Associations | Non-Profit

5 Ways to Improve Association Membership Retention Rates

An association is nothing without its members, which is why it is so important for association leaders to focus on member retention rates.
Alex Hay
Written by Alex Hay

Association leaders know that their members are their top priority. Associations provide a variety of valuable services, from providing spaces for members to come together and learn from each other to networking and certification courses.

One indication that your association is finding success is your member retention and member acquisition rates. These rates reflect how often existing members are renewing their membership and the frequency of new members joining.

Just as it is in the business world, it’s commonly said that member retention is more valuable than member acquisition--it’s easier to focus on keeping your current members satisfied than attempting to find new ones, and high member retention rates reflect how dependable your association is.

If you want to nurture your membership, take some time to review your current member retention strategies. Are you doing enough to keep your members happy?

With a capable management team and a fleshed-out member engagement strategy, your association can improve member relationships and ultimately raise member retention and acquisition rates.

Why is member retention important for associations?

For most associations, members must pay dues. Although dues are vital to the growth and sustainability of the association, it can also be a point of contention for members--some may even choose to leave or lapse their membership if they perceive that dues are too high.

To encourage membership renewal, your association should offer experiences and create an environment that makes members feel like they're getting a good value from the cost of membership. 

Try looking at your data and consider your members’ needs and how your association can better meet them. Member retention depends on member satisfaction, which can affect your association in other positive ways than just easing the stress of managing your membership, such as increased funding and improved reputation.   

Member retention is an active and consistent effort. While a satisfied and fulfilled member is less likely to let their membership lapse, there are still plenty of reasons why they may not renew. Whether those reasons are personal or financial, it’s imperative that you take the time to audit and develop your membership retention strategies year after year.

Can member engagement affect your retention rates?

Member engagement encompasses the entire relationship your association maintains with your members, whether that's through email, member action, internal member interaction, or other methods. No two associations are alike, so the way associations track member engagement may differ as well.

One of the best ways to figure out what engagement means to your association is to see where your members are already active. Consider the experiences and opportunities your association already offers. Using a data-driven approach, determine how your members currently engage with them.

Measurements such as social media engagements, email open rates and event attendance rates can be a good place to start to get a better sense of where your members are engaging the most. If there is high member engagement, you can begin to evaluate if members are happy.

What are some strategies for improving membership retention rates for associations?

Once you determine where your members are already most active, you can work on developing those engagements and use them in your member retention strategies. Expand upon these areas of high member engagement and consider new ways that you can improve areas with lower engagement.

Although each association is different, there are several core strategies that can help any association improve their member retention rates. Think about ways to improve by learning more about your members and investing in tools to help you leverage those engagements. 

Create a member "report card"

Using membership engagement data we discussed earlier in this article, associations can develop "grading systems" for members based on their online activity. Associations must first determine a grading range and weight for specific actions a member may take, such as attending a webinar or participating in a survey. Add those points up to a total score or grade, which then can help the membership department categorize its members and quickly analyze the health of their membership relations.

 

Conduct surveys and votes

It’s always a good idea to open your lines of communication between you and your members. This allows members to relay their feedback through a consistent, reliable platform. Consider distributing surveys during membership renewal pushes or holding a vote to see what initiatives your membership would like to see you take on in the next year. Ask your members to be honest in telling you what they want and you will gain a better understanding of what you’re doing well and what you can improve.

 

Make the most out of your events 

Whether they are held digitally or in-person, meetings and live events offer unique learning experiences and networking opportunities, ultimately reminding members of the value of their community. Try using dedicated event management software to publish event pages for better marketing, facilitate a seamless registration process and manage all event logistics from one easily accessible place.

Present members with opportunities to engage each other

Your association’s website can encourage online engagement with an accessible and user-friendly member portal. Members can browse other member’s profiles, learn from each other and communicate via forums. Your best bet is to find website builders that are specifically designed for membership associations. 

Don't use a "one-size-fits-all" approach to engagement  

Since each member is unique, your communication strategies should be tailored accordingly. Consider segmenting your members based on their interests and preferences. This way, you ensure that members are receiving messages and announcements in the way that they prefer. For example, if some members prefer receiving updates by mail instead of email or social media, try making some specific accommodations for them.

These strategies will help all associations enhance the member experience. More customized online engagements and stronger events will ultimately grow your association’s membership. 

Member retention is critical for all associations. It speaks to how successful the association is and whether it’s worth joining. By considering where your members are already active, you can leverage that engagement to improve member relationships and your retention rates.

Originally published Sep 9, 2021, updated September 9, 2021

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