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Capitol Correspondence - 07.06.21

Resource for State Associations: Increasing Membership Retention

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We share this resource from ASAE, the association for association professionals of which ANCOR is a member, for the benefit of our state association members.

“Associations not only need to acquire new members, but they also need to keep existing ones, and some retention tactics have a higher success rate. The following are seven ideas for ramping up retention rates.

Get Your Data House in Order

You can’t manage what you can’t measure. So, if you don’t have a fairly clean and usable membership database, make getting one a priority.

Don’t simply assume your data is good, check it and then check it again. Run an audit on your association management system (AMS) or customer relationship management system (CRM). Pull a random 5 to 10 percent of your membership records and read through them. What data seem to be missing much of the time? Reading database records may not be the most thrilling or dynamic thing you do all week, but good clean data will produce big results over time.

Measure the Right Things

What’s measurable is manageable, so get clear on what you mean by “retention.” Many associations don’t consider a member lapsed until one to two months after their membership ends. This is probably because for some people, reupping membership only becomes a priority once they’re aware they have passed the expiration date to renew. Make sure your team is clear on specifically what terms like “lapsed,” “renewal,” and “retention” mean to you.

Research Your Members

Conduct formal member research regularly. “Formal” distinguishes it from the more day-by-day anecdotal insights you accumulate—which, though compelling and useful, are often incomplete and biased. Formal member research mostly consists of three components: surveys, interviews, and focus groups. Each serves a unique purpose, and one cannot substitute for the others.

Sketch Out a Plan

Write down your retention plan. Here are some ideas for what to include:

  • Your goal, listed in big bold font right at the top of the document.
  • The specific criteria for what constitutes a “soon-to-be-expiring membership” (e.g., anyone whose membership expires within the next 90 days).
  • A list of the communications you’ll send these members, including the channel of each outreach (e.g., email, phone call, direct mail, etc.) and how long before their expiration date that communication needs to happen.
  • A brief summary of your retention message (see below).
  • A list of those responsible for each step.
  • Specific dates for each key milestone.

Pick One Message and Make It Sting

You have your plan in place, but what do you say to convince members to extend their membership? It depends, in part, on whatever existing messaging guidelines you have to follow. But if you have some—or a lot—of leeway in crafting a retention-specific message to your members, we recommend doing two things to craft your message.

  • Look to the past. What have you said in previous years to help boost retention rates? Go digging into emails, ask your coworkers, or even speak to a few members who’ve renewed year after year.
  • Pick a single message that stings. In this case, “sting” means emphasizing what the member stands to lose if their membership expires.

And more broadly, appeal to your member’s identity. This is a psychological tactic that can work wonders. This is because many people, especially ones with professional jobs, tend to identify themselves by what they do for a living.

Make the Renewal Process Quick and Painless

Test your renewal process. Have your friends or family test it, too. Ask them where they got stuck along the way, what the language communicates to them, and how they would rate the process on a scale of 1 to 10. Test it on several platforms like an old web browser or a new smartphone. Then invest in the design and website development tools to make the experience seamless and quick.

Get Personal

Personalization does not mean starting a mass email with “Dear .” Do that if you can and if you trust your data. But I recommend something actually personal and not just digitally personal.

You’ll figure out what works for your association, but the upshot is this: If you inject a little magic into the experience, your users will remember you more fondly and be more eager to be part of your community.

Remember, this is just a primer. What works for one association doesn’t necessarily mean it will work for yours. But we’re confident that if you take some fundamental steps—including research, user-friendly renewal design, and a little experimentation with personalizing the experience—you’ll see dropping numbers rebound, and then some.”