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The Members of a Political Party


The members are an important part of any party and its best link to its supporters. Parties often seek a large base of members from various social groups. The strength and diversity of the membership has a direct effect on the formation of policy inside the party.

The members of a party have greater political influence than citizens who do not belong to any party. Ideally, they can participate in the formation of policy within the party and agree on the direction of the party and its priorities. A precondition for this form of participation is that the party offers sufficient possibilities for intra- party democracy, such as discussions and the participation of members in policy formulation and leadership selection and decentralisation.

Furthermore, parties with a large membership base have higher chances of participating successfully in the political contest, winning elections and exerting influence on the formation of political opinion. This is because having a wide and diverse base of members allows parties to mobilize support among diverse groups, create party machines (outreach structures) to raise awareness about their policies and candidates and make use of volunteers in grassroots campaigning activities. (Hofmeister and Grabow 2011: 60).

Recruiting Members And Keeping Them Active Membership Systems

Certain membership criteria must be set up in the party constitution, such as min- imum age. The membership should be linked to the Branch and be renewed ev- ery year. If possible – and politically safe it is good to have a national computerized membership database.

Recruiting members is a main task for any party and members should be trained and equipped for this task. The party at national level should ensure that there is a coherent system for recruitment. There should be prepared packs that include appli- cation forms, membership slips, procedural information for recruiters and any other information about party membership. Key information includes how the party func- tions and what membership means in terms of rights and responsibilities.

There should be someone in each party branch should be assigned the task of membership officer. He or she is responsible for setting up a recruitment team which in turn will be tasked to work out a strategy. Every Branch must keep a detailed record of their membership so it can be followed up every year. Membership fees must be deposited into the party’s bank account. Usually this is the party’s main ac- count but there are many different procedures for how the total membership fee is allocated to the different levels of the party structure.

Recruitment: Strategy and Plan

Every political party wants to grow. For any individual who wants to contribute to the development of society in a certain direction, becoming a member of a party should be the best option. Party membership should give a person a more direct opportu- nity to influence what decisions are made than that given by the simple right to vote for a predetermined program.

A party becomes stronger and its policies more legitimate when its membership is a reflection of the society as a whole. When the Branch recruits new members it should have a strategy for recruitment that takes this aim into account.
Start by looking at the Branch’s membership structure: what are the weaknesses – maybe this is a Branch dominated by pensioners? How do we reach other groups such as families with children for instance? How do we reach professionals?

The other crucial part of the recruitment strategy is the party’s message. The Branch needs to decide on a short message to potential members answering one question – why should they join the party?

Recruitment Methods

Many members need to be involved in the recruitment of new members. One method is to set up a task team, comprised of at least five people or more, that designs a recruitment plan and implements it. This plan should encourage current members to recruit new members. Recruiters need to be well trained as “marketers” of the party. They should be trained to answer the questions that people are likely to ask. They also need to be well equipped with resources like pamphlets and programs.

Recruiting members is an ongoing activity in the party. But there can also be spe- cial occasions with a focus on recruitment, such as “drives” or “blitzes.” Door-to-door work, election campaigns and public events are opportunities that should be used to recruit members. Other methods include information tables set up in public spaces and at events.

Leaders can be present, walking around and making contact with people. If the party has something to hand out like a pamphlet, direct contact be- comes easier and more natural. More conventional methods include sending letters or e-mails. Remember that whichever method is used for recruiting, it needs to be well planned and structured to facilitate follow up.

Keeping Members Active

Many branches lose members as fast as they recruit them. This is a common prob- lem for most parties. Branches should take a look at how they function and what kind of activities they offer new members. Are there long boring meetings with one person talking forever? Are there a few people doing everything – and deciding most things? Are the members seldom appreciated or seen? Are there few activities and projects for new members to join? If the answer yes to many of those questions, it is time to renew a Branch’s activities – or it will be very difficult to get new members. People have a lot of choices on how to spend their time and energy. The Branch is competing and must be attractive.

Membership in the party must provide value beyond mere voting. Members are mo- tivated when they feel valued by the party, that their contribution is important. Mem- bers want to learn about – and work with – issues that interest them. They want to be part of a team, to belong and engage in social activities with others in the party.

Source: How To Run And Represent A Party: A Capacity-Building Handbook For Social Democrats