Membership Practices of Association with High Retention Rates

The top things thriving associations are doing that others are not when it comes to retaining members.

Do you ever wonder how your association’s membership practices stack up against others? Maybe you don’t because you know that every association is unique given the profession or industry it serves and its size, budget, location, culture, along with a host of other factors. But I can’t help but wonder what thriving associations are doing that others are not.

I found some answers in Marketing General Incorporated’s Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report. This year’s benchmarking survey was completed by 865 association executives, with another 178 executives completing some portion of the survey for a grand total of 1,043 responses. (Check out the Community Brands Member Loyalty Study).

I’m going to focus on what’s happening at associations with renewal rates of 80 percent or higher, but if you haven’t already, check out Associations Now’s coverage of some of the major findings and interesting tidbits from the report. Download the report for yourself so you can get more detail (and ideas) on membership practices.

Associations with renewal rates of 80 percent or higher raise dues annually. Apparently, members don’t mind paying more when they know they’ll receive high value in return for their dues investment.

They’ve added member research and mobile apps to their benefits package. With the increase in competitors providing content to your members, find something unique and valuable to provide, like member research. If you deliver what your members seek to the palm of their hand, even better.

Their top methods for creating brand awareness are personal sales calls and association-sponsored events. The personal touch is always effective for making an impression and mobilizing members to action – as long as you can get past their voicemail! Look beyond your conference and trade show for branding opportunities. Become more open to your professional community by hosting happy hours, small group lunches or dinners, tours, community service events and free webinars. Don’t be so predictable and boring – experiment!

Word-of-mouth recommendations are the most effective method for recruiting new members.Members are your best ambassadors. Reward them for sending prospects and recruits your way. Share written and video testimonials on all your digital platforms.

Members join for discounts on products or meetings. That’s not usually the primary driver for joining an association but if you have these “golden handcuffs” then you’re likely to have a competitive edge.

They use volunteer or staff welcome phone calls and/or mailed welcome kits to welcome new members. MGI pointed out that fewer associations are using these methods — the email welcome is outpacing them — but those who do have higher retention rates than those who don’t. Test what works best with your new members.

Engagement doesn’t always mean committee service or volunteering. Associations that reported growth have also seen an increase in event, education and webinar attendance, purchases of products and services, and members-only website visits. The biggest percentages were for webinar attendance and visits to the members-only section of the website — online engagement makes a difference.

Increasing non-dues revenue from members is a top goal for them. Members who spend money, beyond dues, on webinars, subscriptions, products and event registrations are becoming more tied to your association — that’s engagement their way. If they rely on you for their professional and/or personal development, or for the tools that help them do their job or make more money, they’re engaged.

They start the renewal process three or more months prior to expiration. Emails get lost in the inbox. Or, they get forwarded to someone else to pay who also has a full inbox. Build some time into the process.

They extend renewal efforts more than three months after expiration. Give your expiring members time to second guess themselves. Make your case – they need you, right?

Direct mail is their most effective membership renewal channel. The inboxes on our desk aren’t nearly as cluttered as our email inboxes. Remember to test and to personalize direct mail.

They offer installment renewal payments and automatic annual Electronic Funds Transfer (EFT). It should be as easy to pay your association bill as it is to pay your Visa bill – and hopefully a lot less painful.

Deirdre Reid, CAE is a freelance writer who loves benchmarking reports.

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