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Member Retention

How to Win Back Lapsed Association Members in 7 Steps

Your member management system can help you understand why your members left and what you can do to win them back. Our 7-point plan shows you how.

Keeping members engaged has a lasting impact on your retention rates. But it’s inevitable a subsection of your membership will drop out for a variety of reasons  some of which you can control, others you can’t. If your attrition numbers are rising, you might start by reviewing the following 7-point plan to help pinpoint the reasons behind the decline and develop a successful counteractive strategy.


1. Understand Why Your Members Left

The first thing you need to determine is why the members left in the first place: 

Analyze the data

Your association software should be capable of quickly identifying: 

  • When the member stopped engaging
  • Which member persona they fit into
  • What their interests were/why they joined
  • How long they were members 

If your member management system is capable of tracking member engagement, you need to look closely at what the data is telling you. It’s likely you can get a fairly good idea when they started to check out. Armed with this information, you can develop remedies to ensure this doesn’t happen again. This is why association software with exceptional data analysis features is so critical to your success.

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Recognize patterns & trends

As you review the data, you need to put on your detective cap to determine: 

  • Regional trends: Are some regions experiencing economic downturns more than others? 
  • Member persona clues: If you have member personas established, do you see certain member types leaving more than others? 
  • Behavioral patterns: Do you see some members habitually dropping out and reinstating after a special discount offer?

It’s important to step back and really look at what the data is trying to tell you. It’s not a time for finger-pointing about what might have gone wrong. It’s an opportunity to learn and adjust so you can ensure you keep the members you worked so hard to attract in the first place.


Survey them

Ideally, you were already asking your members: 

  • What are your particular interests?
  • Which of our benefits/resources are most valuable to you?
  • Are there additional services/resources you’d like us to offer?
  • What can we do better?

If you have asked these questions, your member management system should be filled with insights you can use to devise a successful campaign to bring lapsed members back into the fold. But if you haven’t, you can still conduct an exit survey using an online tool, such as SurveyMonkey, to learn exactly why they left. A telemarketing campaign can be great but given COVID, it can be more difficult to actually reach members at their desks  and members tend to be more candid online. Keep it short, but ask them: 

  • Why did you decide not to renew?
  • What benefits or resources should be added in your opinion?
  • How would you rank our member service?
  • How can we get you back? 


Prioritize Members to Win Back 

These days, you probably have limited time and resources to spend on your win-back initiative. So, it’s important to identify the most critical member types to focus on, including: 

  • Larger corporate members or those individual members who pay higher dues
  • Members who have used your continuing education resources, attended events, or purchased resources  it’s vital to maintain this non-dues/membership fee revenue stream
  • Younger members whose sustained involvement is vital to your long-term viability
  • Key demographics, such as members from a specialty sector that’s key to your industry’s overall strategy


Use Your Association Software to Support Your Initiatives 

Your member management system is essential to ensure you can: 

  • Track every member interaction
  • Access your data in easy-to-understand dashboards
  • Analyze it in real time
  • Understand the nuances

If your current association software isn’t capable of this, consider finding a new system (such as an Engagement Management System) that can. Without it, your entire initiative will seem nearly impossible.

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2. Determine What Lapsed Members Have in Common

Member personas can be extremely helpful in keeping members engaged but building “lapsed member personas” can also work well in reversing attrition. As you review your data, try to identify what the lapsed members have in common, such as: 

  • Behavior patterns 
  • Attitudes/beliefs 
  • Backgrounds 
  • Skills 
  • Career goals 

Then, once you have a good picture of who left and why, you can build out your lapsed personas and devise a strategy to try to bring them back into the fold. Check out our blog on the onboarding journey it’s got lots of tips on how to construct member personas


3. Assess How Long They’ve Been Gone

The strategy you employ to draw former members back in has a lot to do with how long they’ve been gone

0-2 months: If you’ve got a solid retention program, the renewal process starts several months before the member’s anniversary date and continues for a few months until they renew. Members get busy and lose track of time a one- or two-month lapse may be a mistake. 

3-8 months: After 3 months of no activity, it’s not an oversight. You’ll need to understand why they left and develop an appropriate plan to reengage.

9-12+ months: If a member has lapsed this long, they’ve somehow managed to get along without the benefits you offer. At this point, you’ll need to:

  • Reassess your member benefits for this persona 
  • Ensure your digital transformation strategy is addressing their specific concerns 
  • Consider a special offer to bring them back into the fold
  • Explore a short-term membership option to let them test the waters again 


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We know what you’re thinking: yes, flexible membership levels can make billing more complicated. But your association software should be able to easily process complex member billing structures. If it can’t, see our recent blog for guidance on how to evaluate a new system to meet your needs. 


4. Determine if They Will Respond to Their Association Peers

Some members really value hearing from their colleagues who can provide a unique perspective on the value of membership that you can’t. Other members won’t respond to this tactic  so it’s important to understand the lapsed member’s communication style and persona. 


Start a Retention (Sub)Committee: 

If you don’t already have one, a retention committee or subcommittee of the Membership Committee can help your organization: 

  • Focus on the reasons members drop off 
  • Personally reach out to persuade them to re-join 
  • Develop creative ideas/campaigns for bringing them back in 


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Invite the rising stars within your membership who are interested in future leadership roles to be part of this group. You can even consider making this part of your leadership ladder. For example:

  • A seat on the Retention Subcommittee can lead to the Retention Subcommittee Chair 
  • Retention Subcommittee Chair then becomes the Membership Chair after 1 year 
  • Membership Chair then becomes the Chair of your association after 1 year 

This in-depth training gives your leadership a better view of the importance of retention so that by the time they serve as Chair of your organization, they are fully committed to ensuring strong retention rates. 


