Membership

Win Back Your Lapsed Members

By / May 3, 2017 (iStock/Thinkstock)

What do you know about your lapsed members? They may be gone, but they shouldn’t be forgotten. Some associations are taking time to analyze and develop strategies to bring members they’ve lost back into the fold.

Last week, we talked about engaging new members with meaningful experiences. This week, we’re focusing on the opposite end of the spectrum—members who have left your association. It probably comes as no surprise that win-back campaigns are not easy, and you have to tread lightly when you’re aiming to reengage former members.

“Obviously a discount or promotions help, but that’s not everything,” says Dan Ratner, membership and business development strategist at the Next Steps LLC. “Associations need to evaluate strategies and, most importantly, demonstrate a strong value to win back former members.”

I recently spoke with Vivian Swertinski, a manager and digital strategist with Informz, who led a successful win-back campaign for the American Association for Respiratory Care, resulting in 800 reinstated members in just 45 days. Her strategy for reinstatement: Think like a doctor.

“AARC was bleeding members. More members were leaving than coming in, so it was time to do something,” Swertinski says. “It was triage, because from a medical standpoint if someone is bleeding, the first step you want to take is to stabilize the patient.”

Four Steps

Using the triage approach, Swertinski broke down her strategy into four smaller steps: analyze, target, plan, and execute.

In the analysis stage, AARC examined what Swertinski calls “the forgotten member lifecycle.” Often, she says, associations forget to purposefully direct the lapsed-member experience. And in the case of AARC, free member benefits and services continued to reach lapsed members months after their membership expired.

“For some organizations, the lapsed-member experience can be a free-for-all,” Swertinski says. “You might still get the newsletter or invites to events, but the reality is I find that most associations don’t know what they are giving away.”

Simply defining who is a lapsed member and who is not can be tricky too. It might vary depending on how your association structures grace periods and renewals, Ratner says.

“If the renewal happens beyond expiration of membership and within the grace period or renewal series, that’s not reinstatement, that’s retention,” Ratner says. Taking the time to clearly define who is and is not a lapsed member can help your membership team to target a win-back campaign. AARC used exit and satisfaction surveys to shape messaging in the win-back campaign.

“The surveys identified pain points and membership challenges,” Swertinski says. “We heard that the online learning system was hard to navigate, so we made changes, then we messaged to our members on those changes.”

In the planning and execution phases, AARC develop two distinct target groups of lapsed members. The first included members who had lapsed within the previous six months and had likely forgotten to renew. The message delivered to them was: “Two steps and you’re back to class,” a reminder of the value of membership to medical professionals who need to maintain their certifications.

For a second, more distant group—those whose memberships had lapsed seven to 24 months earlier—the message was: “Rediscover AARC.” These members may have left the organization for specific reasons, Swertinski says, so AARC highlighted organizational improvements and changes.

What’s interesting is that neither of these campaigns linked lapsed members to the membership renewal page. Swertinski says it was important to demonstrate member value first, with the hope that members would eventually renew.

Instead, each email directed members to new AARC website pages and services, including the online learning center. “Your win-back campaign might not be a homerun for renewal, but at least you’re getting your former members to walk the bases,” Swertinski says.

Give Them a Breather

Another important lessons is to pause before reengaging with lapsed members. Ratner says waiting a few months is a good strategy because it gives former members a chance to think about the value of membership. Waiting also allows the association to update lapsed members with information on new programs, services, or benefits that might bring them back in.

While many associations put a lot of upfront thinking into the member onboarding and recruitment process, far fewer dedicate the same energy to reengaging lapsed members, Ratner says. Which is surprising, given the potential upside.

“Your reinstatement campaign should be performing much stronger than any direct mail or cold-call list,” Ratner says. “Remember, this is a group of people who already know your organization and mission and have experience as members.”

Have you been able to successfully reengage lapsed members? What strategies or tips do you have? Leave them in the comments below.

Tim Ebner

Tim Ebner is a senior editor for Associations Now. He covers membership, leadership, and governance issues. Email him with story ideas or news tips. More »

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