Retaining Choir Members




What can you do when new singers are trying out your choir but not staying? Unless you’re a long-established, small semi-professional or professional choir, you will always be on the lookout for new members. Community choirs are forever evolving, and their very survival depends on a constant stream of community members to try out and join. Most choirs are an ever-revolving door of people, but what happens if that influx of new people doesn’t join? This month, the CCLN  time looks at what might have gone wrong and how to improve that new member take-up rate.

What am I doing wrong?
The answer is probably nothing! We’ve touched on member retention in the past, but that was aimed at long term members who gradually drifted away from the choir. It’s a different situation when you have just one brief rehearsal to grab the attention of someone new. This is not personal; it could be that your teaching style doesn’t suit them, the repertoire is not what they’re looking for, you’re too fast (or slow) paced for their personality or ability, or simply that the night of the week you rehearse doesn’t fit their schedule. Remember, not every choir will suit every singer, so you will always have those who try you and never return. You can’t win them all, but you can work on giving potential new recruits the best experience possible.

Make your choir welcoming!
Many of you will offer a free trial – a snapshot of your overall experience – so you need to make your choir welcoming. We all like to think our choirs are friendly and inviting, but not everyone is outgoing or throws themselves into a new experience. Some new recruits won’t have sung in a choir since their school days, and others may lack confidence in their ability to be part of an already established group. First impressions count, so take the time to chat with potential new members and gauge their specific needs early on. Recruit current members to act as “buddies” to those attending for the first time. For instance, it can be lonely and overwhelming when the break comes, so make sure your potential new member has someone to chat with – someone who puts them at ease.

Ensure new recruits are prepared!
If you put some work in beforehand, new recruits will come to their first rehearsal knowing what to expect and already feeling comfortable. No one wants surprises when they’re trying out a new activity, so give them as much information in advance as you can. This can be as simple as directing them to your web page, ensuring they know a little more about who you are and what you do prior to their first night. If you have time, make yourself available for informal chats on the phone or send out a welcome pack and provide music/lyrics ahead of time to know what they’ll be singing. Have them arrive a little earlier than your regular members so that they’re not overwhelmed by the noise and disruption when your regular members start arriving.

Provide tools to help settle them in!
Some new recruits will already know where their voice fits in a choir, but many will be doing this for the first time (or at least doing it for the first time in many years). If you’re a non-auditioned choir providing a simple tool on your website where potential new members can check their range is very helpful. It doesn’t have to be high-tech; post a link with you singing “Happy Birthday” (or something as easily recognisable) in Soprano, Alto and Bass and have them sing along until they find the part that feels most comfortable. This is the perfect way to help them arrive at rehearsal with an idea of where they might fit in and will save you having to guess where to put them based on their speaking voice alone. Also, try to provide printable music or lyric sheets ahead of time so that you do not have to supply these on the night, and the new recruit can attend feeling ready and prepared to sing.

Try to balance the old and the new!
If someone joins your choir halfway through the year, they will feel left out singing through old favourites, so make sure you have a good balance of old and new repertoire. Whilst it’s not always possible, try to concentrate your recruitment drive at the beginning of the season or term and not towards the end of the year when you’re preparing for a big show, and everyone else is focused on “perfecting and polishing” rather than learning new material. This way, all choir members, whether established or new, will start with all new repertoire, keeping everyone in the same boat. Also, try not to continually talk about the past or spend the evening telling “in” jokes and stories during those rehearsals where you have many people trying out – they can be saved for weeks further into the rehearsal schedule once new members are a little more established.

Keep up the pastoral care and personal connection!
It’s easy to forget new members once they’ve paid their fee and attended a few rehearsals – it can take much longer than you think. If you can’t do it personally, it’s essential for somebody to regularly check in with new members for at least the first term – that’s where those “buddies” come in handy. Have them make sure your new members have everything they need, are making friends and are feeling confident with the music; it will undoubtedly help ensure they stay beyond the first few weeks of term.

What is your refund policy?
Once a new member has joined and paid, you’ll have already invested time and energy into them. Ensure you have a watertight refund policy which suits your business plan. If you can get your new member to commit to a term, they’ll likely stay for years simply because they’ll have become one of those established members themselves by the end of the term. “Drop-in” choirs are fine if you’re ok with “drop-outs”, but most choir leaders need not only regular members to be able to put on show-stopping performances but also a regular income!

Some new recruits won’t return no matter what you do, and that’s ok too! You can’t and won’t be able to please everyone, so give them the greatest experience you can in those few short hours and don’t overthink it if they decide not to sign up – you can’t win them all!

We’d love to hear how you manage (or struggle to manage) to retain choir members in the comments below.

Did you enjoy our blog? Check out our other blogs on all choir related topics

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