Retrain your creepiest employee

Imagine one of your employees is insisting on getting a prospective member’s contact information. Every time she tries to become a member without sharing her phone number and address, he shakes a little, turns red, and says “ERROR.”

That would be creepy.

Yet your membership form will probably have that conversation with someone today.

Today, let’s take a closer look at that form and see if we can teach him some social skills. The solution isn’t to change the form’s response to user input — it’s to change the nature of the conversation.

I'll bet your membership form has at least a half a dozen fields for new members to complete — probably many more.

To increase membership conversions, you need to remove many of those fields. 

I know you want members’ home addresses so you can send them mail; You want their home phone number and their cell phone number and their grandmother’s fax number — but every question you add to your form decreases the number of people who actually convert.

Don’t believe me? There’s plenty of research out there on this, but let me share a story to illustrate.

I worked with one nonprofit who had been using PayPal for their donation forms. I put in place a new, lean form system for them — one big differentiator with the new form was that it didn’t require people to enter their address or phone information.

Their team was surprised when donations started coming in after we launched the new system. Maybe they didn’t really believe that changing the website experience could change visitor behavior. When I asked how the new system compared to the old model, one employee said, “I can’t recall us ever receiving a single donation through the website before.”

Then, a few years later, they changed their minds. Priorities changed. They couldn’t resist the urge to re-introduce those required fields. They wanted that additional contact information badly, so they restored all those required contact fields. Donations dropped by 40%.

Your website’s design, including the design of the forms you use, has a direct impact on your revenue.

Do you want to get more millennials (or Generation Z or whatever ridiculous name marketers are using for the next batch of humans) to become members?

Then get rid of that required phone number field.

Do you think those youngsters want you calling them? They don’t even know their pocket computer makes phone calls.

And, I hate to break it to you, but it’s possible that those younglings who have signed up through your website with that required phone field in place are just putting in fake phone numbers anyway. (I know I do it all the time, and I’m a boring old Gen X’er :)

Contact information like a home address or phone number is a secondary goal that you can pursue later. Accept money from those who will support you on their terms and ask for personal information later.

One exception would be for people who choose a high-level membership. If someone is giving thousands of dollars to your organization, it would make sense to have your website present them with the option to enter their phone number. People at that level are showing a commitment that suggests they’re happy to share more information with you, and they may even appreciate a phone call thanking them for their contribution.

The goal is to make this digital interaction more conversational and to stop asking the same questions to everyone as if someone giving $10,000 is going to accept the same terms as someone who is joining at a $50 level for free tickets.

So, what should you ask for on your membership form?

  1. Name

  2. Email address

  3. Membership level

  4. Credit/debit card info

  5. Whether they want to join your mailing list (Optional)

Some people assume they have to collect billing addresses to process payments online, but most modern payment processors do not require addresses to complete transactions. Check to see if your current system really does require addresses or if it's just a default setting that can be changed.

But I know someone at your organization — maybe you — will resist the idea that you should stop asking people for their home address.

So, if you need an intermediate step toward a higher converting membership form, here’s what you can do.

First, ask visitors if they would like to receive mail from your organization.

That’s a yes/no question, and it should be optional to answer. Treat anyone who doesn’t answer the question as a “no,” and if someone chooses “no,” then don’t ask them for their home address at all. A good form should allow for conditional logic where users are only shown questions that are relevant based on their previous input.

If they choose yes, then reveal the form fields to collect their address info. Otherwise, don’t show those fields at all.

If your current processes require you to collect address information, tell people why you need that information on the form. "We need your address to mail you your membership card." Then, let them choose whether they want to opt-in to receive snail mail.

You’re collecting only as much information as necessary and, short of that, you're striving for radical transparency.

Imagine a conversation where you ask someone if you can send them your brochure or newsletter by mail — they say, “No, I don’t want the brochure,” and you then ask them for their home address.

Again, that would be a weird interaction.

So why are you letting your website have those conversations?

By asking for personal contact information up front, you raise concerns about privacy and trust at an early stage in your relationship with the prospective member. Stop excluding privacy-aware individuals from joining your organization. Resist the urge to ask those questions, and more people will convert through your site.

Thanks for reading,


HumanizeKyle Bowen