Episode 294: Attract and Retain Members

BNI Podcast Album Art 300 px


A BNI member asked Dr. Misner how to combine attracting and retaining new members with passing high-quality referrals. There are three factors in this.


BNI works best when you use the whole system as outlined in the manuals. If you remove too many pieces, the whole thing will fall apart.


How many referrals is the chapter giving? How many do we want to be giving? Are they high-quality referrals? Are members attending?


Culture eats strategy for breakfast. The attitude of the group, the way it behaves, the way it feels when you walk into it. If people are laughing and enjoying their meeting and following the system, they have a healthy culture. One person can ruin a group’s culture.

Brought to you by Networking Now.

Complete Transcript of BNI Podcast Episode 294 –

Hello everyone and welcome back to The Official BNI Podcast brought to you by NetworkingNow.com, which is the leading site on the net for networking downloadables. I am Priscilla Rice, and I am coming to you from Live Oak Recording Studio in Berkeley, CA. I am joined on the phone today by the Founder and Chairman of BNI, Dr. Ivan Misner. Hello Ivan, how are you and where are you?

Hi Priscilla. I am doing great, and this week, I am training new Directors – and Directors who are going back for a second time. Mostly new Directors in our Director Orientation that we have a BNI HQ. I have dozens of people from all over North America here for a three day training that we think is really important. I participate in it because I think it is really important to have people hear from me as to how we started and what the traditions of the organization are. So that is what I am doing this week.

That sounds good. What is the topic here that you are sharing?

Today, I am going to be talking about how to attract new members and keep current members while giving high quality referrals. That second part is kind of important. The question came to be from a BNI member who emailed me and said, “How do you attract new members and retain current members all in the context of giving high quality referrals? That is really the reason we are all here.”

I agree. First of all, I think that there are three things to do. Sometimes people ask me if I have the one secret to be successful. I am going to give you the one secret to being successful at the chapter level. Are you ready to hear it?

I’m ready to hear it.

The one secret is there is no one secret. There isn’t. It’s like the recipe for a great meal. There is more than one ingredient. There are multiple ingredients. I have narrowed it down to three and that is what I am going to talk about today. I am going to talk about system, accountability and culture.

When you get those three right- there are more, but when you get those three, I think “core”. When you get those three right, attracting new members is no big deal. Retaining current members is much easier and giving high quality referrals is very natural.

Let’s start with the system. I see some chapters- generally, highly successful chapters that are headed in the direction of becoming unsuccessful start taking apart the system. They like this but they don’t like that. They are going to do this but not going to do that.

I would equate that to a manufacturing plant producing cars. You know, the car is coming off the assembly line and you go, “Do I really need that bolt, or can I pop that off? And this isn’t absolutely necessary to the car. Let’s take that off.” At some point in the line, somebody decided that the wheels aren’t necessary and pulled those off. Somewhere along the line, you end up with a car that is not complete.

When I use this, people say that is just silly and nobody would do that. Well, they do it all the time on things like systems and networks like BNI. They start pulling out pieces of it and guess what- it fails and they can’t figure out why. They can’t figure out why because they are not seeing a complete car but they don’t realize that pulling those pieces out is making a huge difference.

Using the system is really important. Understanding the system is really important. It’s one of the reasons why we have manuals. We produce manuals so that people don’t have to reinvent the wheel.

On the leadership team, people will go through the leadership team and get a manual that is dozens of pages long and walks them through- now mind you, it doesn’t tell you everything you need to know, but it tells you a lot. There are downloadable sections on regional websites on BNI.com for much, much more content. These podcasts are additional content. There is a lot of stuff to help maintain the system.

There are Regional Directors, Director Consultants and Executive Directors. All of these people are there to help you with the system, to interpret the material. So use the system. Don’t pull out pieces from it. It’s like that great big puzzle, Jenga- remember? You pull out pieces and the whole thing falls apart. If you pull out enough pieces, I guarantee you that this will fall apart. The fewer things that you pull out, the more successful that you are going to be. That’s one.

