2017 Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report


The 2017 Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report is now available as a downloadable PDF. Here are some of the highlights of this year’s research.
Once again, many more associations are reporting an increase in their membership compared to those siting a membership decline.  Individual membership organizations (IMO’s) led the way with 48% sharing that membership had an increase over the past year.
In fact, many associations report substantial growth rates.  Of those organizations that showed increases in overall membership, one-quarter report increases of 6% to 10%, while 19% report increases in membership over the past year of more than 10%.

Similarly, associations are maintaining membership growth over the longer term.  Again this year, 50% of associations report that their membership over the past five years has increased.  And if we look back over the historical trend from our very first benchmarking report, associations have consistently reported an ongoing five year trend of increasing membership counts.

These outcomes challenge the narrative put forth by some that membership as a product and professional and trade associations as a category are in decline.

In addition the increases reported in total membership counts, the 2017 Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report also highlights continuing strong data on other key membership statistics.

Similar to 2016, 68% of associations’ report renewal rates of 80% or higher. The median membership renewal rate is 84% overall. Trade associations have a higher median renewal rate (89%) compared to IMOs (80%) and combination associations (82%).

Renewal rates from our benchmarking research have remained remarkably stable of the years meaning the engine for membership growth continues to be new member acquisition. This does not in any way say that maintaining a high renewal rate is not important, but it does show that growth depends on continued new member acquisition.

And strong membership acquisition results have continued for associations.  Over the past year, 45% of associations report increases in their new member acquisitions, with IMOs showing the most growth (47% vs. 45% for trade associations and 43% for combination associations).

However, all of this positive data does not mean that associations are not facing significant challenges.

Respondents reported some major external challenges to their association.  For IMOs the cost of membership and competing associations are the top two challenges.  And Combination associations are most likely to struggle with declining member/employer budgets (32%).

For trade organizations, the biggest external challenge is industry consolidation/shrinkage (36%).  One participant shared in the comments section of the research, “Our market is shrinking and certain leaders are averse to opening up our member categories to expand opportunities.”

Internal challenges were also identified in our research.  IMOs are significantly more likely to be challenged in attracting and maintaining younger members (26%), while trade organizations struggle more with proving that their membership provides a tangible ROI (32%). And Combination associations find it more difficult to meet the needs of a diverse membership (27%).

But the good news is that the analysis of this year’s data also highlights signs of vibrancy that is helping to drive membership growth.

For example, it appears that associations – especially those that are experiencing membership growth – are more effectively reaching out to upcoming generations of members.

In fact, associations estimate that about 21% of members are Millennials or Gen Z.  And associations reporting an increase in membership over the past year, the past five years, and an increase in overall renewals are significantly more likely to have a higher percentage of Millennials.

New technology is also helping associations market more broadly and effectively.  Specifically, there has been a rapid adoption of online digital marketing including Facebook paid advertising, search engine ads (pay-per-click), lead generation content marketing (White Papers), and paid banners on other websites.

Many participants highlighted the use of these tools in the comments section of our research noting, for example, “Facebook remarketing has been successful, especially when specifically targeted to a specific audience such as our Young Professionals.”

Finally, another driver building more vibrant memberships has been engaging members with new products and services that deliver what members want when they want it.

In the case of IMO’s for example, when looking at the products and services that are reported as showing stable or decreasing engagement, one finds many of the traditional and long-term association offerings like volunteerism, the purchase or maintenance of insurance, or book or directory purchases.

However, when looking at what is reported as showing increasing engagement and participation, we find activities like participation in the public social network of the association, participation in the private social network, attendance at webinars, or participation in a young professional programs as the fastest growing engagement tools.

In other words, increasing engagement has been driven by change and innovation and not relying on the services of the past.

For 2017, the Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report continues to highlight growth and resilience for membership associations.  But maintaining growth is challenging, taxing, and requires hard work and constant innovation. 
You can review the entire report here.  We hope that you find this year’s report helpful, challenging, and encouraging as you serve the members of your association.