4 Tips to Increase Member Retention at Your Association

Associations, Retention // If you're unhappy with your member acquisition rate, it's time to actively launch a retention program. Here are 4 tips to help you.

Christina Metcalf
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According to the 2015 Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report from Marketing General Incorporated, 67% of associations surveyed boasted increasing retention rates year over year with the average individual member renewal at 85% for trade associations and 76% for member organizations.

As an industry, those are decent numbers, but how does your association compare?

If you’re unhappy with your retention or member acquisition rate, it’s time to actively launch a retention program. Since it’s easier to keep a member than it is to sign one, retention is the place to start. You should already have the basis for a relationship. Now you’re just strengthening it.

Why Do Association Members Leave?

Most people are reticent to tell you the real reason they’re leaving. They don’t want to cause an issue, hurt feelings, or they simply don’t feel like wasting the time. When you’re disengaged enough to terminate your membership, you don’t generally take the time to explain why or even seriously think about why. However, survey shows that one thing most responses will have in common is that the member simply didn’t find enough value in membership.

According to the Marketing General Report 37% of members didn’t renew because their employer stopped paying their membership. In that case your association’s value was strong until it applied to spending their own money on dues.

Nearly just as many (33%) left the field or industry. In these cases, there’s simply nothing that can be done. If someone is no longer a lawyer, they’re not going to pay to join the Bar Association. The most disconcerting of the numbers was that 49% of former trade association members left because they experienced a lack of engagement with the organization. This is a problem you can control.

The Connection Between Value and Engagement in Your Online Community

There is a strong and undeniable connection between engagement and value. When you feel involved (i.e. engaged) you feel valued and in-turn view the organization as valuable.

If an association provides something that no one else does, continuing education in the industry for instance, even if that’s the only benefit used and you never participate with the association in any way, if you find value from that coursework and you can’t get it elsewhere, it matters very little whether you are engaged or not.

How Do I Provide Value to My Members?

Tackling member retention means asking yourself and your organization, how do I make someone like me? It’s personal for each member. What is valuable to one member may matter very little to another. This is the true difficulty in member retention, there isn’t one timeless answer. However, the one thing we do know is that customized member experiences are incredibly important in the context of member retention. Thus, as you make decisions regarding what tactics work and don’t work for your membership base keep personalization in mind.

As always all programs should tie closely to your community goals. Here are a few other tips to improve member retention:

Tip #1: Reach Out Early and Often

For members who fail to find value in their association’s membership, it’s often due to not fully using the benefits of membership. This could be a lack of knowledge or even just a matter of forgetting. For this reason it’s important to stay in touch with your members. You can do this through messages in your online community, phone calls, and through emails.

For example, Kmart offers a discount savings card that has about ten benefits. Periodically they send members an email of all the benefits this program offers. A nice touch, but they take it a step further. They highlight those specific ones that you haven’t used and give you links back to where they are either explained in greater depth on their site, or a link to how you can start using them today. The graphic they use is a checklist, which further motivates card holders to check off the benefits they’re not using. It provides a graphical representation of what else they could be doing to save money.

Tip #2: Start Your Retention Program on Day One

The first day of membership should be the only time you send a mass email with limited personalization. That very first contact can be a welcome format, everything after that should be aimed at maintaining that member.

Educate them on benefits and stay in touch. You can’t begin a retention program six weeks before annual membership is due. Your membership retention program starts the second they agree to become a member.

Tip #3: Customize Your Approach/Communications Wherever Possible

One-size membership no longer fits all. People expect a customized approach. As we mentioned earlier, personalization should never fall out of priority. Consider that personalized subject lines are 22.2% more likely to be opened.

This means customizing all types of communications and interactions. If you’re not providing an experience that feel personal, you can assume your members feel like a number. And that is never a reason to renew.

Tip #4: Find Out Why They Joined and Do More of It

Every member has a reason they joined. Find out what it was, what problem they thought membership could solve for them, and you have the secret sauce behind member retention. Use that information to customize your offerings and your communications.

Most online community platforms for associations provide a place within the community to poll and survey users. Consider launching a discussion forum or survey where you can collect those stories from your most active members.

Association Member Retention Takeaway

Member retention is not a simple equation. It’s a personalized approach to building a better relationship with each of your members. It’s about providing them the value they are seeking and solving the problems they thought you could help with. Put simply: discovering what they need and providing it to them is the easiest way to increase member retention.


Christina Metcalf

Chief Content Officer, Christina R. Green

Christina Metcalf is a professional writer with years of experience in content marketing for businesses and membership organizations. She specializes in telling stories that help organizations connect with customers and inspire action.

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