Two, accountability. I have talked about this in previous podcasts, but you can’t talk about this enough. One of the strengths of a powerful network is that most of the members are friends. One of the weaknesses of a network is that most of the members are friends. Friends don’t like to hold friends accountable. This isn’t a friendship organization. This is a referral organization, and accountability is key.

Accountability starts with setting goals. Chapters should have some goals. How many referrals are we getting? How many do we want to be getting? Are they high quality referrals? Just the quantity is valuable, but it is not the most important. It is the quality that is even more important.

So are we giving good referrals and how many are we giving? That’s part of the accountability. Having a goal of this is how many we want to be giving and how are we going to get there? You want to reverse engineer your goal. Do you have members attending or do you have too many members absent- because there is a direct correlation between absentees and reduction in referrals, a direct correlation.

Are you holding each other accountable for the key things in making a successful chapter? This is a business organization, and it’s interesting that people with BNI will say it’s just too much structure and too many things that you have to be responsible for. They don’t want to join.

I am okay with that. I am really okay with that. BNI is not for everyone. It’s for people who are willing to make a commitment to the fellow members and will actually do what is necessary to generate referrals. We need people who are accountable to each other and willing to support each other. You don’t need to talk to anybody into joining BNI. If they think it is too much work, believe me, you don’t want them to join BNI because they will bring that into the group and start- guess what- pulling the engine tiles out because it’s too much. Accountability is the second.

Third, culture. Organizational culture. Culture eats strategy for breakfast. All we have talked about so far is strategy. It’s important.

It’s not that strategy isn’t important. I think it is important. Systems are important. I am a systems guy. Accountability- nobody likes to be held accountable, but the truth is that it’s what makes things work.

But culture is so incredibly important. You know, you can have the best strategy in the world but if you have really bad culture as an organization, you will fail.

Can you tell me, what do you mean by culture? Be more specific.

The attitude of the group, the way it behaves, the feeling of camaraderie, the relationships that exist. These are all part of the culture, the way they operate. What does that look like? When you go into a group- you have visited various chapters, Priscilla.

Yes, I have.

Have you ever gone into a group and you just got a bad feeling, a bad vibe? There was negative energy, people just weren’t happy?

Actually, I haven’t but I am sure those exist.

I have, and that is part of the culture of that chapter- that there are just so many problems that it permeates the vibe of the chapter. I am sure you have gone to chapters where you walk in and there are people laughing, they are having a good time- you know, obviously very positive. They are generating a lot of business. They are following the system and generating a lot of business. You have seen that, right?

Yeah, my chapter, for example.

And you have a lot of members in your chapter. What size is your group?

We are at 35 now but we are trying to get back up to 42, which is where we used to be.

35 to 45 is a great size for a chapter.

You can tell you are in a good chapter and the chapter has a healthy culture when people are laughing, they are enjoying their meeting and they are following the system. It is a culture. Culture is all about the attitude and the healthy organizational environment. We don’t talk about that a lot in BNI but it is so important.

It’s one of the reasons why you want to be really picky about who you bring in. And you know, I think there is a podcast about who’s in the room. It’s one of those things that you want to be really picky about who you bring in.

I have content I have done on who’s in your room; I think I have done a podcast on who’s in your room. It’s one of those things that you want to be selective about who you bring into your room, who you bring into your chapter because one or two people can really make a difference in the culture of the chapter.

We have all worked in places- I would be surprised if you haven’t worked in a place where somebody quit or was let go and all of a sudden, there was this general sigh of relief from everybody. Everybody goes, “Ah! Thank goodness they are out!” I have done that. People just go, “I am so glad that person is no longer here.”

