Member retention: It’s always on our minds. And in 2020, that’s truer than ever. When people face so many competing demands for time, attention, and money, how do you plan to get your members to stick around?
Your membership renewal strategy is a critical component of revenue — and when it’s neglected, your association risks undermining your financial health and overall ability to serve members for the long term.
The 2020 Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report asked associations why they think members don’t renew.
If you’re wondering how to attack the retention question this year, these stats are a pretty good indicator of where you should start. While a poor retention rate is bad news, the good news is that each reported reason is addressable.
This is precisely why you can, and should, be addressing the top six reasons associations believe their members aren’t renewing:
Note: This number is growing – up from 37% in 2018 and 41% in 2019.
- 43% of associations say it’s because of a lack of engagement with the organisation
- 29% of associations feel members don’t renew due to budget cuts/economic hardship of company
- 28% of associations report that members couldn’t justify membership costs with any significant ROI
- 25% of associations believe it’s because members left the field, industry, or profession
- 25% of associations say it’s because members forgot to renew
- 25% of associations find it’s because of a lack of value
(By the way, Marketing General Inc. added that although they conducted this research prior to the global pandemic of COVID-19, this report explores core foundations that “predict whether or not an association’s membership will thrive going into the future.”)
Based on this list, there are obviously some common problems that plague associations. We’re not telling you these problems will be quickly solved – they’ll require serious attention from your association – but they can be solved.
Let’s go through and address each issue and how it can be fixed.
REASON #1: LACK OF ENGAGEMENT WITH THE ORGANISATION
Engagement has a serious impact on retention. According to the report, the biggest reason members aren’t renewing is because they don’t feel engaged. Focus on improving engagement as a part of your membership renewal strategy, and you’ll see improved retention.
Also? A reported 24 percent of associations do not have a tactical plan to increase engagement. If that’s you, or even if you think your members are pretty engaged, this is an area where you should be focusing if you want your members to stick around.
How to fix it: Get your members engaged
- Center your focus: To start solving this problem, you first need to recognize that engagement is a real need for your members (and it’s also not going away).
- Next, recognize engagement as a top priority in your organization. It’s not about blasting your members with content that may or may not be relevant to them. It’s about finding out who they really are, what they want, and providing it to them at the right time. (More on this below)
- Embrace engagement technology tools: Dedicated engagement software, like online community and automated email campaign platforms, can help you get members involved.
- Build an online member community: An online community for your members helps you engage your members, by giving them a specialized space for connecting with both you and other members. Discussion threads, resource libraries, gamification rules, automation rules – these are just a few of the built-in tools at your service to get members interested and draw them into participation. See how other associations are using their communities to support members during COVID-19.
- Automate your emails: Use automated email campaigns to send more targeted and personalized messages to all segments of your membership, increasing the effectiveness of your communications.
With these types of powerful data-driven tools at your fingertips, you’re now engaging members with highly relevant content that inspires them to engage (since you’re targeting them based on what they were already interested in).
REASONS #2 AND #3: BUDGET CUTS/ECONOMIC HARDSHIP OF COMPANY OR LEFT THE FIELD, INDUSTRY, OR PROFESSION
Of the six retention issues, this one will probably be the toughest for you to solve, since these reasons for not renewing are external. That being said, the best way to meet these kinds of retention issues is to make your association membership so valuable that dropping it is out of the question, even during this tough time.
How to fix it: Make member success your top goal
One of your top goals to address leaving the field should be to provide members with the resources they need to succeed in the industry.
- Make joining your association equivalent to becoming the best in the field, so members are empowered for success in the long-term.
- Again, look to engagement tools to help you with this task. Higher Logic’s online community software has networking tools, mentoring opportunities, learning management systems, access to experts, etc. and members can build the network they need to be empowered and well-connected in the field.
Bonus: You could try restructuring your dues or creating special dues offers to encourage members to renew. Again, this isn’t going to be the strongest approach, since if members don’t see value, a lower price won’t be extremely convincing. Marketing General Inc.’s report provides a helpful analysis on successful strategies for association due discounts, so refer to the report for those strategies.
Don’t miss our eBook: Streamline Your Membership Renewal Process: Go From Outdated to Automated.
