Just Released Webinar on Membership Recruitment

 




An effective membership recruitment program is the road to growth, financial health, and mission success for an association. But how do you get a dynamic program up and running?

To discover answers to establishing and maintaining a strong program we just released our interview highlighting recommendations from the new book, Membership Recruitment. In the webinar, we share practical guidance on:

  Making a case for supporting membership growth in your association

  Understanding the five stages of a member’s relationship journey with an association

  Getting a membership recruitment program launched

  Defining your target markets and reaching top prospects

  Building a compelling value proposition and marketing message

  Establishing testing for optimal membership results

Want to read the book? Sample a copy here. Here is the link to access the recording of the webinar.

The Seven Biggest Mistakes in Membership Recruitment


“Why isn’t my membership growing?” I hear this question often in my consulting with associations.  As I investigate the concerns, a consistent theme emerges. In most instances, the root of the problem comes down to issues with their membership recruitment program.

That is why in the book, Membership Recruitment: How to Grow Recurring Revenue, Reach New Markets, and Advance Your Mission, I explore the impediments holding back associations’ membership.  So, here is the list of the most consistent challenges I find in membership recruitment programs.

1.       Abandonment of Membership Recruitment – Perhaps the most significant problem holding back membership for associations is not consistently asking prospective members to join. An association may believe that they can grow their membership by merely increasing retention rates and that recruitment is too expensive or challenging.  In reality, one of the best predictors of overall membership growth is a thriving recruitment effort.  Years of benchmarking data show a correlation between new member input and overall membership growth.

2.       Excessive Planning – A good plan is needed to grow membership.  A plan includes defining your value proposition, identifying target markets, and developing a schedule and goals. However, many associations spend so much time developing a plan to answer every objection and contingency that they delay selling memberships.  They end up with a book-sized document that is out-of-date when and if ever implemented. Instead, consider a “ready, fire, aim” philosophy and do something now.

3.       Inadequate Special Offers – Membership is a push product.  It is sold, not sought.  A prospect can likely join 24/7 on your website.  So, an incentive is needed to get someone to join now.  The fear is a special offer like a new member discount will lead to a less committed member.  But test after test by many associations demonstrates that a strong offer both in the near-term and long-term benefits membership growth.  For example, companies run sales promotions not because they like giving away money but because it grows the number of customers and their revenue.

4.       Overreliance on a Single Channel – Many associations have been damaged by relying on a single tactic to bring in new members. Those groups that depended on an annual meeting to attract members each year were hurt by pandemic caused cancellations.  Others that were reliant on email acquisition efforts have burned out their email lists through overuse.  The solution is to develop a marketing portfolio using an omnichannel strategy that uses a variety of methods like mail, phone, social media, paid digital ads, and sales efforts to get potential members.

5.       Insufficient Frequency of Contact – Once and done is not an effective marketing strategy.  Membership recruitment requires ongoing and consistent outreach.  Growing associations maintain digital ads throughout the year, consistently call members every month when they lapse, send out regular invitations to join, and build their prospect database with new content offers. 

6.       Lack of Testing – When carefully measured, even well-run recruitment efforts show dramatic variance between their best list, offer, and message.  So, structuring statistically valid tests can determine what is working and what is not successful.  Some test outcomes impact results – even with minor changes -- by well over 100 percent. Without a testing strategy, a recruitment program will substantially underperform.

7.       Neglecting a Call to Action – The first questions someone asks when getting a promotion is “what is it?” and “what am I being asked to do?”.  Fortunately, marketers are typically very good at describing the benefits of membership.  But they often fail at telling the prospect what to do with the information.  Defining a Call to Action (CAT) needs to be the starting point in planning a promotion.  Start creating your promotion with the action you want your prospective member to do or the place where you want the prospect to go to join and work backward.

If membership growth is a goal for your association and you can identify with any of these oversights, there is help.  Membership Recruitment: How to GrowRecurring Revenue, Reach New Markets, and Advance Your Mission shares insights on the strategies and tactics that have helped many organizations trigger rapid and sustained growth. Use this link to learn more. 

Membership Recruitment Book Release


For many years I have cataloged my experiences as I consulted with perhaps a hundred professional and trade associations to understand and capture the successes and challenges these groups have had in growing their membership.

