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Membership Ins and Outs... and Ins

You don’t need to reinvent the wheel, but you do need to know there is one.


Membership is a conundrum for some organizations, and a mammoth undertaking for others, but understanding the big picture increases capacity and reminds organizations that member communications, and tactics, need to be relevant to the member depending where they are in the evolving relationship with the organization. One of the most compelling resources out there today explaining this is Marketing General Incorporated (www.marketinggeneral.com) with a systemic view called The Membership Lifecycle. Often associations have one or two tactics for dealing with their membership issues, with little experimentation or innovation, and use cookie cutter messages without realizing the different phases of member association with your organization.

We might not remember how, or when, it happened, but there is a time in everyone’s life when they discover the existence association that sooner or later would draw them in. Unfortunately, some organizations rely on chance; assuming that they offer a desirable product, and those that need it will find them. What is actually needed is a strategic and proactive plan to establish a brand designed to attract people’s attention, drive traffic to the website, and generate prospects for potential membership. Targeting markets with a clear value proposition informs choices. Realization of the economic value of membership at the Awareness stage is derived from both the economic and social structure of the situation, rather than just from the inherent characteristics of the association itself and its “desirable” product. The goal of the Awareness stage is to build recognition and generate new relationships by delivering information or resources that only qualified prospects would value. Potential members are qualified as they sign up to receive content prior to being recruited as members. As reliance on, and confidence in, the association grows over time, membership becomes a natural next step.

There also comes a time when the association needs to ask for membership in the organization. Inviting new members to join should be done with a compelling message expressing unique value (vision and robust mission), tangible value (benefits), and relationship values (context for cultivation and intimacy). The goal of the Recruitment phase is to successfully capture the attention of your prospects, and have them choose to become a member of your organization. Offers and incentives to new members often make it easier for them to buy into the more practical reasons for joining an association.

The Engagement stage is the process of moving members from observers to users. The most likely memberships to lapse are first-year members, so while membership engagement across the association is important, it is imperative that associations to find ways to engage first-year members positively and often. Strategies for Engagement include welcome notices and packages, affirmation of value, encouraging new members to use benefits, communicating the vision, and/or special program for new members. An engagement plan is vital to associations for retention and growth; to meet the expectations of current and new members so that they feel they have been part of a relationship, and in a two-way conversation. “Members who are actively involved with an organization appreciate the value they receive much more than those who are not involved,” (Rossell, 2012). Members who have felt engaged are more likely than non-engaged members to renew.

Many associations rely on the deadline for membership renewal to be the impetus for members to renew. This is especially detrimental if there has not been any contact with the member since the last renewal, members forget about renewal, or members did not see value in the membership (and you didn’t hear about it). Relationships with members need to be carefully nurtured in order to strengthen the feelings of engagement and affiliation with the organization. Associations have the opportunity to use the Renewal phase to build upon their engagement strategies to “confirm the value that has been delivered… and request a continuance of the relationship,” (Rossell, 2010). Frequency of contact and quality of content combined with early renewal attempts promotes Renewal success by reminding members why the association is relevant to them.

A lapsing member is not always a dissatisfied member, or even purposeful, but when it is, it is important to find the breakdown and reinstate former members to paid status. The Reinstatement phase in another opportunity for relationship building. Reaching out to members after expiration is an important way to get feedback as to why they did not continue, reverse longer-term membership losses, and keep your contact database up to date; these ex-members have in-depth knowledge about who you are, and your vision for your industry. It is important to stay in touch with former members and try to recruit them again.

Recruiting and retaining members, new and old, takes effort but it is not complicated or difficult. Although people usually buy memberships because they believe in an organization and want to help further its goals, and reap the benefits, there are many important stages that have their own relationship goals, strategies and key messages, so one-size-fits-all tactics are not the answer. It is a valuable exercise for all associations to have a membership plan that includes tactics and strategies related to the lifecycle, and review it regularly to ensure they are actually reaching and building relationships with people in each phase.

Lori Farley

Rossell, Tony. "The Membership Lifecycle: A Systematic Approach to Membership Marketing." DAXKO Connect Virtual Customer Conference. Peach New Media. 22 Oct. 2010. Webinar.

Rossell, Tony. “The MGI Membership Lifecycle.Spring 2011.  Marketing General Inc. 2011. 15 Jul. 2012 www.marketinggeneral.com/resources/white-papers/white-paper-library

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Membership Retention - How Does Your Organization Measure Up?

