12th Edition of the Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report Now Available

It is my pleasure to announce the release of the 12th edition of the Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report. A free download of the report is available using this link.

Each year the goal of the report is to help associations better understand what is working in membership recruitment, engagement, and retention. Providing these insights comes from not just cataloging the practices of responding associations but through cross tabulating the survey responses with the outcomes that associations share. As a result, the report highlights some of the best practices that correlate with increased new member input, higher renewals, and overall growth rates.

This year over 800 associations responded to our survey and shared their practices, experiences, and results. The report helps to answer critical questions like:  

  • What are the top reasons members join, and why do they lapse?
  • What are the most effective marketing channels for recruitment and renewal?
  • Which products and services are driving increased member participation?
  • How are associations supporting innovation?
  • What new membership models are associations adopting?
  • How are membership marketing budgets changing?
  • What are the trends in membership counts over the past decade?
  • What renewal rates are individual and trade associations achieving?
  • What communication methods used to engage new members?

Many associations use this data to help them improve their membership marketing plans and to compare their achievements to other organizations.  You can access the full report using this link.  We hope that you find it of help. 


Trade Association Challenges and Opportunities with Membership Recruitment

Membership recruitment for a trade association brings more challenges than selling individual membership. The process is complicated because asking a company to join may involve a significant financial commitment and require building a consensus among the firm's stakeholders. However, the potential long-term value of adding a company as a member can be substantial. 
Here are some of the players to consider in the process of recruiting a company or organization to join your trade group and the strategies for a successful program.

·       Gatekeeper – Many organizations have a system in place to screen sales efforts from reaching decision-makers. So the initial hurdle is to get beyond the gatekeeper to establish contact with someone who might be interested in membership.
·       Champion – Identifying the primary user of the membership is one of the most critical contact points. The user will become the champion advocating for the company to join.
·       Technical Buyers – In almost every major company decision, a technical buyer will be involved. These influencers may include legal or finance. Their questions and concerns need to be addressed in the sales process. 
·       Detractors – In some cases adding an association membership will create more work for some and reduce budgets or influence for others. Present how the value of membership outweighs these concerns.
·       Decision Maker – Ultimately, a leader in the company, will evaluate the benefits compared to the cost of membership. The champion needs to be armed with the data to make a case for joining.

To meet these recruitment challenges, many groups find success with a basic three-stage marketing and sales process.

·       Prospecting – The first step in recruitment is to identify prospective member companies, their leadership at a firm, and contact information. My recommended method for this is to purchase or lease a database of firms in the desired target market. This type of data is available and inexpensive to obtain. Add these records into a sales database to drive promotions and track activity.
·       Marketing – It is inefficient for sales to call cold leads. That is why marketing plays an essential role in supporting sales efforts. Marketing's job is to get past the gatekeeper and convert cold records in the database into warm leads using the full mix of channels, including direct mail, email, digital ads, and telemarketing. These communications build awareness, share relevant content, and set up sales appointments.
·       Closing – Presented with a qualified prospect, the sales team establishes a relationship by understanding the company's needs, presenting the membership solution to the champion, handling objections from technical buyers and detractors, securing the final approval from the decision-maker, and following up on the delivery of the membership.

Even though the sales process for trade associations to acquire new members is more involved and often more costly than what is experienced by individual membership groups, the outcome from these efforts is favorable. Typically, trade association members renew at much higher rates than individual members. Because of better renewals combined with the generally higher dues rates, trade associations can expect substantial lifetime value from a new member. This revenue stream helps to make the recruitment effort well worth the results.

Podcast: Membership Rebound

In our latest podcast, I share some thoughts on how membership organizations have fared during past challenging times. We then take a look at how associations can hold on during the current crisis and put in place plans for a membership rebound.

You can listen to the podcast using this link. Additionally, here is the link to the blog post that we referenced in our discussion describing the powerful impact one association is having right now in helping their members. 

Budgeting for Membership Marketing in Challenging Times

Right now, every line of an association’s budget is under scrutiny.  So how do you make a case for sustaining and even increasing your membership marketing budget?

Here are the four essential values that members bring to an association that make a fully funded membership marketing budget a priority.

