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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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