I know I talked about this in a previous podcast. I knew a woman who once said, “The best thing that this one guy can  do for our chapter is call in sick. When he calls in sick, we have a great meeting. He is a fun sucker. He sucks the fun right out of the room.” This one person would do this in a chapter and they had a bad organizational culture. Sometimes one or two people can turn around the culture of a group.

Culture is so important in  attracting new people. I have people who come to a chapter and go, “Yeah, that guy was a jerk. I am not going to join that group.” One person! There may be 40 people in the room. One person is a jerk and they won’t join. One person can make a difference in the culture to make it negative.

Many people have to have a positive attitude to make a culture. Positive. One person can ruin a culture. Generally, it is more than one. But one can ruin a culture in a group. It takes many to build a culture. That is one of the reasons why in our Code of Ethics, you have to have a positive and supportive attitude. That is one of the  Code of Ethics items. That has culture written all over it.

Bringing in new members, culture is so key. Retaining members, culture is key. And getting high quality referrals, culture is absolutely applicable. The system and accountability lay the ground work, but the culture is where people are motivated to give those quality referrals. They don’t want to give a bad referral because that  would hurt the culture of the group.

So, you know, giving referrals is part of system and accountability. Giving high quality referrals is part of culture. So you want to attract new members, you want to retain members and you want high quality referrals. Focus on the chapter’s system. Focus on accountability in the chapter and focus on building a healthy chapter culture. If you do those three things, you are going to have a great group.

Okay, great. That is wonderful. I have to add something because I don’t think it is part of exactly what you are saying, but our group moved to a new location and the atmosphere of the location as well as the food improved dramatically and it really made the meeting a lot more fun. So I don’t know if that has anything to do with what you are talking about but it certainly influences it.

Yeah, sometimes it does. Sometimes moving from one location to another- a chapter will do it thinking their problem is the location and they make the move and there is no difference in the group. Sometimes it is the location. One of the things that you want to do is really assess. Is it a location issue or is it a people issue?

If it is a people issue, you could move your meetings to the Ritz and it won’t make a difference. If it location, making a move can make a difference, so yes, clearly you are right because it seemed to make a difference, but don’t expect a location move to always solve a problem with the chapter. But it can definitely solve some issues in a chapter.

Okay, good.

That is all I have for today, Priscilla. Thanks.

Okay. Great. Thank you so much, Dr. Misner.  I would just like to remind the listeners that this podcast has been brought to you by NetworkingNow.com, which is the leading site on the net for networking downloadables. Thank you  for listening. This is Priscilla Rice and we hope you will join us next week for another exciting episode of The Official BNI Podcast.


  1. Bamboo says

    Great podcast today.
    How would you engage a chapter leadership team to see where they aren’t attending to these three key elements in the most productive manner? (They see themselves as working the system and following the guidelines, but really aren’t.) What are some questions you might ask them to see things differently?

  2. JVC Sreeram says

    I guess these 3 Systems, Accountability & Culture are the key pillars for success in BNI & also in our business. When I look at Chapters going on an upward spiral and a chapter on the downhill, I can now see the Chapter on the downhill is clearly messing up on these 3. Great education and Excellent Insight. Thanks Dr. Ivan Misner for sharing.

  3. Gary Robinson says

    We are trying to grow our chapter and we had a visitor come and his business conflicted with mine but this was not noticed until he had his turn to deliver his 60 seconds.

    In line with the code of ethics I let this carry on to keep the meeting positive and not display any negativity as there were some substitutes in the room and I did not want give them the experience of a bad atmosphere and meeting.

    Did I do the right thing or should I have stood up and stopped him part the way through.

  4. says

    Gary, the devil is always in the details of a situation. However, as you described it in your message, it sounds like you handled it appropriately. People should always praise in public and redirect in private.

    Stopping him mid-stream would have been uncomfortable for him and others in the room. Since he was in your classification, he wouldn’t be able to join and there was no harm in letting him speak.

    It sounds like you did the right thing based on the information I have.



Solutions-focused comments are welcome