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A Dangerous Disconnect on Member Retention

You know it’s time for a new strategy when research points to a big, dangerous disconnect between standard practice and best practice.

That’s exactly what’s happening in one of the most important areas of association management. But despite two years of data pointing to gaps in most associations’ member retention strategies, there’s little sign of change on the horizon.

In its 2012 Pulse Report, Greenfield Services found that only 13.6% of Canadian associations scheduled seven or more member touchpoints as their renewal dates approached. In the 2013 Report, that total improved only marginally, to 15.4%:

Touchpoints for Membership Renewal, 2012–2013


If only associations could hope to get the same member retention with a more modest outreach plan. But the message from established sales and marketing strategy is clear: it takes eight to 10 touchpoints to break through the clutter of competing media and priorities with a message that requires a decision and action.

The Hope and the Reality

It isn’t that associations aren’t keenly interested in member retention. On the contrary, two-thirds of the association executives who responded to the 2013 survey cited membership growth and retention as a top priority.

After two years, the problem is clear: the vast majority of associations lack the staff, budget, and strategy to run the strong, effective member retention programs they need and want. 

They’re reaching out too infrequently. And they’re starting too late. More than three-quarters of 2013 respondents said their organizations began renewal outreach no more than three months before a membership was set to expire, compared to 71% last year.

2013 Pulse Report respondents knew they had a problem: among their most serious member engagement challenges, they listed insufficient staff, lack of a strategy or plan, and lack of member-driven research. But many of them were also dealing with tough budget realities that had forced them into a continuous cycle of trying to do more with less. (More on that in next week’s blog.)

The Plan Your Retention Plan Can Be

A retention plan only works when members are satisfied with their association experience, so year-round engagement is the cornerstone of an effective outreach plan.

But here’s the good news: once the retention program begins, associations can use a variety of tools, techniques, and media to capture members’ attention. A single touchpoint might be an email, a phone call, a text message, a direct mail letter or post card, a survey, a contest, a magazine ad, or social media messaging.

With more outreach methods available to them than ever before, we've been encouraging our clients to review their marketing plans and vary their messaging between established and emerging marketing methods, rather than relying exclusively on familiar tools like email and direct mail. The tone of member renewal campaigns can and should evolve, as well, with more emphasis on “pulling” people into voluntary, enthusiastic participation in a thriving association community, rather than “pushing” them to buy their association membership as a product. 

Greenfield Services Inc. will release the 2013 Pulse Report at the National Conference of the Canadian Society of Association Executives, September 18-20, 2013 in Winnipeg. Contact us today to receive your own copy by email.