That is why I am happy to share many of these lessons with you in my just-released book,  MembershipRecruitment: How to Grow Recurring Revenue, Reach New Markets, and Advance Your Mission.

This book aims to answer three critical questions: Why is a growing membership so important? How can a thriving membership program be planned and executed? And what is required to achieve long-term membership resiliency?

You can order your copy of the book in print or as an eBook on Amazon. Here are some of the early book reviews.

 “Membership Recruitment is a thoughtfully written guided tour of today’s membership marketing universe, complete with how-to advice for the uninitiated, updates for the experienced, and fresh insights for everyone.”

 Joy Davis, CAE
Managing Director, Member Products
American Association of Pharmaceutical Scientists

 "Tony Rossell is the Master of Membership Marketing. This book is not a theoretical treatise; it reflects Tony’s work over many years, during which he has executed these principles over and over again to the great benefit of many membership associations. As the terrain shifts under the feet of non-profit associations, and for-profit corporations capitalize on the membership model, Tony’s expertise on member acquisition and retention is to be treasured by anybody serious about membership growth.”

 Ron Mattocks
Chief Operating Officer
Council for Advancement and Support of Education

“Tony Rossell is a leading expert on all aspects of membership from recruitment through retention. As it is stated in the book, ‘Members can and should be the driving power for association success.’ This book should be required reading for all who work in a membership association. The book contains practical, research-based advice and guidance that will assist associations in the development of strategies both to increase membership and retention.”

Neil Reichenberg
Former Executive Director
International Public Management Association for Human Resources

“If you are in the membership business, do yourself and your organization a favor by buying and reading this book. Tony Rossell understands the membership business better than anyone. Save yourself years of trial and error by discovering what he has learned during a long and successful career in membership marketing. Tony knows what works today and where the trends are leading us tomorrow.”

Frank Kenny
Founder
Chamber Pros Community

Membership Recruitment: How to Grow Recurring Revenue, Reach New Markets, and Advance Your Mission is available on Amazon. You can also get more information here. 


How to Improve Your Innovation Skillset


Some of the most used words by association professionals this past year have been “pivot,” “adapt,” and “shift gears.”  We have had to make changes in real-time. In short, we have had to innovate. 

The need to innovate has led me to study some of the best practices in building an innovative mindset and culture. I have found two books as helpful guides. First is How Innovation Works by Matt Ridley, which I wrote about here. The second is a classic, The Innovators DNA, by Dyer, Gregersen, and Christensen.

The authors in The Innovators DNA did eight years of research to understand the crucial skill and practices that drive innovation. The outcome was identifying five specific skills that power innovation. These are skills that you can learn and cultivate. As they share, “we believe that you can find ways to more successfully develop the creative spark within yourself and others.”

Here are the skills that drive innovation and creativity.

1.      Associating: A theme for associating is that one + one = three. There are very few completely new discoveries. Instead, new ideas build on existing experiences and concepts.  Innovators “connect wildly different ideas, objects, services, techniques, and disciplines to dish up new and unusual innovations.” One method to do this is to journal to capture your ideas and review them to connect them to new thoughts.

2.       Questioning: Innovation is supported by asking questions that challenge the status quo.  Questions include “What is the current status?”, “What is the cause?”, “Why and why not?”, and finally, “What if?” These questions do not create innovation but set the platform for change.

3.       Observing: While questioning is very active, observing is more passive. By watching people, techniques, and processes, you gain insights into what works well and what does not work.  You can observe customers and members as they do their jobs, visit and watch how other associations go about their work, and broaden your vision by going to different cultures to understand how they function.  

4.       Networking. Many people feel they are good at networking.  But the purpose of their networking focused on finding their next job or selling their services. Networking as an innovator is different. The goal of this networking is not to build a career but to discover new ideas. How can you do this? Attend conferences and events. Build relationships with experts in the field. Exchange ideas with people outside your community.

5.       Experimenting. I recently read Thomas Edison’s biography. We typically think of him as an inspired genius.  But he did not view himself this way. He saw his inventions as inspiration by perspiration.  To find the proper filament for the lightbulb, for example, he and his team tested 6,000 different materials.  For associations, the marketing realm offers a beautiful laboratory for testing and experimentation. Everything from product ideas to value propositions to messaging can be tested, analyzed, and optimized. 

