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. 

6 Bad Habits that are Killing Your Membership Marketing

The most recent research shows that nearly half of all professional and trade associations are experiencing growth in their membership counts.  But that also means over half of associations are reporting declines or stagnation in membership.
What is holding back growth for these associations?  Much of the problem lies in not following sound marketing practices.  
Here are six bad marketing habits that are killing membership growth.

  1. Lack of Innovation – In the 2018 Association Innovation Benchmarking Report only 26 percent of associations reported that they were “very” or “extremely” innovative.  Yet with the marketing world changing at an exceptionally fast pace, breaking the habit of not innovating is more important than ever.  New and effective marketing and research innovations like paid digital ads, data modeling and analytics, online focus groups, and texting are emerging as best practices in the association marketing mix.  Taking the risk to move beyond traditional marketing efforts and trying these new opportunities can empower growth.
  2. Lack of Testing – In the 2018 Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report, only 32 percent of associations report that they do A/B testing in their marketing efforts.  This bad habit is particularly disappointing because for a century, testing has been in use by marketers.  Claude C. Hopkins is acknowledged as the great grandfather of direct marketing. In 1923, Hopkins wrote the book Scientific Advertising in which he declared: “The time has come when advertising has in some hands reached the status of a science.”  But for many associations, the science of testing messages, special offers, and market segments is not a part of their marketing efforts.  As a result, bad marketing continues and good marketing is not identified and repeated.
  3. Lack of Tracking and Analysis – When asked in the benchmarking research what the most significant data challenges associations face, 51 percent said they lack “marketing results tracking and analysis reporting” and 48 percent said they had “inadequate membership dashboards.”  Here is the challenge, as one survey respondent wrote, “You can’t improve something if you don’t measure it.”  And the reality is that most associations are holding a treasure trove of information in their database that can highlight who are the most profitable members and customers, who are not engaged and likely to lapse their membership, and what content members most want and value.  As ASAE shared in the book 7 Measures of Success “If there’s one phrase that sets remarkable associations apart from their counterparts, it’s ‘Data, data, data.’ They gather information, analyze it, and then use it to become even better.”
  4. Lack of Spending – In a recent edition of the Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report, individual membership associations reported that they spend on average $24 to acquire a new member while the mean basic dues revenue is $175 and the average renewal rate is almost 80 percent.  In other words, associations are spending $24 to obtain a dues income stream for five years totaling $875.  Plus these members become customers for the association’s products and services.  Most businesses would jump at that ROI.  Associations need to break the habit of underspending on membership marketing and take advantage of the very positive economics of the long-term, lifetime value of a member.
  5. Lack of Frequency – Studies vary claiming that the average consumer sees between 5,000 and 10,000 brand messages a day.  That is a lot of competition.   And whether you like it or not, it means your infrequent marketing messages will not get the attention you desire.  Some associations, for example, still rely on one or two renewal efforts to keep a member or do not use mailed renewal notices.  Others limit membership recruitment campaigns to once a year.  The day when this low frequency of contact will effectively communicate your important messages is over, but the habit persists limiting the effectiveness of the mission and a member or prospect's understanding of the value provided by the association.  One survey respondent summed it up well, to be effective, “Communications have to be frequent and through a variety of channels.”
  6. Lack of Volume – Admittedly there is an upper limit on how frequently an association can ask a prospective member to join or current member to renew and maintain a solid response rate.  But the bad habit of some associations is giving up on lapsed members or former customers too soon.  These opt-in records of former purchasers remain buried in their database, but many might respond to a periodic email or could be upload as a custom audience to be shown digital ads.  If the email address is no longer valid it can be deleted from the database and if the person does not want communications they can unsubscribe.  But not reaching out as broadly and deeply to people in your database will assure a non-response.  As one membership director noted in our research, “If you never ask them to join, they won’t join.”

Of those associations, in our research, reporting an increase in membership, 40 percent reported that their membership grew 11 percent or more this past year.  Membership growth is very possible.  But growth is realized by breaking the persistent bad habits that stop effective marketing. 

