Developing a Membership Marketing Maturity Model

In the software world, there is a methodology to assess the level of sophistication an organization has achieved. It is called a Capability Maturity Model.

The thought came to me that it would be helpful to outline the same type of assessment in the area of membership marketing. Is it possible to evaluate an organization's level of sophistication in membership marketing?

I have been thinking about this for the past couple of weeks, so this concept is very developmental. I thought that I would share this proposed model and benefit from your feedback and insight. I am calling the Membership Marketing Maturity Model the 4M’s.

The model has four levels of maturity: (1.) Initial -- everyone has to start someplace, (2.) Basic, (3.) Good, and (4.) Great – a la the Seven Measures of Success.

The first driver for evaluating maturity that I have is management. So today, let’s take a look at the maturity model as it relates to the organizational management of membership marketing.

  • Initial: When organizations start out with membership marketing it is typically a board driven initiative. This is good. One of the roles of leadership is to initiate. A board member might say, “Let’s all call our friends and ask them to join or renew.” However, this model is dependent on volunteerism, so it is not often sustainable or scalable. An organization will not thrive for long by staying in this early stage of maturity.

  • Basic: At the basic level, the organization realizes that membership marketing takes a level of professionalism. Membership marketers are experienced with the principles, tools, and techniques that are needed. They competently manage the membership marketing process, but goals are handed down from the board or senior management based on the imperative de jour. They may have responsibility, but not authority.

  • Good: Management drives membership marketing through research, testing, and analysis. Goals, strategies and budgets are based on data. However, the organization’s operational constrictions, bylaws, or departmental silos impose a drag on the achievement of the membership marketing opportunities.

  • Great: A great membership marketing organization has a unified vision for growth. It brings together the people with expertise and talent; market data based decision-making; and the necessary “structures, processes, and interactions”[1] to achieve this vision.

As always, your feedback is appreciated. With input from others, my hope is that the 4M’s will be a tool that organizations can use in measuring and benchmarking their membership development program.

[1] Seven Measures of Success, page 24.

Associations are “Where the Winners Meet”

From my membership marketing tests over the years, it is clear that the best predictors of someone responding to a membership acquisition effort are typically that they are a subscriber, book buyer, or joiner already in the association’s field. Those who have not demonstrated a tendency to purchase and learn are less likely to join.

That’s why I enjoyed the interesting analysis on the attitudes and income of association members by The William E. Smith Institute for Association Research. It was just published in January.

The report shows that, “On average, association members earn significantly more money and are more satisfied with their jobs than non-members. This is true even after holding constant differences in job categories, disparities in education, and all other relevant personal characteristics. However, the benefits of association membership are not as straightforward as we often hear: Membership by itself does not stimulate higher earnings and job satisfaction. On the contrary, the most plausible explanation based on the data is reverse causation: Prosperity, success and happiness at work encourage association membership, because associations are where the winners meet in many professions[1]

The data for this analysis was drawn from 2004 General Social Survey (GSS), a random survey of 1,200 American adults.

So who do we look for when we seek new members? This research and the marketing data that I have seen suggest that we seek the “winners” as new members. What do you think?

[1] Arthur C. Brooks, PhD., Where the Winners Meet: Why Happier, More Successful People Gravitate toward Associations, The William E. Smith Institute for Association Research, January 2008, page 13.

How is the economy impacting your association?

Almost every association that I have met with over the past few weeks is asking me the same question, “What are other groups experiencing with the current economic situation?”

They want to know if conference attendance is down or if membership acquisition or renewals have been impacted.

If you have some feedback, please go ahead and post a comment with what you are seeing with your organization. Is the bottle half empty or half full?

From a marketing perspective, whether the economy ends up in recession or we move back to a growth pattern, I think the key to success still depends on generating innovation as a means to maintain resilience. Time after time I have found that we have been able to innovate ourselves out of very challenging business situations.

This was articulated for me a number of years ago when I read an excellent article in the Harvard Business Review. The basic premise of the piece was that no matter what business you are in, keeping relevant and “resilient” was the key to success. The authors said:

“Most companies [or non-profits] would be better off if they made fewer billion-dollar bets and a whole lot more $10,000 or $20,000 bets – some of which will, in time, justify more substantial commitments. They should steer clear of grand, imperial strategies and devote themselves instead to launching a swarm of low-risk experiments.”[1]

I think that it is pretty good advice. Here is a link to an abstract of the article.

Please also do share your insights on any early signs that your organization is seeing from the current economic conditions.