In the year ahead, the saying that “The only thing that is constant is change” may be more accurate than ever. Developing the skills to respond to that change with new innovations is the best hope for dealing with what is to come.

Participation in the 2021 Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report

The opportunity to participate in the 2021 Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report is now available.  So, if you are a membership professional, I wanted to invite you to participate in this year’s research.

If you received an email invitation to participate, please use the personalized link provided to access the survey.  If not, you can use this link to fill out the survey. Last year nearly 900 associations took part in this research. This year is particularly significant for the survey. What you share will help with analyzing the impact of COVID-19 on association membership. Your voice helps gain insights about recruiting, engaging, and retaining members during the pandemic.

Of course, I will report many of the findings from our research here. But for those who complete the survey, we will send a free printed copy of the final, full report. I look forward to sharing with you the outcomes of this year’s research.

Thanks in advance for being a part of the 2021 Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report. Please take a moment to complete the survey now while you are thinking about it.

Advocating for and Improving Membership Programs

 


During difficult economic times, the pressure to abandon or diminish membership's role may be advocated by some. However, I believe the exact opposite should be the case. 

Over the past month, I have had the opportunity to write some articles highlighting the benefits of membership to an organization and the importance of keeping a membership program resilient through continual innovation. I thought that I would share the first here and the second here. 

The first piece discusses why membership programs are essential to building a vibrant organization and how it is mutually beneficial to both the member and the membership group. The second piece focuses on how to sustain a thriving membership program through innovation.

Podcast: Pandemics Impact on Associations



The pandemic and recession have had a stunning effect on professional and trade associations. I share both the hardships and hopes in our latest podcast highlighting how associations are managing these challenging times. The podcast draws on the research presented in our Association Economic Outlook Report with over 500 participating associations. Please give it a listen using this link. 

Webinar: Insights from the Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report

Our webinar “Challenges and Hopes: Insights from the Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report” is now available on YouTube. It provides the top insights coming out of this research and practical advice to help meet today’s membership challenges.

Over 800 associations shared their experiences and outcomes for the annual Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report. The report's goal is to help associations better understand what is working in membership recruitment, engagement, and retention. Providing these insights comes from cataloging the tactics of responding associations and cross tabulating the survey responses against the outcomes that associations achieve. As a result, the report guides the best practices that correlate with increased member input, higher renewal rates, and total membership growth.

The webinar runs 60 minutes and includes a time for questions. You can access the webinar with this link.  


New Report Highlights Impact of Pandemic on Associations

In the just-released Association Economic Outlook Report, over 500 association executives shared how the pandemic and the recession have impacted their organizations.

They reported substantial disruptions.

·       78% canceled or postponed their in-person events this year

·       39% see their membership as going down by the end of the year

·       20% cut the salaries or hours of their employees

·       18% reported layoffs with no intention to bring back those staff members

Nevertheless, associations have responded forcefully to address these circumstances.

Most notably, the present challenges have decreased the impediments to change and innovation experienced by associations. A year ago, in the 2019 Economic Outlook Report, respondents said that some of the barriers to change were institutional resistance to risk and the slow pace of board and senior executive decision making. As this chart highlights this year’s data shows that some of those impediments have substantially declined.

In response to the current challenges, associations are making adjustments.

·       84% have increased their virtual professional development opportunities

·       78% have developed new products and services to assist members and member companies

·       77% of those that canceled their in-person events replaced it with a virtual event

·       72% have reevaluated and streamline internal processes

As associations deliver essential services to members, they see the impact. Fully 69% say that member engagement has increased during this year. For those willing to provide critical information, networking, and community to members during hard times, the results can be increased loyalty and organizational resilience. The message is, do not waste the opportunity for innovation and change that challenging times bring.

You can download the full EconomicOutlook Report here


Helpful Membership Marketing Links

Over the past year, my firm has issued a number of reports and guides that provide some trustworthy insights on how to manage and develop a successful membership marketing program. Here is a consolidation of links to those resources.