Ready, Fire, Aim Membership Marketing

Inaction is the single biggest enemy to association membership marketing success.
Over the years, I have been in more meetings than I care to count where statements like, “we cannot do that because,” “we need approval,” or “we need more research” has shut down the marketing process.
To many it may sound like heresy, but very often the right course of action is simply to do something.  I call this the “Ready, Fire, Aim” solution.  By doing something an association very well may discover that they are sitting on some big opportunities.
One group that I am familiar with has 100,000 opt-in emails from prospects who have registered on their website.  But they are not reaching out to these prospects fearing they do not have the right messages and services in place.  Conducting research to understand the needs of prospects is certainly a fine thing to do, but my recommendation instead was to follow a Ready, Fire, Aim approach.
Specifically, the association could divide up the list perhaps by recency of account registration and create four or five different email messages to test into the list.  This is the “Ready” stage.  Then putting out the opportunity to join by sending out the emails is the “Fire” stage.  Finally, tracking the response is the “Aim” stage by determining which if any of the message tests produced the best return.
With this results analysis in hand, a more thorough marketing plan can be developed with additional tests that spend more budgets on the higher responding portions of the list using more expensive marketing channels like direct mail, phone, and personal outreach.  The lower responding portions of the list can be assigned less expensive channels like additional emails and online digital ads.
There are certainly other options besides email to do a fast launch of a marketing effort.  Another example would be to take a list of recently lapsed members and have staff or a third party firm try calling the members and inviting them to come back.  For those who do not want to re-join a few short questions can be added to the script to understand their reasons for not continuing.  If the calling proves unsuccessful after a few days, it can be easily discontinued.  However, if the calls are successful, additional calls can be done reaching back further in time to previously lapsed members.  Either way, the risks in terms of time and cost is minimal, but the outcome will provide insight and direction.
The bottom line is that the best market research that can be done is determining if someone will write a check or not based on your marketing effort.  This can be accomplished by taking action and testing fast and adapting based on results.  By doing this an association may find that it is sitting on a membership gold mine or on a membership disaster.  But whichever outcome is presented, it is a better place to be than the paralysis of analysis.

2018 Association Innovation Benchmarking Report

When you search the Harvard Business Review on the key word “Innovation”, you get 18,356 results.  That’s because for businesses innovation is a core competency for survival.
The same is true for associations.  But how focused on innovation are associations?  How do associations define innovation?  And how do they go about innovating?
These are some of the questions that Marketing General Incorporated (MGI) asked association professionals, in conjunction with our client the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA), for the 2018 Association Innovation Benchmarking Report.
In this, the second year of the research, association professionals were invited to share their thoughts on a variety of innovation-related issues facing their organizations.   We received 234 unique survey responses.
The findings reveal how associations have developed a clearer concept and practice of innovation. Looking at the response landscape as a whole, innovation tends to play out in one of two distinct ways: associations either embrace innovation completely or ignore it altogether.
Among the associations that embrace innovation, we have found that innovation is increasingly an established practice and is driven at the organization level, not departmentally or individually. Furthermore, more associations are including innovation efforts as part of their annual planning and budgets.
Associations also report challenges with launching an innovation plan, including widespread concern that there are not enough resources to implement the innovation opportunities and an increasing concern that they are not fast enough with new innovations.
Other key findings from this year’s report include:
  • The way associations define innovation.  The two most common interpretations involve creating a product or benefit that provides value to members (75%) and solving a member’s currently unsolved problems (69%).
  • 31% of associations began innovation programs at least five years ago, up from 27% in 2016, thus suggesting a longer-term adherence to innovation policies.
  • Associations are increasingly more likely in 2018 to set formal association-wide goals related to innovation (41% vs. 35%) and to set goals yearly (61% vs. 56%).
  • Many of the top sources for new innovation ideas remained virtually unchanged from previous research, but vendors were more likely to provide new ideas than two years ago (28% vs. 21%).
  • Cross-departmental cooperation is the primary – and quickly increasing – source of manpower for innovation projects (49% vs. 40%).
For a full copy of the Association Innovation Benchmarking Report please download it from the MGI website at

Should Associations Pursue a Membership or Customer Strategy?

One question that comes up from time to time is whether an association will economically benefit more by pursuing a customer growth strategy instead of membership growth.  The thinking goes that perhaps focusing on selling professional development, conferences, and publications might be more profitable for an association than getting more members.
For the most part, the client data that I have gathered would argue strongly for following a membership strategy. 
When evaluating which strategy to follow, here are some points to consider.

  1. Based on our 2018 Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report, the mean renewal rate for an association member is 81%.  This translates to an average tenure (how long a member continues membership) of 5 years.  So membership provides an ongoing income stream of revenue and only 19% of members need to be replaced each year to maintain counts. 
  2. In data analytics completed for one client, we found the renewal rate of a customer (someone who attended a meeting, bought a book, or went to a conference more than one time) was 8%.  So the customer tenure was 1.2 years.  To maintain customer levels, essentially 92% of customers needed to be replaced each year.
  3. In this same analysis, the median lifetime value for a member was $516 while the median lifetime value for a customer was $100.
  4. Finally, the cost to acquire a new member or customer is one of the more expensive marketing efforts.  While the cost to renew an existing member or customer is usually a fraction of the marketing cost.  But as noted, a membership continues for a number of years through renewal efforts and while the pipeline of customers’ requires more extensive acquisition efforts to stay full.

Most associations find that a member who has identified an interest in the content and services of an association typically makes an excellent candidate to make additional purchases in addition to paying members dues.  In fact, you can make the case that members are effectively paying to become a customer.
For a comparison, one of my clients shared with me a statistic with a for-profit membership, “Consumer Intelligence Research Partners (CIRP) estimates . . . that Amazon Prime subscribers spend $1,300 per year, nearly doubling the $700 per year the average non-member spends on the e-commerce site."

Every association is different, so to determine the optimum strategy some analysis of purchasing patterns and lifetime value is required.  But when exploring a strategy, an important component to include in the calculation is not just first year of sales, but to calculate the lifetime value of a member and a customer.

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.