The Growing Concern over Membership Value

“Are we delivering the value members want?” It is a common question that I hear from clients these days. Value seems to be the top issue on many membership marketers’ agendas.

Our 2010 Membership Marketing Benchmarking Survey confirms the heightened concern around this issue. For a second year, we asked association executives what was the top reason that their members did not renew. Last year the answers focused on cost with the top two reasons given as “the employer would not pay for membership” or the membership was “too expensive”.

However, for 2010, the top reason given for non-renewal was a “lack of value”. A total of 36 percent of respondents sited value as the key issue an 80% leap over last year.
Is there any good news in this? I think so. When we believe members lapse because dues are too expensive, it does not leave much room for fixing the problem. However, if we think members leave for value issues, we can do research and member interviews to better understand what they are looking to receive and make changes to communications or the products themselves to enhance the value.

Asking how we can deliver more value to our members is a very productive question when we put actions behind it to discover the answer.

Here’s How to Engage Your Members

Much effort in membership engagement and retention is focused on informing members of all the great things an association does. But the research shows that giving members more information falls short. Engagement comes by impacting a member’s behavior.

That’s why I enjoyed the comments by David Gammel, in his May article in Associations Now, Connect. Engage. Accelerate. He writes, “I define member engagement as the following: Engagement is the result of a member investing time or money with the association in exchange for value.”1

I agree with his definition. And in fact from my research, it is not only a good definition, but it actually works.

Awhile back, I reported these results from a membership analysis that we did.

• Members who upgraded their membership in the past year to a higher level of service were 12% more likely to renew.
• Members who placed a product order in the past year were 28% more likely to renew than those who had not placed an order.
• Members who also maintained membership in an optional local chapter along with their national membership were 17 percent more likely to renew than those who were not a member of a chapter.
• Members who attended an association meeting in the past year were 19 percent more likely to renew than those who did not attend a meeting.
• Members who attended an association meeting at any time in the past were 7% more likely to renew than those who never attended a meeting.
• Members who attended four or more meetings were 30 percent more likely to renew than members who never attended a meeting.

But the engagement does not just need to be a financial exchange. Engaging interaction can be as simple as a phone call. In a presentation for ASAE and the Center that I did with Karen Gebhart, President of the AOPA Foundation, we reported that their research showed members who called the association’s '800' number compared to those who did not had an improved retention rate.

Gammel also highlights, “If you accept that engagement occurs when someone invests time or money with the organization in exchange for value, you can then consider opportunities to do so before that person becomes a members as well as after.”2

In my membership lifecycle vocabulary, I call the pre-membership engagement stage awareness, but the concept is basically the same. In essence it is helping a potential member to find you and initiating some level of relationship. One method is what I have come to call trading content for contact. If you want more information on this take a look at my post, The Push and Pull of Membership Recruitment and see how this strategy might be used at the introduction or awareness level.

The bottom line is that lots of information sent to a member does not build engagement. However, finding ways to get a member to interact, use, and take advantage of the value you offer builds your member relationship.

1. Associations Now, C. David Gammel, CAE, Connect. Engage. Accelerate. May, 2010.
2. Ibid.

What Strategy Leads to Membership Growth?

In our Membership Marketing Benchmarking Study this year, we asked participants to tell us their membership growth strategy. We offered three options:

1. A greater priority on acquisition than retention
2. A greater priority on retention than acquisition
3. An equal priority on acquisition and retention

Then we cross tabulated these answers with reported membership growth rates over one year and five years.

Which one do you think correlated with increased membership growth?

It was interesting to me to see that putting a priority on membership acquisition compared to a retention strategy or a balanced strategy directionally linked to growth in membership. The following chart shows the proportion of those who reported following one of these strategies who experienced at least one percent growth this past year or over eleven percent growth over five years.
How do I explain this outcome?

Here is my theory. There is only so much you can do to keep members. After awhile you reach the point of diminishing returns by trying to renew retired members or those who have left the field. But there is always more that you can do to get new members. So moving additional investments to acquisition is more likely to pay off for a membership program.  What do you think? 

Membership Dues Pricing and Value

The last few months, I have received a number of questions related to dues increases and pricing issues for membership.

If this is a topic of interest for you, please feel free to join me and my colleague Erik Schonher for an ASAE and the Center Membership Idea Swap titled, The Fundamentals of Pricing and Value.

The session will take place this Wednesday, May 5, from 9:30 to 11:30. Here is the link to register.

We will explore some of the following topics:

Pricing Theory
Price and Offer Testing
• Price Points
Dues Discounts
Dues Increases

But if you cannot make it, feel free to look at some of my previous posts related to these topics.