1.       The Fall 2020 edition of the Association Economic Outlook Report

2.       The Membership Renewal Guide

3.       2020 editions of MGI’s 15 Minutes to Impact Membership Podcasts

4.       The Guide to Membership Marketing Metrics

5.       Tipster Newsletter Archive

6.       The 12th Edition of the Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report



Membership Innovation in a Time of Turbulence


A time of crisis requires every organization to innovate to survive and thrive. But a common question is, how do you go about innovating? Matt Ridley’s book, How Innovation Works and Why it Flourishes in Freedom, shares valuable principles that answer that question.   

Five of his recommendations have an application to associations.

1.     Innovation occurs incrementally. Often, we expect new solutions to come with a flash of inspiration. “But the deeper you look,” Ridley maintains, “the less likely you are to find a moment of sudden breakthrough, rather than a series of small incremental steps.”[1] For membership, this might mean regularly tweaking and updating your renewal system with improvements instead of starting over from scratch.

2.     Innovation comes from trial and error.  It is a foundation of good marketing to have an ongoing testing strategy. Some of the tests will prove very successful, and others will be a flop. Innovation requires a tolerance for error. As an example, before finding the proper filament for the lightbulb, Thomas Edison conducted 6,000 tests.

3.     Innovation often emerges through the combination of existing components. Mixing and matching can be one of the best ways to come up with new solutions. An example would be associations that create a tiered membership structure. Typically, this involves adding existing products or services that already exist in the association to enhance the current membership category.

4.     Innovation depends on a team effort. Changing any system in an association can be complicated. By collaborating and getting input from others with specialized knowledge solutions come faster and are more effective. Ridley notes that “Innovation is a collective phenomenon that happens between, not within, brains.”[2]

5.     Innovation thrives with collaboration. Why are so many technology companies formed in Silicon Valley? Specialized communities drive innovation.  So, interacting with other people outside your organization is essential. Associations should promote that they create this collaborative environment and community as a value proposition to recruit and retain members. Likewise, an association's staff needs to go beyond their own organization to interact with other membership professionals, consultants, and suppliers to gain new ideas and insights.

Ridley adds one additional thought that we all should remember as we feel the need to improve and change. He says, “An element of playfulness probably helps, too. Innovators who just like playing around are more likely to find something unexpected.”[3]  So despite the serious need to make changes, keep in mind that enjoying the process can lead to better outcomes.



[1] RIDLEY, HOW INNOVATION WORKS. P. 241

[2] RIDLEY. P. 233

[3] RIDLEY. P. 253

Insights from the Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report

Each year the goal of the Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report is to help associations better understand what is working in membership recruitment, engagement, and retention. Providing these insights comes from not just cataloging the practices from the 800 responding associations but through cross tabulating the survey responses against the outcomes that associations achieve. As a result, the report highlights some of the best practices that correlate with increased new member input, higher renewal rates, and total membership growth.

Here are ten significant findings from this year’s research that you can apply to improve your membership results.

1.      Value – Providing members with value remains the foundation of a successful membership program. Our data shows that members join for networking with others in the field, continuing education, accessing specialized information, and learning best practices in their profession. For trade associations, advocacy is an additional reason to join. But do associations believe they deliver this value? The research found that associations reporting gains in their membership numbers and improvements in new members over the past year are significantly more likely to indicate that their association has a compelling or very compelling value proposition. The challenge is that only about half of associations consider their value proposition to be compelling (48%). As one respondent commented, members “need to see value. Just because someone is a member or has been a member, it is not a given that they will renew. You need to continually show new value and ROI.”

2.      Innovation – How can associations enhance the value that they provide to members? Our data shows that a culture of innovation is the critical driver for creating member value. As one respondent made clear, “Try something new or you’ll plateau and decline.” Indeed, the survey results show that associations with increases in their membership over the past five years are significantly more likely to have a process in place for innovation and new ideas. At the same time, those showing declines over the same period are more likely to say that they have no innovation process.

3.      Membership Models – One area where associations have been innovating is introducing new membership models. Among associations that have adopted a new model, a tiered configuration has been the most common choice (46%). A tiered membership often replaces a static structure and allows members to choose the value proposition that best satisfies their particular needs and budget. The second new model is moving to a combination format by adding an individual or organizational category to the membership offerings.

