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Member Retention in 2019: Why They Leave & 3 Ways to Keep Them

When people face so many competing demands for time, attention, and money, this member retention question is bigger than ever. Based on stats from the recent Membership Marketing Benchmark Report, we explore 3 ways to retain members.


Member retention: it’s always on our minds. In 2019, how do you plan to get your members to stick around? When people face so many competing demands for time, attention, and money, this question is bigger than ever.  

The Membership Marketing Benchmark Report asked associations why they think members don’t renew. The two biggest reasons they mentioned, after “lack of engagement (37%) were: 

  • Members could not justify membership costs with any significant ROI (28%) 
  • Members thought their membership lacked value (23%) 

If you’re wondering how to attack the retention question this year, these stats are a pretty good indicator of where you should start.  

We talked about engagement pretty extensively in another post, so, I want to get into this idea of value.  

These stats 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. 

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? I’ve got four suggestions:  

Event Data 

When you’ve got your members gathered at your in-person events, whether it’s an annual event or something smaller, collect all the data you can. Maybe it’s setting up a “review us” table, maybe it’s scheduling one-on-one sessions with members to hear how they feel about their membership, or maybe it’s sending out surveys after your sessions and other offerings. Whatever you choose, make the most of your in-person events to collect as much data as possible.  

Online Community  

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? 

Check out Annie’s tips (scenario #2) on how to conduct online community focus groups 

Email Campaigns 

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.  

Individual Outreach 

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.

Download the Engagement Trends Report 2020

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.  

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. Events are great, but online community is available year-round and at no cost to members and 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 (which your marketing automation software can determine by their clicks), 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.  

Need to learn more about how to create campaigns? Try this post: Create the 3 Most Common Automated Campaigns in No Time.  

Check In 

This piece echoes the research you did in the first step: 

  • Go back to your next event and seek feedback on how they like the changes  
  • 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  

Position Your Association for Success in 2019: Help Your Members Help You

If you want members to stick around, you’ve got to help them. And by help them, I 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. 

Elizabeth Bell

Elizabeth Bell is the Content Marketing Manager at Higher Logic. She’s passionate about communities, tech, and communicating about both effectively. When she’s not writing, you’ll probably find her cooking, reading, gardening, or playing volleyball.