·       Lifetime Value – Membership stands out as producing an outstanding return on investment compared to many of the products that an association offers. At the typical renewal rate of 80%, an average member will stay with an association for five years.  So, a $150 annual dues rate represents an income stream of $750 in lifetime value. On the other hand, customers come and go. Some of our data analysis shows that customers renew year over year at a rate as low as 7%. Having to replace most of your customers each year is a less efficient use of marketing dollars than getting and keeping members. 

·       Customer Value – Besides offering a dues revenue stream, a member also represents a significant value as a customer for an association. Almost any association will find that members pay to attend meetings at a higher rate than non-members and are the top buyers of all of an association’s offerings. Effectively a member is paying you to become a customer. So by producing both a dues revenue stream and non-dues revenue, members represent an economic multiplier for an association.

·       Stability Value – Member dues bring financial stability to an association. Many associations are challenged now with face to face training and conference cancellations.  It has been a shock to many budgets—however, members signup for a year at a time.  So, associations with a strong membership dues base maintain a predictable income stream. Of course, membership counts might decline for some during an economic disturbance, but the decline is typically incremental compared to the loss from a significant event cancellation.

·       Mission Value – Members are the cornerstone for accomplishing the mission of an association through their volunteering, content creation, networking, and support of advocacy. And they typically provide these vital services at no cost to the association. An association without members becomes a publisher or meeting company.

One other important consideration for budgeting is the enormous need in the world now.  People are looking for guidance, community, and solutions. This challenging time offers associations the opportunity to meet needs through the value provided by their membership. You will never know if your association can be the source of that help unless you reach out and invite members to continue with you and to join. Now might be the ideal time to invest in your efforts to get and keep members.

Your Membership Marketing Playbook for Turbulent Times

Most economists agree based on recent reports on GDP and unemployment that we are entering a recession. And many association executives are wondering how this downturn will impact their membership numbers and what to project for the future.

Amidst the current challenges, there is data to provide some hope and insights. For over a decade the Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report has captured association membership best practices and statistics. One of the major disruptions impacting association membership was the Great Recession in 2009. Looking back at the benchmarking survey data can serve as a guide on how associations responded to this recession. The data suggest that there are some near term challenges for some groups in the current environment but for most associations they can look forward to a strong membership rebound in the future.

Past Recessionary Membership Results

The findings from the 2010 benchmarking report published showing results for this recessionary time found that the percentage of associations seeing increases in membership counts dropped to a low of 36%. While an all-time high of 48% of associations reported an actual decline in their membership counts. Membership renewals were also a challenge. A total of 44% of respondents said that their renewal rate declined for the year. Using these past results as a guide it is likely that in 2020 many associations will see a dip in their renewal rates and total membership.

However, the data did show that even during that time of economic dislocation, over a third of professional and trade associations still reported that their membership increased. And 42% reported that they improved their new member input. These groups were able to sustain growth and add new members because they found a way to provide value and to continue to effectively reach prospects. I remember one association executive described how members regularly hired other members who were out of work.  His association shared with members the effectiveness of their networking with the message that the cheapest unemployment insurance they could get was joining the association. Likewise, today we are aware of some clients seeing the biggest new member months in their history by providing members and prospects with critical information, advocacy, and community during this pandemic. For some associations, growth is still achievable right now.

For other organizations facing declines in the current environment, there is still long-term hope from our benchmarking data. The results from our research following the Great Recession shows that membership counts made a remarkable recovery in subsequent years. Following the economic downturn, the proportion of associations reporting increased membership rapidly rose from a low of 36% in the 2010 report to nearly 50% and higher in the following benchmarking years.

Additionally, the driver for this rapid improvement appears to be associations refocusing on membership recruitment. Each of the four years after the Great Recession produced the best new member recruitment years to date in our research. Just three years after the low point, an all-time high of 63% of associations reported that their new member acquisition had increased.

Membership Strategy Going Forward

The encouraging news from the trends in our longitudinal benchmarking data shows that there is light at the end of the tunnel.  Associations that have messages and services to help members' immediate needs can flourish even in this challenging time. For those that are seeing a drop in membership and struggling with renewing members, the data provides hope for the future.