4.      Recruitment – The report highlights associations use a wide variety of channels to add new members. This year when we look at individual membership groups, two channels – one old and one new – are helping to drive new member acquisition. The emerging marketing channel is paid digital advertising. As one research respondent shared, “Paid digital advertising is no longer optional.” Associations with operating budgets over $1 million are now significantly more likely to use online digital advertising for membership acquisition, retention, and reinstatement. Facebook paid advertising (46%), search engine optimization (37%), and retargeting (31%) are the most commonly used digital marketing tools by associations. The traditional channel of direct mail also continues to perform well for larger associations. Groups with over 20,000 members are significantly more likely to report direct mail to be highly effective for recruiting new members.

5.      Special Offers – The use of incentives to encourage a member to join is often debated.  However, since your website provides a 24/7 opportunity to join, the reality is that getting a prospect to take action now requires offering an incentive to act now. The data shows that associations showing increases in their overall counts over the past year are significantly more likely to consider dues discounts for first-year members to be very effective. The other offers that respondents highlighted as the most favorable to get a member to join were conference discounts and monthly or quarterly installment dues.

6.      Engagement – Once a member joins the way for associations to build a strong membership foundation is by proactively putting in place plans to engage members. Respondents have been consistent in sharing why members do not renew. This year, once again, they say members do not renew because of a lack of engagement with the organization or because they could not justify the cost of membership. However, when associations establish an active program to engage members to raise their usage of benefits, membership retention increases. This year, 78% of associations that have seen an improvement in their renewal rates say that they have a tactical plan to increase engagement.

7.      Participation – The report also highlights a continual shift in the membership benefits where associations are seeing improvement in their members’ participation and engagement. In our research this year, there were five areas where respondents said that they were seeing broader member participation. Most of these growth areas reflect ways to enhance interaction with members and share information, primarily on a digital platform. The top services seeing more usage are:

 The use of their mobile app

  Participation in their public social network

  Attendance at their webinars

  Participation in their private social network

  Participation in their young professional’s program

8.      Generations – This migration to more digital member services may also be supporting how associations are effectively attracting emerging generations of members. Our benchmarking data shows that associations reporting increases in their one-year membership levels are more likely to have a higher percentage of Millennials in their membership. Nevertheless, associations are still most likely to say that the most significant proportion of their membership consists of Baby Boomers (35%),

9.      Renewals – Two findings related to renewing members have come out of this year’s benchmarking research. The first highlights that, after email, direct mail represents the marketing channel that generates the most renewals. With the average association achieving an 82% renewal rate, it is almost impossible to lose money through renewal efforts. The second finding is the effectiveness of automatic credit card renewals. Fully a third of individual membership groups make this option available. And those that offer this option see substantially higher renewal rates for members, especially for first-year members.

10.  Budgets – Right now, every line item of an association’s budget is under scrutiny.  So how do you make a case for sustaining and even increasing your membership marketing budget? Benchmarking data would support that funding membership marketing produces improved results. Associations seeing one-year and five-year membership increases are more likely to have increased their awareness, recruitment, and engagement funding. A total of 34% of respondents said that they increased their budgets for recruitment, and 32% increased their engagement budget. One important reason to fund membership marketing is that it produces an outstanding return on investment compared to many of the other products that an association offers. Customers come and go, but the average members will remain with an association for five years producing a stream of dues and non-dues revenue.

The 12th edition of the MGI Benchmarking Report contains over 60 pages of additional information segmented by size and types of associations. Take this opportunity to download the full report to see how your organization compares with others. 

12th Edition of the Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report Now Available

It is my pleasure to announce the release of the 12th edition of the Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report. A free download of the report is available using this link.

Each year the goal of the report is to help associations better understand what is working in membership recruitment, engagement, and retention. Providing these insights comes from not just cataloging the practices of responding associations but through cross tabulating the survey responses with the outcomes that associations share. As a result, the report highlights some of the best practices that correlate with increased new member input, higher renewals, and overall growth rates.

This year over 800 associations responded to our survey and shared their practices, experiences, and results. The report helps to answer critical questions like:  

  • What are the top reasons members join, and why do they lapse?
  • What are the most effective marketing channels for recruitment and renewal?
  • Which products and services are driving increased member participation?
  • How are associations supporting innovation?
  • What new membership models are associations adopting?
  • How are membership marketing budgets changing?
  • What are the trends in membership counts over the past decade?
  • What renewal rates are individual and trade associations achieving?
  • What communication methods used to engage new members?