The old business adage that it is easier to keep a customer than to get a new one applies to the world of member-based associations in that it is easier to keep a member than to get a new one.  Your members are your organizations’ reason for being – are you keeping them happy?  While our last blog focused on ways to attract new members, this one will touch on ways to keep the members you have.


Does your organization track its membership retention rate?  The American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) reports that the average renewal rate is 83% for member-based associations.  How does your association measure up?   ASAE provides the following formula for measuring member retention:

Total Number of Members Today – 12 Months of New Members/Total Number of Members in Previous Years = Renewal Rate

The first year of membership is often referred to as the conversion year, since this is the time when a new member is most likely not to renew.  They may have decided to try the association out, or perhaps they joined through an incentive program, however if the value is not there for them they are unlikely to renew.

So, how do you weather the conversion year?  Two words - engagement and communication.

ASAE provides some interesting statistics that help to emphasize the importance that membership engagement has on retention:

  • Members who attended a membership meeting in the past year were 19% more likely to renew
  • Members who attended four or more meetings were 30% more likely to renew
  • Members who placed a product order in the past year were 28% more likely to renew


Are you providing regular opportunities for your membership to get together?  If not, look to incorporate this in, as face-to-face is the best way to engage your members.  Are you reaching out to your members to involve them in the various volunteer opportunities your organization may have available?  In a study done by Statistics Canada in 2010, 45% of respondents indicated that they didn’t volunteer because no one had asked them to do so.  So, ask away….what better way to get your members more entrenched with your organization then by making them an active part of the team.

Which leads to our second point – communication.  Ensure that your members know what is going on within the organization.  Remind them time and time again why they joined your organization, and of the value that your association brings.  Make sure that this communication goes two ways though – reach out to your membership on a regular basis through surveys and polls to ensure that you are in fact meeting their needs and to identify new growth areas for the organization.

Keep your members engaged, keep them informed, and keep them involved in regular two-way conversation, and you can look forward to a long, happy, healthy relationship.

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Wooing New Members

In honor of Valentine’s Day, an article on wooing new members seemed appropriate.  Bringing in new members seems to be a universal struggle for many groups.  The nonprofit sector continues to grow and new professional associations continue to emerge on a regular basis – new organizations vying for your customers’ money, time and focus.  How can your organization attract these potential members over the ‘other fish in the sea’?


In the spirit of the day, let’s look at some time-honored dating advice and see how it applies to the wonderful world of membership recruitment.

  • Have fun together: Show that your organization knows how to have a good time by mixing up your business and technical educational offerings with lighter fare – fun social events that will give these potential members the opportunity to network with peers in a less formal setting.  New member mixers are also a great way to introduce these new members to your organization and let them know how to maximize their membership experience.
  • Open communication: How will the object of your affection know that you wish to woo them unless you tell them?  Find a way to communicate to your target market exactly why they should belong to your organization.  Once they join the organization, ensure that a board or committee member reaches out to them to welcome them aboard.  And once you have them engaged, keep the lines of communication open.  Mix it up!  With so many communication tools available, from social media to member newsletters to regular surveys, there is no reason to suffer from the dreaded ‘poor communication’ relationship killer.     
  • Use your networks: When looking for a love connection, it is recommended that you start with your own personal acquaintances and networks.  Same thing applies when looking for new members.  Provide incentives for your current members to bring new members into the fold.  And ensure to recognize and thank those members who are referring new members to the organization. 
  • Be sensitive and caring: Let’s face it…..potential members have options.  If you want to court them, you will need to demonstrate that you can meet their needs.  Within your membership there are likely subsets…..identify these subsets and find ways to tailor the membership experience to make it even more personalized and relevant.
  • Flattery will get you everywhere: When you finally win over a new member, let them know how pleased you are to welcome them to your organization.  And continue to recognize them throughout your relationship.  Social media has given organizations a whole new (and free) means for recognizing members, so take advantage.  

Of course, while it is important to give focus to wooing these new members to your association, it is even more important to cherish those relationships with existing members.  It’s been said time and time again that it is easier to keep an existing customer than to get a new one, and this applies with association memberships as well.  Our next blog will address various ways to engage and recognize your members, and how to nurture that critical relationship.  Keep the honeymoon going!!

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