In either case, what should your membership marketing playbook look like for right now? For those associations that are currently offering indispensable services that are bringing in new members the plan should be to aggressively market to gain market share by reaching out as broadly as possible to your house prospects and third-party databases. For groups that are facing membership challenges, the strategy is to do everything you can to hold on to the members that you have worked so hard to gain over the years. Just like there was panic selling in the stock market you likely have many lapsed members who might leave in a cost-cutting panic. These are prime prospects to invite back with a special offer. Reach out to them with all the tools you have available including email, telephone, texting, and digital media.

Going forward it is a time for all associations to invest in building the foundation and capacity for future growth. Maintain a presence in the marketplace, gather knowledge of member needs through research, test new marketing messages, and tactics to see what works. Build your marketing plan now so that you are ready to capitalize on the coming membership growth opportunities. 

Membership: For Such a Time as This

For all of us, our lives are in a state of disruption.  This is no less true for our members and prospective members.  That’s why there is no more important time for associations to boldly communicate with members about the practical assistance that they can provide to them.  It is a time for associations to empathetically and proactively demonstrate the value of membership.  As the saying goes, “A friend in need is a friend indeed.”

This help can come in multiple forms.  Here are some ways that you can reach out and engage members right now.

Provide Community – Many associations have the opportunity to help members connect electronically like never before through private social networks and social media.  This may be particularly important in our current situation.  During the 9/11 crisis years ago, people had the opportunity to congregate in their neighborhoods, places of worship, offices, and public places to share and process their thoughts and anxieties.  Today with social distancing these outlets are not readily available.  However, association online community platforms allow members to post questions and share challenges.  As I have monitored these platforms for some of my clients this week, I see enormous amounts of activity and much helpful guidance being shared.

Drive Advocacy – Whether your members and their companies are in the airline industry, restaurants, or the service industry their jobs and the survival of their companies are threatened.  Additionally, those in healthcare need a voice to support them in the enormous challenges they are facing.  Professional and trade associations are perhaps the members' best hope of getting the message of their needs and struggles in front of government officials and others that may be able to provide help.  Ideally, associations can also get a seat at the table as decisions impacting their professions and businesses are being made.

Offer Online Training – Conferences and in-person training are no longer available for the immediate future. However, members have an immediate need for specific presentations that speak to the questions that they are facing right now.  Additionally, members continue to have the desire and often the budget to grow their expertise and knowledge. Many who are working from home may also have time to pursue training and certification.  An association can offer its learning platforms or commercially available conferencing tools to present online classes and webinars to fill these needs.

Encourage Networking – Many associations have chapters, sections, and divisions that can provide immediate connections to members.  Longer-term your members who were employed at the start of this year may be looking for work by the end of the year depending on the economic impact of the current situation.  I remember an association colleague sharing with me during the previous recession that many members that he knows who lost a position found the network that they had built through the association the most productive source for finding their next job.  An associations career center can further support members looking for a new position.

Share Critical Information – The internet is filled with fake news or simply inaccurate data. So members have a critical need for a trusted source of specialized and current information about what is going on in their profession and industry.  Associations are best positioned to provide this timely information through regular updates and links on the website through newsletters and with breaking news via email.

Disruption causes people to look for solutions to help them manage change.  Whether the focus is on engaging and retaining members or recruiting new members associations now have the important role of presenting the valuable resources and tools that they have to help meet today's very present challenges.

In our most recent edition of the Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report, respondents highlighted the top reasons why prospects join an association and why members stay.  The main reasons were networking, learning best practices, accessing current information, advocating for the industry or profession, and advancing their career.  With our current challenges, all of these are heightened needs for members. By speaking to these needs associations have the opportunity to build longterm, committed relationships with their members and prospects. 

Association Preparedness for Potential Economic Challenges

Do you anticipate a recession in the next twelve months? How prepared is your association for potential economic challenges?  How have you gone about preparing? 

These are some of the questions that we asked in our just-published Association Economic Outlook Report. The report provides insights from nearly 400 association executives who participated in the research.