Overall, the best defense against this retention issue is going to be your engagement and value offense.
REASONS #4 AND #5: UNABLE TO JUSTIFY COSTS WITH SIGNIFICANT ROI OR LACK OF VALUE
These reasons are combined, since they’ve got similar root causes and solutions. Between 20 and 30 percent of members aren’t renewing because they don’t see value in paying for your organization. Since we both know your association offers amazing member benefits, the problem may simply be miscommunication.
Providing value to members entails a few key communication needs:
- You know what value members expect from joining your organization.
- You communicate where and when they can get what they want.
- You make what they want easily accessible.
How to fix it: Cover the common bases
Of course, there are a few buckets of “association membership value” you can generally expect members want, such as professional development, networking, or certification in the industry. From that perspective, here are a few practical ways to provide more value to your members, using engagement tech:
Match each need with a tool:
- You know you have a network of amazing members that want to connect and mentoring each other. Give them a way to connect from anywhere in the world by developing a mentorship program through your online community.
- If you have an excellent webinar series going on, give members an event calendar in your community where they can immediately see all the learning opportunities that are available.
- If you offer incredible advocacy power, connect with them through your community so they understand you’re accessible.
How to fix it: Meet individual needs
But how can you know what members want, specifically, without undertaking a significant project where you ask each one individually and start catering to their unique requests?
- Look to the data: With automated email campaigns, you can gather important engagement data. Your goal of providing members with relevant value is no longer based on guess-work or intense research. Your content is based on real, active data points that inform how you engage with them.
For example, if a member engages with your emails and visits pages on your website about a certification you offer, you can continue to nurture this interest by providing them with more information in an email nurture campaign. You act on the cues they provide and share the content they want.
- Review conversations: What are members talking about in your online community?
Don’t let your members leave your association without a clear understanding of the value you offer. Make sure you’re communicating the value you have and the value they want. This is a key piece of your membership renewal strategy.
REASON #6: FORGOT TO RENEW
No, no, no. You can’t let members forget that renewal is coming up. This is due to a lack of action on the part of the association (unless the member dropped off the face of the earth and stopped checking their email for three months). Your members should decide not to renew for a good reason, not because you allowed them to forget.
How to fix it: Notify members about renewal
- Put renewal on auto-pilot: Maybe your staff is too busy to notify each member about their renewal expiration, but if that’s the case, you need to adopt technology to help you streamline the membership renewal process. Once you’ve created your amazing automated email campaign for renewal, you can set these renewal campaigns on annual autopilot.
- Automated campaigns take care of your repetitive tasks like renewal reminder emails, and they’re more efficient, too. Your staff will save time that they can use to reach out to members and make those personal calls that make a difference for key members.
These automated email campaigns will build on your engagement and value strategy well. You’re not only providing value to members, you’re letting them know when they’re about to miss out.
MEMBER RETENTION IS IN YOUR HANDS
Members deciding not to renew isn’t a problem you’ll ever solve once and for all, and retention isn’t something you can keep at 100 percent. But you can take control of the problem by addressing the top reasons members don’t renew.
Engaging your members, communicating your value, providing tools for member success, and reminding your members about renewal are just some of the ways you can affect your retention rate for the better.
But either way, the majority of the stats we shared from the Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report are really about how your members perceive the value of their membership with your association.
You could be offering what you think are the best membership benefits in the world, but if these benefits aren’t what your members are looking for, they won’t value them. Furthermore, they may not be willing to pay up when it comes time to renew their membership.
So, how can we bridge this divide between what you’re offering, and your members’ expectations?
We need to take a member-first approach, and we’ll get there through: 1) research, 2) refinement, and 3) follow through.
FOLLOW THIS 3-STEP PROCESS TO REFINE YOUR ASSOCIATION’S MEMBERSHIP BENEFITS (AND IMPROVE YOUR MEMBERSHIP RENEWAL STRATEGY)
1. Research: Find Out What Your Members Value
Your members join your association because they think they’ll benefit from the membership. If they’re not renewing because they’re not getting the benefit they expected, it’s time for you to do some digging.
