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Association membership team talks about renewal strategy

Membership Renewal Strategy: The Top 6 Reasons Your Members Don’t Renew

Marketing General’s 2021 Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report reveals fascinating statistics on why members don’t renew their association membership. Find out how to improve member retention by addressing these preventable issues.

Member retention: It’s always on our minds, this year more than ever. When your members face so many competing demands for time, attention, and money, how do you plan to get them to stick around?

Renewal strategy is a critical component of revenue. When it’s neglected, your association risks undermining your financial health and your overall ability to serve members long-term.

The 2021 Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report asked associations why they think members don’t renew. Do these answers look familiar?

  • 50% of associations say it’s because of a lack of engagement with the organization
    • Note: This number is growing – up from 41% in 2019 and 43% in 2020.
  • 39% of associations find it’s because of a lack of value
    • Note: This number jumped from 25% in 2020
  • 33% of associations said it’s because employer won’t pay or stopped paying dues
  • 31% of associations believe it’s because members left the field, industry, or profession
  • 29% of associations say it’s because members forgot to renew
  • 28% of associations report that members couldn’t justify membership costs with any significant ROI


If you’re wondering how to attack the retention question this year, these stats are a pretty good indicator of where you should start. Based on this list, there are obviously some common problems that plague associations. While a poor retention rate is bad news, the good news is there are things you can do about mostly every reason. We’re not telling you these problems will be quickly solved – they’ll require serious attention from your association – but most of these can be solved.

Let’s go through and address each issue and how it can be fixed.

Reason #1: Lack of Engagement with the Organization

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 real engagement as a part of your membership renewal strategy, and you’ll see improved retention.

Also? A reported 24% 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 to focus on if you want your members to stick around.

Check out our tips on how to craft your winning member engagement strategy.

How to fix it: Provide opportunities for members to engage

You want to engage with your members – but they also want and need to engage with each other.

How to fix it: Make every outreach relevant

Next, recognize that tackling member engagement means asking yourself and your organization how you can create a relevant member experience. What is valuable to one member may matter very little to another. It’s about finding out who they really are, what they want, and providing it to them at the right time.

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 you know they’re interested in).

Don’t miss our Guide: Reignite Your Member Engagement Strategy in 2021

Reason #2 & #6: Lack of Value or Unable to Justify Costs with Significant ROI

Let’s look at these together, since they’ve got similar root causes and solutions. Almost 40% 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 ROI 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, advocacy, 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, and so you have real member stories to use in your advocacy efforts.

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 at 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 guesswork 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.

Don’t let your members leave your association because they don’t have a clear understanding of the value you offer. Make sure you’re communicating the value you offer that they want. This is a key piece of your membership renewal strategy.

Check out 8 irresistible member benefits you could offer this year.

Reasons #3 Employer Stopped Paying

Of the six retention issues, this one will probably be the toughest for you to solve, since these reasons for not renewing are external. However, 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 a tough time. (Unfortunately, when a member leaves the field – you likely won’t be able to renew them. So this is one where the best cure is prevention!)

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. Look to member 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.
  • Have a robust marketing automation platform that allows you to provide relevant news on a consistent basis. In a recent study, 93.4% of associations surveyed by ASAE listed the most important role of associations as “serving as a trusted source of information.” Make sure your marketing automation platform can help you provide timely, targeted news to every segment of your member audience.

Overall, the best defense against this retention issue is going to be your engagement and value offense.  

Reason #4: Member Left the Field, Industry, or Profession

Of the six retention issues, this one will probably be the toughest for you to solve. If you can make your association membership so valuable that dropping it is out of the question, even when you’re no longer in the industry (for example, retired people who want to stay connected), you may retain a few. However, you likely won’t be able to renew them, which means you’ll need to account for that in member recruitment to grow overall.

Reason #5: Forgot to Renew

No, no, no. You can’t let members forget that renewal is coming up. Lack of action on the part of the association (unless the member dropped off the face of the earth and stopped checking any form of communication for three months) is the easiest issue to control. Your members should decide not to renew for a relevant reason, not because you let them 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. See how the American Society of Consultant Pharmacists is using automated email campaigns to improve membership renewals.
  • Make your renewal campaign multi-channel. When it comes to engagement don’t just rely on email. First, not everyone will receive your emails, so make sure it’s a multi-channel campaign. You can try reaching out through your online community, direct mail, social media, text messaging, you name it. Higher Logic’s marketing automation software lets you set up campaign notifications so that staff knows when it’s time to give a certain group of members a personal call.

Don’t miss our eBook: Streamline Your Membership Renewal Process: Go From Outdated to Automated.

These automated email campaigns will build on your engagement and value strategy. You’re not only providing value to members, you’re letting them know when they’re about to miss out.

Your Membership Renewal Strategy is in Your Hands

Members deciding not to renew isn’t a problem you’ll ever solve once and for all, and retention is never 100%. 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 improve your retention rate.

Beth Arritt

Beth’s marketing experience encompasses more than twenty-five years of marketing strategy and member/customer engagement in various industries, including puzzles and games, training, education and aviation.

In addition to marketing, Beth has worked in event management and web development, wearing a variety of hats in different positions. She has also been an adjunct professor of marketing at Marymount University in Arlington, Virginia.

Beth received a Bachelor of Science degree in Merchandising from James Madison University, a Certificate in Event Management from The George Washington University, and a Masters of Business Administration/Marketing from the University of Phoenix. She has earned numerous awards for her marketing, including two Top Digital Marketer of the Year awards.