You may find the research to be relevant to your organization based on the current economic news. You can get your copy of the report using this link

Participate in the 2020 Membership Marketing Benchmarking Research

The opportunity to participate in the 2020 Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report is now available.  So if you are a membership professional, I wanted to invite you to take part in this year’s research.

If you received an email invitation to participate, please use the link provided in the email to access the survey.  If not, you can use this link to fill out the survey. Last year nearly 900 associations took part in this research. Our hope is to increase the number of participants this year in order to provide analysis with even finer segmentation than in the past.

Of course, I will report many of the findings from our research here. But for those who complete the survey, we will send a free printed copy of the final, full report. I look forward to sharing with you the outcomes of this year’s research. 

Thanks in advance or being a part of the 2020 Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report. Please take a moment to complete the survey now while you are thinking about it.

A New Way to Conduct Focus Groups

One of the research mistakes that some associations make is conducting focus groups at their annual meeting.  Because members are in attendance, it provides the association with an opportunity to get feedback from a geographically diverse group.  However, conference attendees are typically not a representative group of members. So, any insights that are gathered must be viewed through a critical lens.

An alternative that has worked for many associations is to conduct an online focus group.  We refer to these as a Bulletin Board Focus Group (BBFG).  Using this method an association’s members are invited to apply via email where the process is explained, and the dates of the group are provided. Members volunteer to participate in the focus group by completing a short demographic form.  The members to be included in the group are then handpicked to ensure geographic, gender, and professional representation.

Login information, along with how the process will work, is shared with those selected.  A detailed questionnaire is also developed by the group moderator.

When the group begins, members are asked to independently answer the initial set of questions. Once completed other members of the group can see these responses and comment on them.  The participants remain anonymous to others in the group throughout the process. This anonymity can help participants share their opinions honestly and give even those who are more reticent a voice that may not occur in a face-to-face group.  As participants interact the BBFG moderator stays engaged and can reach out to individuals in the group to get clarification or more insight on a comment.  Observers from the association can also provide suggestions to the moderator and the moderator will then ask the participants for more information.  Additional questions are shared with the group spurring more discussion.  Sessions tend to be lively as members dialog and share their opinions on an issue.

A typical BBFG is held over the course of several days where participants can login to answer questions and exchange insights at a time that is convenient for them.  This is especially a benefit for associations with members in different time zones.  Because each participant types in their feedback, there is no need to transcribe responses as would be necessary when converting audio from an in-person group.

Focus groups are qualitative research.  They are not designed to provide statistical outcomes but will provide directional information.  In many cases, they are used before quantitative research is conducted to uncover possible questions and answers that otherwise might not have even been considered for inclusion in a full survey. Often the findings gathered from a BBFG will reveal surprising insights that can shape product development, messaging, and member engagement.  If research is part of your plan for this year you should look at using an online focus group as an option.  It is an economical and efficient method to gain important insights from members and prospects around the country and around the world. 

Five Trends that will Impact Membership Marketing in 2020

Based on my client interactions this past year and our ongoing benchmarking research with a thousand associations here are the trends that I think will impact membership marketing in the year ahead.

