Membership Marketing Focused on Lapsed Members

In a recent piece, Jeffrey Cufaude wrote about a little experiment he conducted.  On purpose, he let his membership expire with three professional associations to see what would happen.  What he found was that “1 out of 3 slightly acted in a manner consistent with organizations that profess to be about ‘community.’  But since then?  Crickets.  Silence.  Nada.”
Fortunately, discontinuing communications are not how all membership organizations operate.  The 2013 Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report highlights that 32% of associations “continue indefinitely to contact lapsed members.”
Here is why staying in touch with former members is so important.  Every relationship personal and professional can have problems.  But in most cases, it is best to try to fix the problem rather than starting a wholly new relationship.
The same is true with membership.  A member may be dissatisfied or lose touch with the organization.  But in almost every case, organizations that I have worked with have found a former member more likely to re-join the organization compared to a totally new prospective member.  This is why membership reinstatement is a significant component of the membership lifecycle.  All members will someday leave, but many will come back if asked.
So when you look to get former members to come back, here are some things to keep in mind.
1.      Learn.  There is an old proverb that says, “Look where you tripped and not where you fell.”  Former members can be your most valuable resource to identify problems and impediments in your membership program.  Ask them why they did not continue and drill down beyond the standard answer of it was too expensive.  Then use the information to keep more members and win back those who have left.

2.      Acknowledge.  Address a former member as someone you know had a previous relationship with your organization.  One association does a great job of this by instead of asking the former member to “please join” they send out a greeting card that says, “We miss you.”  The card includes a personalized message to the former member.

3.      Keep trying.  Perhaps the most important message about reaching out to lapsed members is, do not give up on re-establishing a relationship.  Many associations are sitting on a relational and financial goldmine of former members that they have failed to re-engage.  They just need to replace the chirping of crickets with an ongoing effort to restore the relationship.
There are many marketing tools available for following up with former members.  Since an association has a previously established business relationship with lapsed members, it is appropriate to use both email and telemarketing in outreach efforts.  Some organizations also use staff and board calls to encourage a member to return.  But whatever the mechanism that works best, try contacting your former members and replace silence with a request to return. 

Developing a Successful Student Membership Strategy

According to the 2013 Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report, 52% of associations offer a Student membership category.  At 71%, Student membership is offered most frequently by individual membership associations.
When you take a look at existing programs, students are typically offered a somewhat downsized membership package ranging from one year free to a dues payment of between $25 and $50. Many Student programs are presented very nicely and highlight the economic benefits and advantages that are available through membership. 
Here are some examples:
·        Association for Computing Machinery makes five levels of Student membership available starting at $19.

·        Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics makes free Student membership available with some conditions, but Student members receive the periodical in an electronic format.

·        American Counseling Association has a Student membership that parallels their New Professional membership at a $94 dues rate and includes professional liability insurance.

However, in speaking with membership professionals, it is not always clear that there is a defined strategy for what a Student membership is attempting to accomplish.  Here are some important questions to consider in building a Student membership strategy.

1.      How do you identify eligible students for membership?  If you build it, they will not come.  And unlike established professionals or firms in a field who can often be identified in marketing and licensure lists, finding accurate contact information for students is much more challenging.  So a strategy needs to include building a channel to reach students through schools, referrals from professors, online ads, or a chapter structure. 

2.      How do you deliver value to these members?  There are many conversations today about the different needs of each generation.  The needs of students will vary from your typical member. So spend some time defining what will be of value to a student and how they want to communicate.  One dental association, for example, uses a free booklet titled, “Keys to a Successful Career in Dentistry” to encourage acceptance of a free membership and to demonstrate relevance to potential student members.   

3.      How do you stay connected to students once they join? When you calculate retention rates by membership category almost every group will find students have the lowest renewal rate.  Often the chief challenge is not that students do not value the membership, but that the association loses touch with them as they graduate and relocate.  Therefore, it is critical to capture permanent mailing address, phone, and email information from students.  Requesting an opt-in for texting is also of value.

4.      How do you justify the economics of servicing students? Perhaps the most important part of a Student membership strategy is building a sustainable economic model.  Do students ultimately convert to a regular member who is engaged with the association?  One way to determine this is to track the pathway of students to full membership or do a computer match of previous Student members and your current membership database.  A smart strategy will evaluate whether the economic commitment of acquiring, serving, and in many cases subsidizing students ultimately leads to a committed member. 
In the long run, today’s students are the future of any organization.  Developing a strategy on how to reach them, serve them, retain them and building a foundation that makes economic sense is time well spent for any membership organization focused on a sustainable future.