Membership Marketing: Ten Year Retrospective

2018 marks the tenth anniversary of the Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report.  Looking back over the past ten years, we have witnessed very stable growth in membership counts and continued the maintenance of positive membership renewal rates.
However, this has not represented a changeless marketing environment.  In fact, the methodology and focus of how associations have accomplished their goals has evolved and changed over the past ten years.  The channels that associations use for membership recruitment and engagement show the most significant change.  Payment options have become more sophisticated and automated.  But sadly, despite more computing power than ever, the use of data and data analysis has shown almost no forward movement over the last number of years.
Here are some of the major changes associations have put in place in their membership marketing efforts.

  • In 2009, 46% of participants said that direct mail was the most effective membership recruitment channel.  By 2018, word-of mouth recommendations, email marketing, and promotions to/at your association’s conferences or trade shows are affirmed as the most effective recruitment techniques.  Direct mail is cited only by individual membership associations as one of the top three recruitment channels.
  • One recruitment channel that has seen recent growth in reported effectiveness is paid digital marketing.  For 2018, 17% of individual membership associations and 12% of all participants consider digital marketing to be one of their most effective channels for acquiring new members. The associations that use digital marketing effectively note that paid Facebook advertising and Remarketing (using Facebook, AdRoll, Google) are the most effective methods (68% and 49%, respectively).  This digital channel was almost invisible in our research until 2015.
  • When it comes to fulfilling new memberships, for 2018, only 44% of associations report sending a mailed welcome kit to onboard their new members.  This is down from 51% in 2017 and significantly down from 83% ten years ago in 2009.
  • Overall, association executives are most likely to say that members join to network with others in their field (58%), and learn best practices in their profession (26%).  In 2009, the top reason to join was access to specialized information.  To learn best practices in the profession was the fifth reason given for joining in our 2009 research with only 8% offering this reason.
  • There now appears to be a deeper understanding of the membership relationship than in the past.  In 2009, the top reasons cited for non-renewal were membership dues were too expensive and the employer was no longer paying dues.  For 2018, lack of engagement with the organization is the most commonly-cited reason for non-renewal.  In fact, 37% of associations list this as a top reason and the majority of associations (62%) report that they have a tactical plan to increase member engagement.
  • By 2018, Facebook and Twitter are almost ubiquitous as the most popular social media platforms used across each type of association.  Facebook is officially used now by 93% of associations and Twitter is used by 89% of associations.  This compares to 75% of associations using the Facebook platform in 2010 and only 66% of associations using Twitter in 2010. 
  • At the same time, association offering listservs has dropped from 24% in 2010 to only 9% in 2018.
  • In our 2010 research, only 22% of associations reported offering automatic annual credit card renewals.  This payment method has expanded over the years.  Automatic annual credit card renewals are especially popular among IMOs with 45% making this option available.
  • Associations’ use of Automatic Annual Electronic Funds Transfer (EFT) renewals has increased over the years from 10% in 2010 to 17% in 2018.
  • The length of time associations continue to reach out to lapsed members with reinstatement efforts has expanded.  In 2009, 21% of associations said that they “continue indefinitely to contact lapsed members,” and by 2018, this has increased to 33% of associations.
  • Finally, although we do not have longitudinal data in this area, it appears that the ways that members engage with an association is shifting.  When asked the engagement opportunities that associations report as increasing over the past year, over half of individual membership associations reported increases in participation in the following areas: in their public social media (73%), in a private social network (59%), in their young professional program (54%), and in attendance of their webinars (52%).

On the other hand, the engagement activities that have shown the least increase over the past year for individual membership associations include volunteering with the association (35%), the use of career services (32%), the purchase or maintaining of insurance through the organization (27%), and book or directory purchases (27%).
There are some membership practices that have not seen substantial change over the last number of years.
Even with increased computing power over the years, one area that has shown remarkably little improvement is the types of analysis done by associations to measure the effectiveness of membership marketing campaigns.  When comparing data from 2012 to 2018, the level of data analysis and results reported shows very little improvement.  Conducting membership marketing response rate analysis has only increased slightly from 49% to 51%.  Lifetime value analysis of a member’s economic contribution to the association has declined from 16% to 10%.

Associations also continue to report the desire to reach out to acquire younger members.  However, in 2011, 18% of associations offered a young professional new to the industry membership category.  And this year, the same percentage of associations (18%) report that they offer this membership category.

The full 2018 Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report contains detailed information on all of these changes.  Please take a look at the full report.

The 2018 Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report

The tenth anniversary edition of MGI’s Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report is now available to download.  Participating associations will soon receive a printed in copy in the mail.
The theme of this year’s edition highlights the evolution in how associations go to market as they seek to recruit and retain members and how remarkably associations have adapted to changes to remain strong and vibrant.  In fact, the data highlights that association membership continues to show growth and staying power.
In looking back over data from the last ten years, it is significant to note that the 2018 key membership statistics mirror the resiliency that associations have reported over this period, perhaps challenging those who have prophesized the imminent demise of the association membership model.
With the exception of the latent impact caused by the economic downturn of the Great Recession, the trend of associations reporting an increase in membership counts has been remarkably consistent over the past ten years.  Slightly more or less than half of associations show solid membership growth during this period.
Similarly, a large proportion of associations have reported very stable renewal rates over the past ten years.  Again with the exception of the years around the Great Recession, associations have reported that their renewal rates have either “remained the same” or “increased” over the past ten years.
Here are some additional highlights from this year’s data.
  • Results show an uptick in the percentage of associations reporting increases in membership over the past year (48% vs. 46% in 2017). Similar to 2017 findings, only 25% of associations report declines in membership in the past year, and about one-quarter report no change (26%).
  • For associations reporting increases in membership over the past year, the median increase is a very respectable 5%.
  • More than half of all associations report increases in membership totals over the past five years (53%). Trade associations are most likely to report increases (56%), compared to IMOs (52%) and combination associations (51%).
  • At 47%, almost half of associations also report increases in new member acquisition over the past year. Only 12% of associations indicate their new member acquisitions have declined in the past year, and 35% indicate there is no change in their new member acquisition numbers.  New member recruitment continues to be the driver for growth in membership counts.
  • The median renewal rate reported this year is 84%, and 68% of associations report renewal rates of 80% or higher. At 89%, trade associations have the highest median renewal rate. IMOs and combination associations have similar renewal rates; both show renewal rates around 80%.
  • Finally, we continue to see the benefits of associations that effectively reach out to younger members.  Associations with increases in their one-year membership and five-year membership numbers are significantly more likely to have a higher percentage of millennial members. IMOs reporting declines in their membership over the past five years are significantly more apt to report a higher percentage of Baby Boomer members.
The Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report is made possible by the faithful contributions of hundreds of associations that contribute their data, comments, and guidance each year.  I want to warmly thank each association that has participated this year and over the ten year life of this research.

The report this year includes additional information on engagement and certification programs along with chapter membership that you will find valuable.  Here is the link to download the full report.