1.     Digital Marketing – The use of online paid digital marketing (including Facebook, Google, and LinkedIn) will continue to grow in 2020.  This past year our benchmarking research highlighted that 20 percent of individual membership associations reported digital marketing was one of the channels that helped them obtain the most new members.  Of those using this channel, 32 percent had increased their spending from the previous year. Some client associations are now producing thousands of new members with digital ads each year. 
2.     Tracking and Analysis – Associations will continue to see improvements in their ability to use and benefit from marketing data.  For the first time in years, associations reported in 2019 that in almost every category their marketing data challenges have decreased.  Difficulty with results tracking and analysis declined from 51 percent to 39 percent.  And not having access to skilled data professionals declined from 39 percent to 30 percent.  Associations increasingly understand that data-driven marketing is essential for better serving and growing membership.
3.     Video Content – Society is rapidly moving to a preference for more visual communications.  With digital marketing, our results with clients have clearly shown a higher level of engagement with video-based ads. Video lends itself to powerful testimonials.  And videos are even more effective when they are presented live on Facebook Live and Instagram Live.
4.     Texting (SMS) Communications – The use of texting as a marketing channel will emerge in 2020 as a way to communicate instantly with members.  Many for-profit organizations from stores to banks now use texting to communicate with customers.  However, with only 2 percent of associations using texting for renewal communications, this has been an underutilized channel that is due to expand. Texting offers associations a much higher open rate than email, a cost-effective channel, and a mobile-friendly connection.  Engaged members will increasingly expect to interact with an association with SMS. 
5.     Economic Disruption – Over the last decade, our benchmarking research has consistently shown that membership counts have continued to increase for nearly half of associations.  Only a quarter of associations typically report a decline in membership.  The one outlier to this trend was the Great Recession of 2008.  In recently completed research, 56 percent of association professionals said that they expect a recession in the next 12 months.  However, only 39 percent have a recession contingency plan in place.   Associations will suffer if they are not prepared by having their benefits and messages ready to highlight how the association is one of the best investments a professional or company can make for networking, skills development, and career guidance to weather the impact of a challenging economy.

Please add your comments are insights below on the trends that you believe that associations can expect in the year to come.  I welcome your feedback. 

Your Guide to the Most Important Membership Numbers You Need to Know

To find success and be effective in membership marketing there are some essential concepts that you need to master.  These concepts are as simple as determining the response rates of your marketing efforts, to the more complex calculations like how to determine the long term steady state of your organization's membership.  

To help you master these concepts we have compiled a guide that walks you through how to understand and use these metrics to better manage your membership program. Our guide serves as a reference tool for you to take a strategic look at your membership program.

To get your copy of the Guide to Membership Marketing Metrics please use this link

Top Findings from the Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report

Everyone working for an association can relate to the competitive challenges of today.  In addition to 24/7 competition, associations are faced with scarce resources, talent shortages, and sometimes political or bureaucratic hurdles.

Yet despite these threats, findings from the 2019 MembershipMarketing Benchmarking Report shows more associations continue to experience membership growth year over year than those that are seeing a decline in membership.  This year 45 percent of associations shared that their membership has grown over the past year compared to 26 percent that saw a decrease in membership counts.

Indeed, contrary to the narrative that membership “no longer works,”, for the past decade with the exception of the Great Recession, our benchmarking research confirms that far more associations have reported experiencing an increase in members than those who have reported a decline in their membership counts.

Why have associations been able to adapt and continue to grow despite the challenges they face?

Some definite answers are apparent from the insights that we have gathered in this year’s research.  In addition to looking at the tactics and strategies that typically correlated to success, we also asked respondents to rate how innovative their association is and what level of value that they are delivering to members.

In each case, associations that reported higher innovation and value scores showed a correlation with increased likelihood to be achieving a number of important positive outcomes in membership. In short, these more innovative and value-producing associations are successfully adapting to the challenges faced in today’s completive marketplace.

Here is some of the data underpinning these findings.  Associations with increases in membership over the past year and the past five years, as well as those with increases in their overall new members are significantly more likely to indicate that the organization has a culture that supports innovation. Conversely, those reporting declines in membership are significantly more likely to believe their association culture does not support innovation.

Additionally, associations that indicate that their organization is only slightly innovative or not innovative at all are significantly more likely to show declines in their membership over the past year and the past five years, plus decreases in new members and overall renewal rates.  Moreover, associations that have a specified process in place to support innovation and new ideas are significantly more likely to report increases in one year and five-year membership numbers.

Many of the same outcomes are evident for associations that report having a compelling value proposition for their members.   In fact, associations that described their value proposition as very compelling or compelling are significantly more likely to report increases in their one year and five five-year membership numbers, as well as increases in their new members and their overall membership renewal rates.

So if innovation and value are so important, how are associations innovating and providing additional value to members?

One of the areas of innovation and value enhancement that we looked at this year in our research was the development of new membership models.  Ideally changing the membership packaging is designed to respond to new market conditions, give members more options, and competitively price membership.  The data from our research does support that adopting a new membership model may give membership a bump.  Specifically, the associations that have adopted a new membership model are more likely to report experiencing an increase in the number of new members this year (22 percent vs. 13 percent).

