targets and dedicate time to attracting new participants.
Program design and delivery
  • Offer participation options that reflect your service delivery and target audience needs (e.g. participation times).
  • Ensure your fee structure reflects your participation options.
  • For time-poor participants, consider shorter commitment options that focus on social experiences.
  • Consider pay-as-you-go options.
  • Offer introductory programs to get people involved, learn the activity and feel confident.
  • Be mindful that an increase in participation may also impact on what you should or need to deliver. (For example, an increase in junior participation rates may increase the need for more skills sessions, training and coaching.)
  • Regularly review the programs and services you provide in relation to your target audience/s and their needs, as well as your organisation's current participation levels.
Promote social benefits
  • The social benefits you offer can entice people looking for social engagement and an opportunity to meet people and make friends through their participation.
Facility design and condition
  • Ensure your facilities are suitable for the activities you deliver. The design and condition of your facilities is a key factor that affects the attraction and retention of participants. People are generally attracted to well-maintained, high-quality, welcoming and safe facilities that are easy to navigate and access.
  • Are facility improvements required to encourage more participation (e.g. female-only change rooms)?
Value for money
  • Good value for money through the provision of high-quality and consistent services is attractive to potential and existing participants. Don't undervalue your offerings. Implement an appropriate fee structure that aligns with the level of service you provide. 
  • Be flexible and offer participants a variety of payment options.
Create awareness
  • If people don't know about your organisation and what you provide, they won't choose you! Invest in communication channels that your target audience is likely to use. Digital channels and your website are valuable tools to attract participants. Events, media exposure and branded apparel or equipment can also build your profile. Remember 'word of mouth' (referrals from existing participants) is a powerful way to increase participation.
  • Regularly evaluate how successful each communication method has been to inform future investment.
Be accessible and inclusive
  • Consider how your organisation can be more accessible and/or inclusive (e.g. varying payment options when the cost is a barrier).
  • Can you make your services more inclusive or promote them in ways that attract participants from different groups in your community?
Understand your competitors
  • Think about what you offer in relation to your competitors (e.g. your organisation may be more accessible, better organised, have higher-quality facilities, provide additional services or more flexible participation options? Highlight these points of difference to stand out.


Inducting new participants

The induction process for a new participant is important to help them build a relationship with your organisation. By including people and making them feel welcome, you engender connection and involvement. This also strengthens your organisation's culture and support from participants when needed (e.g. helping with an event or taking on a volunteer role).

Make sure you have:

  • dedicated people to welcome new participants
  • a process for introducing new participants to the organisation
  • a handbook or website with information to help/support new participants (e.g. organisational policies and procedures, roles and responsibilities and health and safety information).

Retaining participants

Retaining participants is one of the most important ways to ensure the viability and longevity of your organisation. If existing participants are satisfied you secure their loyalty, foster your organisational culture and attract new participants. 

By retaining participants, your organisation:

  • can generate a consistent level of income
  • has a bigger pool of potential volunteers to help you deliver your services
  • has the power of 'word of mouth' - the most effective marketing tool, and the opportunity to gain participants through referrals.

If your retention rate from year to year is low, investigate why.

Design and delivery of programs and services

Focus on designing and delivering consistent, high-quality programs and services that meet the needs of your target audience and offer ongoing involvement that is fun, stimulating and supports strong social connections.

The quality of your programs, services and facilities affects a participant's decision to stay or not.

Offering pathways for people to progress in the activities you provide can also lead to increased satisfaction.

Provide volunteering opportunities and other roles of responsibility or activities such as working bees to get people more involved.

Seek feedback and input

Asking for feedback and input into key organisational decisions can improve your organisation's ability to retain participants. It allows you to understand what people want and to consider how you can meet their needs. It can guide the development of new programs and services and/or the modification of existing ones.

Involving participants in decision-making processes and encouraging them to have a voice within your organisation ensures you stay relevant and provide activities that are wanted.

You can encourage participant feedback through:

  • meetings
  • surveys (use can use free tools such as SurveyMonkey)
  • anonymous feedback drop boxes
  • developing close relationships with participants.

You must be prepared to make changes when feedback identifies that participant needs are not being met.

Facility provision

People are attracted to activities delivered from high-quality facilities and are often prepared to travel to such facilities over local options.

Ensuring your facilities are safe, accessible, well-maintained, fit for purpose and meet participant needs are key factors to attract and retain participants.

Consider ways you could improve your facilities, such as developing female change facilities or providing access ramps, to make them more accessible for everyone.

Find more information on our Maintaining and developing a community leased/licensed premises page.

Multi-use of facilities to encourage participation

The multi-use of facilities (sharing with other community groups) and the expansion or extension of facilities to accommodate more than one use/user can be cost and resource efficient. It also enables increased:

  • community access and facility usage
  • revenue streams and income
  • social networks
  • participation opportunities for the community.

It can also boost your own organisation's participation (through greater awareness) and enhance your organisation culture.

Before you enter into a sub use agreement:

  • ensure your lease terms and conditions allow you to share
  • obtain approval from Council as landlord.

Visit our tenure amendments, sub use and termination page for more information on sharing community leased facilities.

Resources and support

Related links

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Topics: leasing

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