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Member Recruitment & Retention: It’s All in the Balance

Navigating A Maze
There are moments in the life of any association when it’s critically important to recruit new members.  But it can be a fatal error to focus primarily or exclusively on recruitment, while ignoring the qualities that attract people to your organization—and motivate your existing members to come back to you year after year.

In the second in a five-part series on her Association Subculture blog, Shelly Alcorn describes a situation that should ring true to too many membership organizations.

“Leadership obsessed with recruitment at all costs will champion such things as running reckless membership promotion campaigns, offering deep, unsustainable dues discounts, offering commissions for new member sign-ups, or offering lavish prizes in member-get-a-member contests,” she writes. “They can even recruit more members than the association staff can adequately serve, leading to disappointment and low retention rates for new recruits.”

An overzealous approach to member recruitment can lead to tensions with existing members and confusion for new arrivals. And those problems are magnified when leaders “judge staff and volunteer performance on new member recruitment numbers, rather than current member retention.”

Last fall, the Greenfield Services Pulse Report pointed to a serious gap in Canadian associations’ member renewal marketing. “One of the most troubling findings of the Pulse Report was that 52.1% of associations followed up with only one to three member touchpoints as member renewal deadlines approached, while only 13.6% followed up seven or more times,” we wrote.

“These numbers matter a great deal against the established sales and marketing theory that it takes eight to 10 touchpoints to break through the clutter of competing media and priorities to reach a target audience with a message that requires a decision and action.”

And while member retention was a leading goal for 59.6% of the associations we surveyed, “fewer than half (48.5%) saw it as a top priority to demonstrate the return on investment (ROI) that would give members a compelling reason to renew, and fewer than three in 10 (27.2%) placed strong emphasis on new product or service offerings.” Two-thirds of the organizations invested less than 10% of their operating budgets in membership marketing.

It isn't that member retention can or should be your only marketing strategy. The challenge for any association is to deliver the right balance of marketing content and social media to simultaneously tap new prospects and delight current members. That’s the key to building the deep pools of member loyalty and engagement that will keep your organization strong in good times and bad.