Historically, one membership model that has seen growth is the move toward Combination membership. An association with a Combination membership offers members the opportunity to join as either an individual (like a typical IMO) or as an organization (like a typical Trade Association).  In the 2011 version of the Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report, only 13 percent of respondents identified their association as having a Combination membership structure.  This year, 26 percent of respondents identified their association as a Combination association. The Combination membership structure appears to be working for associations.  These groups have the highest median growth over the past five years of 14 percent, compared to 12 percent for IMOs and 10 percent for trade organizations.

Another developing innovation for associations is the use of paid digital media for their marketing efforts.  For membership recruitment, this channel has increased as a preferred channel from 12 percent to 15 percent over the past year.  Of the 15 percent of associations that consider paid digital marketing tools as a highly productive method for recruiting new members, Facebook paid advertising remains the most effective digital marketing tool. Associations are also increasingly using various paid digital advertising platforms to present their message for many products and services beyond membership recruitment.

The other technology-driven development that associations reported this year is a significant improvement in data challenges that have been reported in the past. The top data complaint of a lack of marketing results tracking and analysis dropped from 51 percent of associations citing this as a major challenge in 2018 to 39 percent in 2019.  Similarly, the issue of inadequate membership dashboards and reporting tools went from 48 percent in 2018 to 35 percent in 2019.  In the competitive environment facing associations the ability to track, analyze, and report on marketing efforts has become a core ability to drive success.  So these improvements are significant.

Finally, some associations are thriving through innovative ways to attract and provide value to Millennials and Generation X members.  Our data highlights that associations with increases in their one year and five five-year membership numbers are significantly more likely to have higher percentages of Millennials and Generation X members. One way these groups are achieving this is through growth in participation with their young professional programs.

On the other hand, associations reporting no changes in their membership in the past year are significantly more likely to have a higher proportion of Baby Boomers as members.  Associations reporting declines in membership totals are much more likely to report that their specific challenges in membership marketing are related to their struggle in attracting and/or maintaining younger members.

So what should associations take away from this year’s Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report?

In an era of rapid changes in technology, culture, and demographics, our data shows that many associations have been able to sustain a level of membership growth and continue to serve their markets.  The data points to the conclusion that innovation and value creation are important drivers of this success. However, a critical look at the trend data also shows that over the last decade the percentage of associations reporting membership growth is in a gradual decline from 52 percent in 2012 to 45 percent today. My hope is that this report will encourage associations to aggressively innovate with new strategies, technologies and marketing approaches in order to thrive and grow in a changing world.

How to Improve Your Membership Renewal Efforts

Managing an effective membership renewal program is a critical function for any association.  As I meet with membership staff, I am often asked the following questions.

  • What is the recommended renewal series schedule?
  • Which channels should we use in our renewal program?
  • What effect do different payment options have on renewals?
  • What are the biggest mistakes organizations make in their renewal efforts?
  • How can you use testing to improve your renewals?
To help answer these and other renewal questions, we have put together the MGI Membership Renewal Guide.  You can get a copy of the Guide using this link

Download the 2019 Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report

The 2019 Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report is now available to download.  Please use this link to get your copy. I think that you will find this year's edition the best ever.  

How Understanding Lifetime Value Powers Your Membership Marketing

It is true, without an adequate budget it is a challenge to grow membership.  So how do you make the case for additional marketing dollars?

One effective way is to present the economic argument based on a lifetime value analysis.

Unlike the purchase of a book, webinar, or some other product or service provided by your organization, membership has a predictable, ongoing revenue stream.  Because membership is renewable, there is an economic value provided by a member beyond the initial first year dues payment.

Here is an example using data provided by hundreds of associations in the Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report.

Based on survey responses, the average association will receive $175 in annual dues from an individual member.  And the average renewal rate for a member is 80%, so this translates to a tenure or length of membership of five years.  In addition, members are typically an association’s best customers.  So perhaps and average member will spend an additional $50 per year.

Based on these numbers, the revenue stream or lifetime value of a member is a fairly substantial sum of $1,125 ($225 x 5).