Many associations use this data to help them improve their membership marketing plans and to compare their achievements to other organizations.  You can access the full report using this link.  We hope that you find it of help. 

 

Trade Association Challenges and Opportunities with Membership Recruitment


Membership recruitment for a trade association brings more challenges than selling individual membership. The process is complicated because asking a company to join may involve a significant financial commitment and require building a consensus among the firm's stakeholders. However, the potential long-term value of adding a company as a member can be substantial. 
 
Here are some of the players to consider in the process of recruiting a company or organization to join your trade group and the strategies for a successful program.

·       Gatekeeper – Many organizations have a system in place to screen sales efforts from reaching decision-makers. So the initial hurdle is to get beyond the gatekeeper to establish contact with someone who might be interested in membership.
·       Champion – Identifying the primary user of the membership is one of the most critical contact points. The user will become the champion advocating for the company to join.
·       Technical Buyers – In almost every major company decision, a technical buyer will be involved. These influencers may include legal or finance. Their questions and concerns need to be addressed in the sales process. 
·       Detractors – In some cases adding an association membership will create more work for some and reduce budgets or influence for others. Present how the value of membership outweighs these concerns.
·       Decision Maker – Ultimately, a leader in the company, will evaluate the benefits compared to the cost of membership. The champion needs to be armed with the data to make a case for joining.

To meet these recruitment challenges, many groups find success with a basic three-stage marketing and sales process.

·       Prospecting – The first step in recruitment is to identify prospective member companies, their leadership at a firm, and contact information. My recommended method for this is to purchase or lease a database of firms in the desired target market. This type of data is available and inexpensive to obtain. Add these records into a sales database to drive promotions and track activity.
·       Marketing – It is inefficient for sales to call cold leads. That is why marketing plays an essential role in supporting sales efforts. Marketing's job is to get past the gatekeeper and convert cold records in the database into warm leads using the full mix of channels, including direct mail, email, digital ads, and telemarketing. These communications build awareness, share relevant content, and set up sales appointments.
·       Closing – Presented with a qualified prospect, the sales team establishes a relationship by understanding the company's needs, presenting the membership solution to the champion, handling objections from technical buyers and detractors, securing the final approval from the decision-maker, and following up on the delivery of the membership.

Even though the sales process for trade associations to acquire new members is more involved and often more costly than what is experienced by individual membership groups, the outcome from these efforts is favorable. Typically, trade association members renew at much higher rates than individual members. Because of better renewals combined with the generally higher dues rates, trade associations can expect substantial lifetime value from a new member. This revenue stream helps to make the recruitment effort well worth the results.

Podcast: Membership Rebound


In our latest podcast, I share some thoughts on how membership organizations have fared during past challenging times. We then take a look at how associations can hold on during the current crisis and put in place plans for a membership rebound.


 
You can listen to the podcast using this link. Additionally, here is the link to the blog post that we referenced in our discussion describing the powerful impact one association is having right now in helping their members. 

Budgeting for Membership Marketing in Challenging Times


Right now, every line of an association’s budget is under scrutiny.  So how do you make a case for sustaining and even increasing your membership marketing budget?

Here are the four essential values that members bring to an association that make a fully funded membership marketing budget a priority.


·       Lifetime Value – Membership stands out as producing an outstanding return on investment compared to many of the products that an association offers. At the typical renewal rate of 80%, an average member will stay with an association for five years.  So, a $150 annual dues rate represents an income stream of $750 in lifetime value. On the other hand, customers come and go. Some of our data analysis shows that customers renew year over year at a rate as low as 7%. Having to replace most of your customers each year is a less efficient use of marketing dollars than getting and keeping members. 

·       Customer Value – Besides offering a dues revenue stream, a member also represents a significant value as a customer for an association. Almost any association will find that members pay to attend meetings at a higher rate than non-members and are the top buyers of all of an association’s offerings. Effectively a member is paying you to become a customer. So by producing both a dues revenue stream and non-dues revenue, members represent an economic multiplier for an association.

