What are the Biggest Impediments to Membership Growth?

I have often wondered what are the biggest challenges for organizations in growing their membership. So this year we asked association executives in our Membership Marketing Benchmarking research to tell us. And 631 unique associations answered the question.

Then we took their answers on the biggest challenges they faced and cross tabulated them with the reported membership performance for their organizations over the past five years. Did membership increase over this time period, stay the same, or decrease.

What we wanted to know was which challenges hurt membership growth the most and which were painful, but tended not to impede growth.

Here is what we found.

The data seems to indicate that if your organization has weak product and service offerings, an insufficient budget, or a lack of marketing expertise then membership growth has been not been achieved.

And if an organization suffers from the lack of a strategy or plan, then membership has been more likely to remain static.

However, there may be hope for membership growth even if an organization is faced with insufficient staff, market saturation, an inadequate association management database, or inadequate research to understand the market they serve as the biggest challenges. Organizations reporting these problems were more likely to see membership growth over the past five years.

What might be your theories to explain these outcomes? Does this data surprise you?


Scott Briscoe said...

I have to say Tony, I was prepared to not like this post after reading the title and first paragraph or two. Since forever, associations have overemphasized number of members as a metric. I'm not saying it should be ignored all together, but other metrics are much more important, such as member engagement, and how well you reach members in ways that affect how they conduct themselves. Of course, I believe if you're paying attention to and improving those things, member growth is a likely byproduct. But setting that aside for the moment...

I like that you asked about weak product and service offering. In membership, you're only going to be as good as the stuff your organization does. I like that staff resources doesn't seem to be a good excuse, but I find it hard to reconcile with lack of $$ being a reason. In my head, those things are lumped together: an organization decides what its focus is by where it puts its resources: both human and $$.

I also don't know that I have a lot of separation between inadequate AMS, inadequate research, and inadequate marketing expertise. These things seem to be pretty tightly linked to me, so as with resources, I'd want to explore why there is a split, with some being important, and the other not.

Tony Rossell said...

Scott -- Thanks so much for the great comments. You will be pleased to know that one of the next items that I will blog about is a question we asked in our research about member engagement. I hope to post that in a day or two.

Related to your point about budget dollars, I cannot tell you the number of times that I have seen organizations with great potential and even great returns on limited budgets sub-optimize their growth because they either could not or would not spend at an adequate level.

I think your points on the challenges of an AMS or lack of research are good. However, these are complaints that I regularly hear as to why membership marketing is a challenge. And a number of groups selected those as their biggest challenge, so it is at least a "felt" problem with a good number of organizations.

Finally, I hope this does not sound too negative, but there really is a lack of marketing expertise in a good number or associations. There might be some very bright marketers in these groups, but they have a challenge of incorporating a marketing perspective into the operations and strategy for their association.

Thanks again for your thoughts. Tony