So in order to achieve this revenue stream, how much do you think associations report spending to acquire a new member?

Surprisingly, individual membership associations told us that they spent on average only $24 to acquire a new member.  Of course there are costs to serve the member in addition to the acquisition costs, nevertheless, most organizations when presented with an ROI of spending $1 to produce $47 ($24/$1,125) of long term revenue, will understand that additional investment makes good economic sense.

As one respondent to our research shared, “Measure your results with lifetime value of a member.  It’s the primary metric.”

When understood, lifetime value makes a powerful case for investing more aggressively in membership marketing efforts. Use it to support the level of funding needed to grow your membership.

Growing Membership through Winback Marketing

There are several very good reasons why associations should focus their attention on trying to winback or reinstate former members.
First, a former member is aware of who you are and the basic benefits that you offer.  There is not a need to educate them from scratch.  Secondly, a former member’s previous behavior identifies them as someone who clearly, at one point in time, had an interest in and need for what your association has to offer.  Finally, for recently lapsed members, you have contact information and an established business relationship allowing you to reach out to them through a variety of means including email, phone, direct mail, and for some with texting.
And because of this, it is not surprising that as we track marketing efforts for hundreds of associations, their former members are often up to five times more likely to respond to a membership offer than never members.  This same high level of responsiveness is found in analysis done in the for-profit world.  For example, in a study published in the March 2016 issue of the Harvard Business Review, Winning Back Lost Customers, data was gathered from winback efforts for telecom customers and showed that firms are better off shifting more time and money to getting former customers to come back than relying solely on new customer recruitment efforts.
If this is the case, what are some of the strategies that are most effective in winning lapsed members back?  Here are four recommendations.

  1. Offer a discount or special deal.  For lapsed members from individual membership associations, one of the top reasons for non-renewal is that membership is “too expensive.”  So to win these members back address that impediment to membership.  In a test conducted to former members for one association, lapsed members were evenly split in a direct mail effort.  Half were offered membership at full price and the second half received a $10 dues discount. The group receiving the discounted membership dues offer had a 40 percent higher response rate than the group offered the full dues rate. This added response more than paid for the discounted dues.
  2. Use multiple marketing channels.  Associations report in our Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report that the top three channels to reinstate former members are email, direct mail, and telemarketing.  Because you have had a financial relationship with a former US based member, as long as she has not opted-out, you can continue to engage her in using each of these channels.  Many associations find telemarketing particularly effective because they can start and stop a program very quickly and get real time feedback from former members on their willingness to come back or why they do not want to reinstate.
  3. Tell them what is new and better.  Since a member has lapsed there almost always is some new content, product, meeting, or topic that can be shared with the former member to peak their interest.  Build your marketing copy highlighting these new opportunities.  This can be especially effective if you can personalize the message to focus on the events or activities that the member previously participated in or used.
  4. Do not give up.  In our reinstatement efforts for many associations, we can continue to get a positive ROI going back to former members for as many as five years.  In our benchmarking data, 33% of associations say that they “continue indefinitely to contact lapsed member.”   There are some predictors of who will return and who will not reinstate.  The Harvard Business Review article noted that “The researchers found that customers who have referred others, who have never complained, or who have had complaints that were satisfactorily resolved are the best bets. Reasons for leaving are also predictive: Customers who canceled because of price are more likely to come back than those who left because of poor service, and people who cited both reasons for quitting are the least likely of all to return.”

One of the final advantages of implementing a winback program is that it is a quality control check on your association’s renewal program.  The good news is that if former members do not come back it means that your renewal efforts are airtight and working effectively.  However, most associations find that they get strong response from their reinstatement efforts.  This is a good indicator that renewal efforts are not as effective as they could be and need some attention.
Winback efforts are typically the fastest and easiest marketing programs to get started.  Give it a try to see if your former members will reinstate.  You might just find you have a big marketing win.

