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.


David M. Patt, CAE said...

Was it really lack of value that led to non-renewal or was it the cost of membership?

Members may want more value because they can't, or won't, pay as much as they used to.

So, it may be value AND cost.

Tony Rossell said...

David -- Good point. To some extent the question of value and cost are interchangeable. However, as a marketer, I feel that I have more to work with if members do not renew because of a perceived lack of value instead of it simply costs too much. I have rarely seen the lowering of dues make a big difference in membership renewals, but I have seen a better communication of benefits or an increased use of products and services result in better renewals. Tony

Belinda Moore (formerly Busoli) said...

When a member joins an organisation they are making an investment in something important to them (whether their career, business, etc). Their decision to renew is based on whether they believe they generated a return on that investment.

For that reason, I've always considered renewals simply a referendum on member satisfaction.

I've recently done some work with a professional organisation whose membership fees start at $10,000. They have an excellent retention rate. Their surveys show that their members believes they are recieving excellent value for money.

If the member believes that the membership is valuable they will renew. Therefore whether someone renews comes down to whether they percieve (rightly or wrongly) that the membership is value for money.

Therefore I believe the standard of your communications (how they are targeted, how relevant they are, and whether they convey the concept that the membership is "valuable") is an key component of successful retention.

Roee said...

The key here is perceived value. The member must feel that they are benefiting from their membership. (obvious but critical) But this is good news and would lead to the next survey question: What would make your membership feel more valuable?

Belinda Moore (formerly Busoli) said...

Hi Roee, That's a great question. Members don't generally know what they want. Which is why putting questions like "What services do you think we should provide" is a waste of time.

Instead I try to answer the questions ... "What is the worry that is most likely to wake the member up at 5am in the morning worrying".

If you can figure out what you members are worried about, and the fears they have for their career, profession, industry, etc, than working out an appropriate mix of services that will deliver value is much easier.

Of course, tailoring your communications so that the member both recieves value AND perceives they are recieving value is another question entirely!

Tony Rossell said...

Roee and Belinda -- Thanks for the comments. Very helpful points.

This value question has been something that I have been thinking about a lot lately. Here is something that we are putting in place to try and get a better handle on the question. We are launching in-depth qualitative interviews with several of our clients speaking to new members and recently lapsed members. We want to drill down beyond the easy answers of cost and value to try and better understand motivations for joining or leaving the association. Typically this requires asking the same question three times before the "true" reason comes out. If we can better unwrap these issues, my hope is we can better communicate with members OR add the services and products that they need. I agree with Belinda, you cannot just ask, "What do you want?"

So thanks for the thoughtful comments and by the way Belinda, best wishes on your happy event.


Jennifer Iveson (CSAE) said...
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Jennifer Iveson (CSAE) said...
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Cris said...

I'm not so sure that the comment "To some extent the question of value and cost are interchangeable" is not a tad misleading. The trouble with this definition is that it requires membership to be transactional. Consumption of value isn't transactional, and therefore the traditional models, definitions and measures of value start to break down.

Cris said...

I'd probably take issue with the statement "Members don't generally know what they want." too. Most of the datasets that I have seen would counter that argument. The problem is that most associations haven't really figured out how to tap in to it. Which is a shame. Again, reading between the lines of most meta-research, you find that associations don't want to create value, they want to be valued. Different things.

Tony Rossell said...

Jennifer -- Thanks for the comment. I will delete the duplicate posts. Sorry blogger was not cooperating.

I appreciate the feedback on the question. Remember that the responses from the suvrey are coming from association staff, not members. It is the perception that they have of the members. So although cost and value are two views of perhaps the same situation, I was interested to see how membership staff framed their views. Tony

Tony Rossell said...

Cris -- Thanks for the excellent comments. I would agree with you. I think that members do know what they want. In a long ago post titled, "What do Members Really Want?" I tried to outline three components of the value that members seek -- Vision, Reward, and Relationship. Feel free to add your thoughts. Tony