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Association Performance

Membership Renewals: 3 Strategies for Sustainable Association Growth

Leveraging your current membership renewal rates is the key to sustainable growth; discover three strategies to help you focus on your core members.

We have all heard that cultivating repeat business is a far more sustainable method of generating and sustaining revenue than seeking new clients. Lifelong, loyal members, are any association's foundation. They represent the “core” group in leadership, participation and financial contributions. The current environment is fraught with challenges. Retaining and growing this core group over the long term is critical to the health and success of associations, but you will need to put in some work to engage these important people.  


1) Focus on Retaining Your Core Members

In researching this blog article, I stumbled upon a YouTube video from 2008 by Glenn Tecker, who is the lead faculty of ASAE’s CEO Symposium for Chief Executive and Chief Elected Officers and a longtime thought-leader in the nonprofit sector. He said that he is frequently asked: “What are the strategies associations should consider in times of economic compression?”.

Glenn’s reply was simple: “Focus on your core purpose; focus on your core members; focus on your core programs. If we lose those who have an emotional attachment to the mission, the vision and the values and the program and work of the organization then there will be insufficient critical mass left as we emerge from these difficult economic times to be able to rebuild upon.”


focus on your core - infographic-update4-03

This focus is just as applicable today as it was in 2008 (remember the financial crisis?). As association leaders, you must focus on retaining your core members as it is critical to the health of your organization.


2) Create a Plan to Retain Members

The core can be defined differently in each association, but for our purposes let’s say that the core are those members and leaders that the organization counts on every year. Make a goal to identify the top 100 who make up your core and then ask yourself the following question: “What will be the impact on your association if you can increase that number by 10% or 20% or more? What is your plan to create more core members and leaders?

Marketing General Inc. (MGI) is widely respected throughout the association community as a thought–leader and trusted resource. MGI follows a Lifecycle approach to membership marketing, keeping sight of the big picture as well as the many details essential to successful member programs.

The key to MGI’s approach is the creation of a membership growth plan that focuses on the Membership Lifecycle:

“Member retention includes three steps in the Membership Lifecycle: Engagement, Renewal, and Reinstatement.


If membership organizations are to grow, strong acquisition programs should be followed by successful retention programs and lapsing members should be rescued by reinstatements.”

“If retention is low, particularly first year conversion rates, membership organizations can exhaust qualified new member prospect lists quickly. Once prospects have tried membership and elected to discontinue it, winning them back a second time can be difficult.”

The hard work of acquisition needs to be followed by the even harder work of engagement because engagement leads to retention.

The Importance of Member Engagement

enSync Corporation, a leading technology and service provider for associations, states in simple terms, member engagement is the ongoing interaction between a member and an organization in exchange for meaningful value. This means keeping in touch with your membership, posting often on social media, creating meaningful content, and inviting their participation, among other approaches.

To develop a healthy association capable of thriving in any economic climate, an engagement plan needs to be implemented that focuses on stabilizing the core organizational muscles to create a base of support. This enables the organization to stand upright, and transfer resources and energies wherever and whenever needed to powerfully move forward.

While we can focus on questions like: “What is engagement?”, “How can technology help us understand our members’ needs and wants more clearly?” or “How can technology engage our members at anytime, anywhere using any device?” The ultimate question is: “Why do we want to do this?”

• To raise more money

• To increase our membership

• To increase new members

• To increase member retention

• To have more people attend our events

• To increase the number of volunteers

• To have more people purchase our stuff

Each of the above engagement goals are worthy of just about any association and may provide our boards and staff with effective direction. But for many associations pursuing any or all of these goals alone without having a “big” picture plan with “big” picture goals may place the organization on a merry-go-round where a lot is happening, but the overall health of the association is not being improved.



3) Control What You Can Control & Take Ownership of Mistakes

Control what you can control and recognize that how you respond to mistakes is related to member retention. With so much of what is going on in the world being out of control, consider focusing on the things that you can control. In a recent blog, Wes Trochlil, of Effective Database Management, makes the point that “When a member complains, how you respond matters.”

Wes writes, “I'm impressed when an association takes ownership of a problem and seeks a mutually agreeable solution, rather than trying to make excuses or shift blame. The same attitude can (and should!) be applied to all of our daily interactions at both a personal and business level. How you respond to something is what matters most.”

Building on Wes’ thoughts consider the following:

What is your expectation when your members complain?

That someone will listen patiently, not be defensive, apologize, solve the problem and take the time to say thank you. Was that your experience the last time your members protested about something?



Remarkable Recoveries

Tom Peters, author of In Search of Excellence, states that “there’s only one thing better than good customer service: “a remarkable recovery.” Peters writes that the secret of business success is not in the head, but in the heart, and this comes” through a respect for the individual, devotion to service and attention to the customer. “ In every business, mistakes happen. It is how you resolve them that makes all the difference! How does your organization orchestrate remarkable recoveries? Equally as important is how do you measure a successful recovery?


Key Takeaways

Strengthen and grow your core: Build and grow your core group of members, increasing your number of promoters to strengthen your capacity to survive and even thrive during any economic climate.

Create a retention Plan: Never underestimate the value of a retention plan: Starting with what to do and how to do it, a plan provides direction, decreases the risk of not achieving your top goals, decreases risk of overlapping and wasteful activities, and aids in decision-making.

Turn member complaints into references: To respond to member complaints create a plan and process to enable your team to orchestrate remarkable recoveries.

To read more on this topic please read our blog entitled "6 Proven Ways to Increase Member Loyalty"

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