5. Create a Win-Back Campaign That Works for YOUR Association 

Every organization is different, and you understand your membership best. With that said, if your retention numbers are dropping, it may be time to break out of the mold and try some new ideas. Here are a few thoughts to get you going: 


Devise Your Strategy

After you’ve analyzed your data and understand the reasons behind your member attrition rates, you need to create a strategy that specifically addresses YOUR issues. You’ll need to start with these steps:

  • Create lapsed member personas
  • Develop solutions to rectify the issues members cited for leaving
  • Design messaging around your new offerings/solutions
  • Articulate your value proposition; provide a membership justification document that details exactly how you bring value 


Conduct an Email Campaign:

Regardless of your available resources, you can easily start with a multi-step email campaign that will:

  • Demonstrate you know they haven’t renewed, and you want them back
  • Speak to their personal needs and interests 
  • Remind them of all the benefits they’re missing (employ FOMO: Fear of Missing Out) 

Don’t shy away from the pain let them know you recognize their concerns and explain how you’re addressing them.


Expand to Telemarketing/Volunteer Calling:

If you have telemarketing resources available, use them to follow up on your email campaign and to solicit additional feedback you can use to further tailor your win-back approach. If you can’t implement telemarketing, use volunteer members who will reach out to members with a phone call or personal email and outline your organization’s value proposition. 

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Consider Flexible Membership Levels:

Lapsed members may want to try membership again on a short-term basis to ensure their issues have really been resolved. If they’re experiencing financial hardships, consider offering to let them pay their dues on a monthly or quarterly basis vs. annually. Or consider a “membership lite” option that offers them limited resources (such as online only) at a reduced rate. But you’ll need to ensure that this “lite” version isn’t so good that it replaces your full-membership level. 


Lock Down your Members-Only Benefits:

If members know that they can find a way to access your key benefits, you take away the incentive to renew. By creating a members-only section of your website and controlling access to your mobile app, you’re protecting your assets. If your annual conference is a must-attend industry event, consider making the non-member registration higher than your membership fees to encourage them to rejoin.

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Beware of Members Gaming the System:

When a member realizes that you’ll offer them more if they lapse and come back, they may try to do this every year. So, it’s a better strategy NOT to offer significant discounts/ additional benefits for coming back after just a few months. Your loyal members who pay their dues on time deserve just as much  and more  than those members who drop out, so don’t create a system that rewards members for leaving. 


Watch Those Grace Periods:

Of course, you always want to build in a short grace period for the well-meaning member who is dependent on your benefits and simply missed a deadline. But if a member knows that they can still access members-only resources for another 3 months after lapsing, they may try to take advantage of this every year (getting 15 months for the price of 12). So you need to set rules for when membership benefits expire and stick to them. 


Consider Value-Adds Before Discounts:

Yes, discounts can work to bring members back in, but these actually result in lost revenue for your organization  and the types of members who respond well to discounts may not be the best members for your association in the long run. Instead, a value-add  such as limited-time access to a member resource for which you typically charge a fee has several advantages:

  • You bring the member back in 
  • You hook them on the value of the service they temporarily got for free 
  • The value-add doesn’t cost your organization anything out-of-pocket 


6. Prevent Attrition Before it Happens

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Of course, it’s always better to keep members from leaving than to win them back but that’s not always possible. Try the following tips we’ve gleaned from our clients over the years:


Understand Your Members: 

  • Build personas 
  • Poll them regularly about their interests/goals 
  • Ask how you’re doing 
  • Institute an onboarding strategy to help new members acclimate 


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Focus on Their Needs: 

  • Develop personalized email content and messages that pop up on your website and mobile app 
  • Expand online learning options 
  • Provide benefits they can’t get elsewhere 
  • Listen to their communication preferences
  • Offer recurring memberships they can opt into once and never worry about again 


Create a Renewal Strategy: 

  • Start early (3 months before the anniversary date)
  • Provide justification for membership  don’t expect members to make your case to their bosses for you
  • Reach out to them regularly  don’t let the date sneak up on them
  • Communicate exactly when benefits will expire
  • Don’t stop after the anniversary date  continue for 2-3 months to bring them back in


7. Don’t Forget Your Digital Transformation Strategy

We know you already have a digital transformation strategy  or you’re working on it right now. 😉 Boosting member retention should be a cornerstone of any effective plan. By following the advice above, you will understand how members feel, why they leave, what you need to do to win them back, and the support system you need behind you. All this flows directly into your digital plan.


Take Aways

We hope you’ve discovered some fresh ideas to solve your attrition challenges. To sum it up, we recommend you: 

  • Assess exactly why certain members left, create lapsed member personas, and develop solutions to address their particular issues
  • Explore alternative membership levels/payment options/recurring memberships for members who need more flexibility
  • Get your board/volunteer members involved in the retention and win-back processes
  • Prioritize the targets for your win-back efforts and don’t give away too much
  • Always focus on the member’s needs and find new ways to delight them 

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