Best Practices for Associations to Maintain Higher Membership Retention Rates
By Dr. Laurelle Jno Baptiste
Most Associations strive to bring in more new members and keep existing members, but many don’t know how to accomplish this.
By observing the trends in The 2017 Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report, I created a best practices list based on the actions of the highest-performing associations with over 80% member retention yearly. The following list highlights what the most successful associations are doing to keep members interested and provides a helpful map of what others can do to follow.
1. Have a Strategic Engagement Plan
The most basic and perhaps the most important principle to increasing member retention is to have a plan in place. Of the associations with more than 80% retention rates, 68% have a strategic engagement plan laid out. The best of these plans start from the very first contact. Once a member joins, call them personally or send them a welcome kit.
2. Provide Benefits Right Away
A significant number of successful associations offer members a free trial membership to start. This helps build member loyalty right away. From there, many associations in the highest category offer membership discounts for the remainder of the year. Many even discount membership dues for the second year, keeping in mind that securing member commitments for first and second years are the most challenging obstacles.
3. Utilize Continuing Education Online
Associations reporting renewal rates of 80% or higher indicate that specialized information, continuing education (online) and advocacy are significant member drivers. This is compared to associations with less than 60% renewal rates that consider publications and supporting the mission of the association to be the reasons members join the association.
4. Embrace Mobility and Social Media
Associations in the top retention bracket also have the largest membership base of millennials. This could be because these associations put a substantially larger emphasis on connecting with members through social networking websites, such as Facebook and LinkedIn. Mobile access and ease of connectivity is also a major contributor to these associations improving their digital footprint and increasing the number of millennial members. It should also be noted that those that use digital marketing techniques for recruitment and retention, see more members retained year after year.
5. Provide More Membership Incentives
According to the Marketing Benchmark Report, associations with greater than 80% renewal rates find that granting members access to specialized content is a powerful driver for retention. For example, of these associations, 41% offer certifications as part of the membership package. Some simply package content or offer multiple years of membership at discounted rates.
6. Improve Engagement Opportunities
The more a member is engaged with an association the more likely they are to renew their membership. Therefore, the most effective associations focus on improving associational engagement opportunities. Associations that see increases in event and webinar attendance and/or growth in member website visits and service purchases are the associations that see the best retention rates.
7. Increase Non-Dues Revenues From Members
Members that rely on their associations for things like industry training, certifications, products, networking events, and subscriptions are much more likely to renew their memberships. This is fairly straightforward. To engage members in associational initiatives, the most successful associations find new ways of offering value to members and this often results in non-dues revenues increasing.
8. Offer Members a Sliding Membership Scale and More
For the associations that offer many different levels of services, the most successful see extremely positive responses to offering a sliding membership scale, giving members the choice of what benefits they wish to pay for and receive. Find out what members truly want through member research. Try different things and gauge the response.
9. Start Renewing Members Months in Advance
One of the things that most of the best-performing associations have in common is they almost all start the renewal process months before the membership expiration date. Most begin the process within two to three months before the membership is up, allowing members time to consider their options without going past the deadline.
10. Don’t Be Afraid To Call Members When It Comes Time to Renew
The vast majority of the most successful associations find between three and four contact attempts is the sweet spot when trying to get members to renew. They use different types of contact as well. This blend is important. While email is the most common starting point and the most successful touch point, only 15% of the associations with over 80% retention do NOT use the phone. In other words, 85% find that a phone call is a very useful, personal and necessary renewal tool for retention.
11. Call Your Members More Often For Improvements All Over
While 49% of the most successful associations feel that the phone is best renewal tool, the phone is also useful in other ways. Phone calls are the best way to create brand awareness in members as well. It adds a personal element to the association. The phone is also a powerful resource when trying to call members to action for a new association initiative, such as a conference, a webinar, or for a networking event.
12. Improve Your Email Touch Points
Though this may seem obvious, associations looking to improve retention rates should place a larger focus on the content and quality of emails. This is because the associations with great retention rates see much better open rates for emails than the others. It is integral that associations find a way to ensure members see a benefit to each email touch point and have a desire to open them.
13. Offer Renewal Payment Plans in Installments
Within the most successful group of associations, grace and flexibility are extremely common. The majority of these associations offer members the chance to pay dues as part of an installment plan (a percentage almost twice as high as those that require a lump sum).
14. Allow a Grace Period After Memberships Expire
One of the largest majorities within the successful associations in the Benchmark Report is witnessed in the grace period allowed after a membership expires. An astounding 83% of these associations allow members to receive member benefits for a significant period of time after their membership has run its course. Of that group, 70% give three months of grace. This is important because it allows members more time to reconsider letting their membership expire.
15. Don’t Give Up On Expired Memberships
Many successful associations find calling former members six months after the membership expired is a good time to attempt to recover former members. Offering these expired memberships discounts on the next year’s dues proves to be an effective strategy to inspire members to renew their membership.
Even though the focus of this best practices list is on member retention, there is a far-reaching and significant ripple effect demonstrated within the report. For instance, the associations that reported more than 80% renewals also experienced the greatest growth in both new memberships and overall five-year memberships. Interestingly, their growth isn’t the result of higher operating budgets, as the 80%+ group actually had a lower median operating than the associations with 60% retention or less. Another positive is that most of these successful associations found that raising member dues year over year (typically 10% or less) was completely acceptable for members.