·       Stability Value – Member dues bring financial stability to an association. Many associations are challenged now with face to face training and conference cancellations.  It has been a shock to many budgets—however, members signup for a year at a time.  So, associations with a strong membership dues base maintain a predictable income stream. Of course, membership counts might decline for some during an economic disturbance, but the decline is typically incremental compared to the loss from a significant event cancellation.

·       Mission Value – Members are the cornerstone for accomplishing the mission of an association through their volunteering, content creation, networking, and support of advocacy. And they typically provide these vital services at no cost to the association. An association without members becomes a publisher or meeting company.

One other important consideration for budgeting is the enormous need in the world now.  People are looking for guidance, community, and solutions. This challenging time offers associations the opportunity to meet needs through the value provided by their membership. You will never know if your association can be the source of that help unless you reach out and invite members to continue with you and to join. Now might be the ideal time to invest in your efforts to get and keep members.

Your Membership Marketing Playbook for Turbulent Times


Most economists agree based on recent reports on GDP and unemployment that we are entering a recession. And many association executives are wondering how this downturn will impact their membership numbers and what to project for the future.

Amidst the current challenges, there is data to provide some hope and insights. For over a decade the Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report has captured association membership best practices and statistics. One of the major disruptions impacting association membership was the Great Recession in 2009. Looking back at the benchmarking survey data can serve as a guide on how associations responded to this recession. The data suggest that there are some near term challenges for some groups in the current environment but for most associations they can look forward to a strong membership rebound in the future.


Past Recessionary Membership Results

The findings from the 2010 benchmarking report published showing results for this recessionary time found that the percentage of associations seeing increases in membership counts dropped to a low of 36%. While an all-time high of 48% of associations reported an actual decline in their membership counts. Membership renewals were also a challenge. A total of 44% of respondents said that their renewal rate declined for the year. Using these past results as a guide it is likely that in 2020 many associations will see a dip in their renewal rates and total membership.

However, the data did show that even during that time of economic dislocation, over a third of professional and trade associations still reported that their membership increased. And 42% reported that they improved their new member input. These groups were able to sustain growth and add new members because they found a way to provide value and to continue to effectively reach prospects. I remember one association executive described how members regularly hired other members who were out of work.  His association shared with members the effectiveness of their networking with the message that the cheapest unemployment insurance they could get was joining the association. Likewise, today we are aware of some clients seeing the biggest new member months in their history by providing members and prospects with critical information, advocacy, and community during this pandemic. For some associations, growth is still achievable right now.

For other organizations facing declines in the current environment, there is still long-term hope from our benchmarking data. The results from our research following the Great Recession shows that membership counts made a remarkable recovery in subsequent years. Following the economic downturn, the proportion of associations reporting increased membership rapidly rose from a low of 36% in the 2010 report to nearly 50% and higher in the following benchmarking years.

Additionally, the driver for this rapid improvement appears to be associations refocusing on membership recruitment. Each of the four years after the Great Recession produced the best new member recruitment years to date in our research. Just three years after the low point, an all-time high of 63% of associations reported that their new member acquisition had increased.

Membership Strategy Going Forward

The encouraging news from the trends in our longitudinal benchmarking data shows that there is light at the end of the tunnel.  Associations that have messages and services to help members' immediate needs can flourish even in this challenging time. For those that are seeing a drop in membership and struggling with renewing members, the data provides hope for the future.

In either case, what should your membership marketing playbook look like for right now? For those associations that are currently offering indispensable services that are bringing in new members the plan should be to aggressively market to gain market share by reaching out as broadly as possible to your house prospects and third-party databases. For groups that are facing membership challenges, the strategy is to do everything you can to hold on to the members that you have worked so hard to gain over the years. Just like there was panic selling in the stock market you likely have many lapsed members who might leave in a cost-cutting panic. These are prime prospects to invite back with a special offer. Reach out to them with all the tools you have available including email, telephone, texting, and digital media.

Going forward it is a time for all associations to invest in building the foundation and capacity for future growth. Maintain a presence in the marketplace, gather knowledge of member needs through research, test new marketing messages, and tactics to see what works. Build your marketing plan now so that you are ready to capitalize on the coming membership growth opportunities.