Associations place a lot of value on retention rates, but that’s not always the right metric to focus on if you want to boost renewals. A new benchmarking report says engagement scoring may be a better way to increase retention.
Most membership managers can tell you their association’s member retention rate off the top of their head. A common target is 75 percent or higher. But a new membership benchmarking report from Advanced Solutions International (ASI) says that retention rates are slipping. In 2016, 73 percent of survey respondents said retention was higher than 75 percent; this year only 65 percent could say the same.
The decline is not really cause for alarm, says Edward Wendling, global marketing director for ASI, but it could serve as a wake-up call for associations focused squarely on membership retention.
Wendling says a lot of associations fail to connect the dots between member retention and engagement. He oversaw this year’s ASI benchmarking report, which indicates that associations could be doing more when it comes to evaluating and scoring engagement.
According to the report, member engagement declined in the last year. Only 35 percent of associations reported an increase in engagement, compared to 41 percent in 2016. At the same time, more respondents said they did not have a formal engagement plan.
“Putting together a plan and doing some engagement scoring helps you to compare members side by side beyond just a gut feel,” Wendling says. “And as you might expect, the people who are most engaged are also going to be the ones who are most likely to renew and take on other active steps as members.”
Many associations are just starting to undertake an engagement scoring or indexing process. This type of evaluation is useful, Wendling says, because it’s not based on a variable rate, like a retention percentage. Instead, engagement scoring allows associations to evaluate many different types of membership actions—attending an event, opening a newsletter, registering for a webinar—and track which engagement opportunities are strongest and weakest.
Think of engagement scoring like a report card. Associations must first determine a grading range and weight for specific actions a member may take. Those points add up to a total score or grade, which then helps the membership department to categorize its members.
The Florida Association of Insurance Agents started this process last September with organizational members, which encompass about 2,000 individuals. FAIA Vice President and Chief Information Officer Paul Peeples says it was difficult to assign values to individual actions, so they went broader.
“Starting this process was a bit of a chicken-or-egg question,” says Peeples. “We decided to start with a scoring system that grouped members into one of three categories of membership participation.”
Here’s how FAIA’s membership breaks down:
- Tier 1 (most engaged): Total of eight points or better; about 250 members fit into this category.
- Tier 2 (somewhat engaged): Between four and eight points; about 700-800 members.
- Tier 3 (least engaged): Less than 4 points; about 900-1,100 members.
FAIA is focused on increasing outreach and engagement opportunities with Tier 3 and Tier 2 members—the two groups most likely not to renew, Peeples says. The goal is to move these members into the Tier 1 category—which he affectionately calls “his choir.”
The new rating system helps FAIA’s membership department to stay focused on weaker subsets of membership. While Tier 1 members actively participate or volunteer, a Tier 3 member might be a member in name only. FAIA can dedicate a special staff liaison to Tier 3 members and give them special attention.
“Everybody on our team needs to know where north is, and that score needs to be heading north,” Peeples says. “Our staff came together and designed a scoring system that adds clarity and transparency to our membership engagement process.”
Each fiscal quarter, FAIA reviews membership scores to see where engagement trends are headed. At the same time, the association collects real-time data giving staff open access to individual engagement scores.
Creating an Engagement Plan
What if your association is just starting to think about designing or building an engagement plan? Brad Shanklin, executive director of the Dallas HR Management Association, has been in his role for about a year, and like FAIA, DallasHR is a regional association with a total membership of about 2,000 people. Overall retention is good—about 74 percent—but engagement varies.
“We feel OK about our retention,” Shanklin says. “But we’re also looking for ways to further engage members. We want each member to be able to see their ROI on membership.”
One way DallasHR is doing this is through its membership renewal notices. Each member receives an annual reminder that lists his or her activities, including things like completing a continuing education course or attending an event. All of those actions add up to individual achievements, Shanklin says. For members who haven’t taken an active role, the letter invites greater involvement.
“We’ll ask them to participate in the future,” Shanklin says, “whether it’s our luncheon series or our annual conference. We’ll continue to remind them about these engagement opportunities.”
Eventually, DallasHR will begin to score individual actions. A big first step in that direction has been connecting member data across a variety of databases—an especially challenging project for associations with component structures. But the payoff can be significant.
For example, DallasHR worked with the Society for Human Resource Management, its national organization, to track member attendance at annual conferences. “Because we know that if you attend a conference, whether it’s our own or SHRM’s annual, you’re much more likely to be a long-standing member with us,” he says. “Any disconnect in your data can prevent you from effectively seeing and tracking engagements like this.”
Are you considering engagement scoring or indexing? Or if you have a system in place, how do you score or track member engagements? Leave your comments in the thread below.