Remembering the Human Factor in Membership Retention and Renewals

Sometimes we get so focused on the marketing mechanics of membership renewals that we forget that we are dealing with real people involved with everyday real life challenges. 

I have been reminded of this as I have read through hundreds of open ended responses shared by members in some clients’ research where they explain why they have not continued their affiliation.

There are always a few comments that members disagree with the association’s policies or stances or they do not feel that they have received value for their dues dollar or they do not feel engaged or connected with the association.  And these are the common reasons membership directors believe that members lapse, but these responses are actually not all that frequent in unprompted member comments.

Instead, real member comments present a different picture.  Simply put, members say that life is complicated, busy, transient, and costly and this interferes with them continuing membership.

Here are some of the paraphrased responses members shared as to why they have not continued their membership.

1.      My employer STARTED to pay for my membership, so my membership address is now at the office.
2.      I am retired and want to continue, but did not see a low cost retired membership category available.
3.      I have not had a raise for years and I simply cannot afford membership.
4.      I was very busy and just keep forgetting to renew.
5.      The online renewal process was too complicated or did not work, so I gave up trying.
6.      I have been sick, but plan to renew when I feel better.
7.      We trade off membership every other year in my office.
8.      I have some unexpected expenses, but plan to come back when I have some more funds.
9.      I thought that my membership was still active.
10.   I am out of the country, but plan to continue when I return.

So what are the lessons that we may want to take away from these “life happens” types of member responses?

I have two suggestions. 

First, be sympathetic.  We spend so much time and effort in trying to communicate with members that when our efforts go unnoticed it is easy to assume the worst.  We assume that either our organization does not have the value members want or that members do not care about our issues or industry.  But remember to walk in your members’ shoes and understand that just like us they have financial, health, work, and family priorities that keep them from focusing on your organization.

Second, be persistent.  In the comments that I have reviewed, very few members complain that an association stays in touch with them too much over time.  So keep checking back with former members.  Let them know that you have not forgotten them.  Tell them about the new products, services, and content that you have waiting for them.  Be available to them when life gives them the time, funds, and needs to re-engage with you.

Finally, remember that since life is complicated and members are busy, we need to make the renewal process as simple and seamless as possible.  If you have a retired membership category, make it clear.  Test the website to be sure that renewal is easy.  And de-duplicate your records, so that you have a member’s latest address in the system.    



Erik D. Schonher said...

Wonderful post, Tony. Your bring to light an often overlooked reason why people don't renew - simply, " life has changed." In my publishing days we called this simply "attrition." Nothing you can do, it is simply another dynamic of the market. Which means, as I did as a circulation director, established a benchmark which I included in my strategic and tactical planning. Good advice based on solid experience.

Vinay Kumar said...

Wonderful post Tony. Indeed paying attention to the human side can and does make such a great positive difference.

Reading some of the comments that you shared, I see that many are also great reasons to initiate conversations with members and further strenghen relationships by doing so.

For example, if a member states that he/she is unable to renew due to illness, first wishing them speedy recovery and then to make it even sweeter by perhaps offering them complimentary membership for couple of months can go a long way. And then when they feel better, they are even more likely to renew, knowing the association took care of them during their difficult period.

This reminds me of the old saying "no one cares how much you know 'till they first know how much you care". So showing a little love not only feels good to everyone and is a great thing to give and to receive, it's also I am sure great for building and strengthening membership.

Tony Rossell said...

Vinay -- Good point. The interesting thing is that many of these members who do not renew for "life happens" issues, ultimately do return. I think related to your point, we need more focus on the member than concern that our efforts have been rejected. Tony