Does participation drive retention?

There were some very thoughtful comments on the July 25th post related to the connection between membership participation and membership retention.

The posts raised questions like:
  • Are participation and retention connected or do members just renew out of a sense of duty?

  • Will that sense of duty be compelling enough to keep the rising generations engage as members?

These questions reminded me of a study we had done for a client a while back. We used data analytics to compare member activity against renewal rates. The reason I love data analytics is that it is research with a 100% response rate. It measures real behavior instead of attitudes or intentions.

In analysis we ran a multi-linear regression analysis comparing members who renewed with those of lapsed.The findings were fascinating because in every case, an interaction or transaction (participation) was a positive predictor of renewal for this association.

  • If a member was part of an optional local chapter, he or she was more likely to renew.

  • If a member joined a special interest group, he or she was more likely to renew.

  • If a member attended an annual convention, he or she was more likely to renew. In fact, the more conventions attended, the higher the renewal rate.

I have found this pattern repeated with other associations.

Karen Gebhart of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) spoke with me at an ASAE meeting and noted a corresponding pattern among their 400,000+ members. AOPA member record tracking found that members who called the association’s '800' number compared to those who did not showed an improved retention rate.

The bottom line is that research shows that an important predictor of membership retention is some level of participation or interaction with the association. A sense of duty to be a member is not enough to keep a member now and will not likely be enough in the future.

An association that actively engages members -- at almost any level -- is one that is more likely to enjoy higher membership retention.


Ben Martin, CAE said...

Another study that reinforces your conclusion is the State of Community Assessment (SOCA) report from ASAE & The Center.

Matt Baehr said...

I ran a triple blind study and asked 3 people (me, myself and I) and concluded that participation does drive retention.

Jeff said...

But gents, this isn't the whole story. Of course, participation drives retention, but only for some people. It doesn't drive retention among people who don't participate but renew anyway because they find value in other benefits or because they have no other choice. All associations have so-called "checkbook members" who don't participate, but continue to pay dues. (It's not necessarily out of a sense of duty, Tony, although that may be true for some.) The raw retention metric does not account for this reality.

So my point in the discussion on the other post was not to question that there is a correlation between retention and participation. I'm just saying that our emphasis on the retention metric as an indicator of organizational health is incomplete because it doesn't tell the whole story about the underlying level of participation, which we will need to be more proactive in understanding going forward as Gen Xers and Gen Ys bring different attitudes and approaches for engaging with our organizations.