How to Build a Dashboard to Track Membership Statistics

When we asked association staff what are the most significant data challenges that they face, 48% of respondents told us that “Inadequate membership dashboard and reporting tools” represented a top problem.
Yet, perhaps there is no more important step that you can take to improve your membership program this year than establishing a clear and consistent dashboard to keep track of your association’s recruitment, new member conversion, and renewal efforts.
So I thought it would be appropriate to share a dashboard that we put together several years ago and recommend to our clients (pictured here using sample data).
The membership dashboard includes the most important items that drive the growth or possible decline of an association’s membership. Here is the description of each of the rows in the dashboard.

  1. Membership Change % (Year over Year Percentage Change in Total Counts)
    1. Current Member Total (By Month)
    2. Membership the same month in the previous year
  2. New Members Change % (Year over Year Percentage Change in New Member Counts)
    1. Current Year New Members (By Month)
    2. New Members the same month in the previous year
  3. New Members Conversion % (Converting (Renewing) New Members / Eligible to Convert (Renew) New Members)
    1. Total first year members who actually renewed (By Month)
    2. Total first year members eligible to renew
  4. Year Two and Subsequent Renewals (Y2+) % (Y2+ Renewing Members / Y2+ Members Eligible to Renew)
    1. Y2+ members who actually do renew (By Month)
    2. Y2+ renewal members eligible to renew
  5. Total Renewal % (Renewing Members / Members Eligible to Renew)
    1. Total members who actually do renew (By Month)
    2. Total members eligible to renew

I have found that these are the key statistics to monitor for most membership organizations. They highlight where things are going well and where you might need to focus additional attention.
If you would like more information on how to calculate renewal rates, please use this link.  And if you would like an Excel spreadsheet of this dashboard, feel free to reach out to me and I would be happy to email you a copy.

Membership Marketing Words of Wisdom

One of the aspects that I very much enjoy in our survey research of membership professionals is when we ask the open ended question, “In your own words, what are the most important or successful lessons you have learned in the area of membership marketing?”
We receive hundreds of responses to the question that are provocative and insightful.  I thought it might be helpful to share a selection of these recommendations with you.

  • A catchy subject line goes a long way.  
  • Always test, never assume.  
  • Be creative - try something new. Remember it's not about what you like or respond to - it's about your members.  
  • Begin renewal efforts immediately. Make members’ experience personal.  
  • Data is king. The more we know about prospects and members (needs, wants, behaviors, actions), the more effectively we can acquire, engage, and retain them. As long as we have the help of very skilled data analysts.  
  • Direct Mail is still king. Track as much as you can. Test.  
  • Don't be afraid to test.  
  • Engage emotion in the value proposition.   
  • Free trials and comped registration fees go a long way in engaging new or apprehensive potential members.  
  • If you never ask them to join, they won't join.   
  • It cannot be an afterthought. If your value proposition is not compelling, no amount of fancy marketing will matter.   
  • Keep trying things until you find what works.   
  • Lowering the price (i.e., offering a promotion code) isn't always enough to generate joins and/or renewals. The value proposition must always be strong.  
  • Measure ROI.  
  • Measure your results with lifetime value of the member.  It’s the primary metric.  
  • Membership is not a sprint.  It's a long process that needs constant attention.  
  • Messages/communications have to be frequent and through a variety of channels (email, social media, newsletter).   
  • Never stop marketing. Keep contacting them until they ask you to stop.  
  • Personalization is the key to successful marketing campaigns.   
  • Segmenting is key. Long gone are the days of sending the same message to everyone.  
  • Social media is not a direct acquisition tool.  
  • Targeting and timeliness are key. Tell the right people what they need to know when they need to know it.   
  • The database is everything.   
  • There is no silver bullet.  You just have to keep at it with every tool you have.   
  • There is no single answer to membership marketing but a multi-level approach.  Not every outreach will click with every member or potential member.  Membership marketing is a journey and not a destination.  
  • Track everything. Statistics are our friends.   
  • Understand the wants/needs of members and provide programming to enhance member experiences. 
  • Unless they're dead, never give up any former member as lost.   
  • Use a diverse range of communication methods to increase your chances of reaching people.  
  • When times are tough, marketing should not be cut, it should be expanded.  
  • You can't improve something if you don't measure it.   
  • You need to invest resources to get results.

I appreciate the candor and ideas shared by these membership marketers.  Feel free to add your own comments and insights below.