[1] Gary Hamel and Lisa Valikangas, “The Quest for Resilience” Harvard Business Review, September 2003, Page 6.

Are You Indispensable to Your Members?

When I go to association conferences, read the ASAE listserv, and visit association blogs, I continually hear people talk about delivering “value” to members and keeping members by providing value. provides a lot of definitions of value. One for example is:

Value -- Relative worth, merit, or importance: the value of a college education; the value of a queen in chess.

One of my colleagues -- who by the way helped inspire my recent post on “Membership Interdependence” through vision, reward and recognition -- uses a much better word to highlight what associations are seeking to achieve with membership. He uses the word “indispensable”.

Indispensable -- Absolutely necessary, essential, or requisite: an indispensable member of the staff.

In a brainstorming session today when we asked a client to define the value they provide members, we did not get too far beyond information and networking. But when we asked what members found indispensable, the ideas began to flow. Surveys show that members with the association’s designation make more money (reward), there is real industry honor accorded to those who carry the membership designation (recognition), and the association is effectively improving the image of the industry through forceful enforcement of ethical standards (vision).

What do you think about becoming indispensible instead of providing value?

Life Cycle V – Renewal

Renewal is the quantitative measurement of how successful you have been with the earlier components of your membership system. An aware, engaged, and interdependent member is much more likely to renew than one who is not.

But at the same time, there is a unique challenge to renewing members. Any renewal program needs to take into account that people are very busy and overwhelmed with communications.

Over the years, my analysis of why members’ lapse shows that the number one reason that people leave an organization is not that they are unhappy with the services or angry about customer service. No, the key reason most people do not renew their membership is because they “forgot”.

In some cases, the member moved and did not provide the association with a forwarding address. In other cases, the brand of the association did not stand out enough in the renewal notice, and it was overlooked. Whatever the reason, more members leave an organization by omission than commission.

In order to break through this omission challenge, renewal programs need to break through the clutter of competing communications.

Perhaps one of the simplest and often one of the most effective ways to improve renewals is simply to increase the frequency of notices. Increasing the number of notices sent to a member should be considered if tracking reveals that the final notices of the renewal program are generating a strong response or if subsequent reinstatement efforts produce good returns. I have met with organizations that do telemarketing to former members and have response rates in excess of 10 percent. This says to me that their renewal system is leaking members who communicated with properly are ready and willing to stay with the organization.

As a rule of thumb, the frequency of renewal notices should be increased until the cost of generating a renewing member through the system equals or exceeds the cost of acquiring a new member. In the rare event that tracking reveals the cost of renewing a member is higher than acquiring a new member, then decreasing the number of renewal notices would be appropriate.

A second tool to break through the challenge of members forgetting to renew is the use of multiple marketing media. In addition to mailed renewal notices, other channels like phone, FAX, and email can be employed.

A high frequency, multi-channel renewal program might look like the following.

Finally, an opportunity to positively impact renewals is to look at offering different options to actually eliminate the member’s renewal decision. This is accomplished by offering payment options like:

  • Automatic credit card renewal
  • Automatic electronic funds transfer renewal (EFT)
  • Multiple year memberships
  • Life memberships
  • Automatic monthly/quarterly credit card installment billing

These payment options change the renewal dynamic from asking the member to act pro-actively to continue a membership to requiring the member to act proactively to end a membership. Associations that have members who accept some type of automatic debit or credit card charge can see renewal rates 10 points higher for these members than for typical members.

What techniques have you used to increase membership renewals? Please feel free to share them here.

By the way, you can read my first four posts on the Membership Life Cycle through the following links: Awareness, Recruitment, Engagement, and Interdependence.

Membership Marketing Projections, Not Promises

Last month I was meeting with a prospective client and they were very surprised that I could project results, but not promise them a certain level of return.

That’s why I have always enjoyed the following quote.

“Successful companies are learning companies. They collect feedback from the marketplace, audit and evaluate results, and take corrections designed to improve their performance. Good marketing works by constantly monitoring its position in relation to its destination.” (Philip Kotler, Kotler on Marketing, page 34)

Marketing really is a process. Knowledge is built over time through experimentation and analysis. The challenge is that unlike a chemistry experiment, for example, when the variables are all controlled, marketing works in a dynamic environment. Variables include elements that you do not control like the economy, competition, and the post office and those you have more control of like timing, offers, market segments, and messaging.

So like a ship blown by the waves and wind, you need to monitor where you are and make adjustments to get to your destination.