Finding out what your members need and want from your association is as simple as asking them. But how do you ask them? Try these suggestions:
If you have an online community, this is a great place to get to know your members. Even without asking for it, you’ll get feedback. They’ll share their needs, interests, and problems as they engage with their fellow members, and you get to hear it all because your organization owns the conversation.
You may want to ask some specific questions about your membership. In this case, it’s usually most productive to reach out to a smaller group of members. Ask if these members would be willing to participate in a focus group. Your focus group can be a private sub-community, open only to those who accepted your offer. Ask honest questions and request honest answers. Try these on for size:
- Do you think membership with our association is worth the dues you pay? Why or why not? (Explain)
- Is being a member of our association what you thought it would be? Why or why not? (Explain)
- Is there anything you could use or benefit from that we don’t currently offer? What’s missing? (Explain)
Sometimes your method of asking doesn’t have to be obvious. With marketing automation, you can run email campaigns that collect members’ activity on your site. This allows you to start personalizing their experience based on what they truly need. When you have the data in aggregate, you can analyze the most popular links clicked and most common web pages visited and infer what your members want to see more of.
Sometimes a little anecdotal evidence is helpful for justifying change. Contact a selection of new, lapsed, and long-time members, and ask them about their experience with your association. Get the details on why they joined, stayed, or left. Of course, don’t base changes to your membership solely on this feedback, as it might not be what everyone thinks or feels. But you can use their feedback to confirm things you’re already finding in your other research.
Next, it’s time to do something about all these cold, hard facts.
2. Refinement: Rework Your Offerings
Depending on what you heard from members, you might need to keep up the good work, communicate what you’re offering more clearly, make your membership benefits more accessible, or change it completely. It’s likely you’ll need to do a mixture of all four. The bottom line is to use the research you’ve done to make sure your value proposition is answering their biggest needs.
Here are 6 ideas for indispensable association membership benefits.
Take their feedback and start a working group within your association – think about how you can better meet their needs. You might find that you need a new tech tool or a bigger investment in marketing to deliver a more personalized member experience.
For example, if you hear members say, “I thought I’d have tons more networking opportunities than I do,” it might be time to invest in an online community and give members the connection they’re craving.
Especially when in-person events aren’t possible, an online community is available year-round. Generally at no cost to members, it can be a great tool for linking members up with the right mentors or volunteers to fuel their professional growth.
Or, if you’re hearing members ask for more relevant content, maybe you need to invest in a marketing automation tool that you can use to personalize and target the communications they receive.
With the right tweaks, you can give your members the value they want.
3. Follow Through: Communicate and Check In
Any basketball or tennis players out there already know: follow-through is key to a good shot.
Once you’ve finished refining your membership program, you’ve got to follow up with members to let them know you’ve made changes and to make sure they’re happy with what you did. It’s imperative.
Instead of jamming every benefit you offer into one email, spread it out. Try creating a series of emails to welcome new members to your association, and create the workflow based on their interests.
For example, if they’re really interested in your online community, guide them to participate in your mentoring program through the community. If they only read information about your advocacy efforts, give them more content about how to sign up.
This piece echoes the research you did in the first step:
- Convene your online community focus group again, or better yet, ask a new set of members if they think the revisions will meet their needs
- Run another drip campaign through your marketing automation platform to survey members about the feedback, and schedule one-on-one calls with those who seem particularly interested
- Follow up with the same group of individuals you interviewed and ask how they like the changes (and if they heard about them)
POSITION YOUR ASSOCIATION FOR SUCCESS IN 2020: HELP YOUR MEMBERS HELP YOU
If you want members to stick around, you’ve got to help them. And by help them, we mean both help them see the value of being in your organization and literally help them – that’s why they joined your association in the first place. They were looking for something. Something they thought you could offer. But if they’re not renewing, they didn’t find what they were looking for, or even an unexpected value that made it worth staying.
You need to know what your members want from their association membership in order to deliver on that value.
So, dig in, and really get to know your members and how you can best serve their wants and needs. This is your key to creating a member experience they’ll find worthy of holding on to.
Manager, Strategic Services
Melanie is Manager of Strategic Services at Higher Logic. Melanie advises clients on community management strategy and best practices for building a highly engaged and successful community. Prior to Higher Logic, Melanie worked at WeddingWire as a Senior Customer Success Manager.