Membership is the National Trust’s biggest single source of funds. For nearly two decades, the Trust had offered big discounts to encourage new members to join. But membership renewals were lower than desired, meaning acquisition media spend wasn’t as cost-effective as it should have been.

A data-driven, integrated acquisition campaign – shifting focus from price cuts to value with a ‘recruit to retain’ approach – led to the National Trust having its best-ever year for new membership income.


Successfully shifted membership recruitment from discount-led to value-led strategy

Best-ever year for new membership income with strong ROI

Significant year on year increase on member retention figures


A data-driven foundation was integral to the success of the campaign. Conjoint analysis was employed to explore incentive options in place of a discount, such as offering new members a £15 National Trust gift card, or a pair of binoculars. This analysis showed that incentives matter, but it was clear the value of these incentives mattered less than previously thought.

The removal of discounts – via a phased approach across digital channels – followed a robust testing period, assessing the impact of dropping discounts across all acquisition channels for short periods. The phased approach enabled continuous learning throughout the campaign, with contingency plans in place to use the historic discount tactically if required but this was not needed.

Creative and media planning was closely aligned with the brand TV ad, to help build an emotional connection to the National Trust.

Two-stage prospecting activity was tested to improve the conversion journey to membership.

The website was optimised with increased emphasis on the ‘Join Online’ journey promoting monthly Direct Debit sign ups, thus aiding retention and opening up membership to wider socio-economic groups.

A lighter format door drop pack was also developed to reduce acquisition costs and has delivered almost as many sales as the heavier pack version, supporting the National Trust’s environmental objectives and resulting in a lower cost per new membership.


The new approach has made a significant impact. The National Trust had its highest ever year for new membership income and the second-best year ever for direct recruitment. All while dispensing with the three months’ free membership discount.

  • Membership income target exceeded by 26% and strong ROI
  • Media spend now higher on online than offline channels for the first time, reducing environmental impact of the programme
  • Cost per new member significantly reduced with incentives replacing membership discounts
  • Year on year increase on year 1 retention figures significantly outperforming target metric


DMA Awards 2017:

Performance Marketing Awards 2017:

What they’re saying

“My belief is that membership provides a means of harnessing and growing support for the National Trust, a method of engaging supporters so they believe we are relevant, and a vehicle for emotional and practical connection with us. It is also my belief that the way in which we recruit new memberships directly impacts these levels of engagement and connection. We decided that we needed to move away from a long-standing use of price promotions, and in doing so we even more successfully delivered against our primary objective of having more supporters, staying longer, and doing more with us. Importantly, this ‘Recruit to Retain’ strategy supports our ambition that people understand we are driven by a cause and purpose that matters to them personally, and an organisation that looks after special places in our care, for ever, for everyone.”

Ian OxleyHead of Membership Recruitment