The Association Industry Continues to Grow, MGI Study Says

Among the key findings of the 2014 edition of the “Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report” was that more than 50 percent of associations reported an increase in membership. The report also explored some of the ways associations are contending with common challenges of growing and retaining membership.

Association membership keeps growing, at least for 53 percent of the almost 900 respondents to the 2014 “Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report” from Marketing General Inc.

“It’s good news,” said MGI Vice President, Eric Schonher, during a webinar discussing the study’s findings this week. “The industry continues to grow.”

While it appears that membership continues to grow, it becomes apparent that it is now primarily due to the success associations are having in their member acquisition programs.

This is the fourth year in a row that roughly half of the survey’s respondents reported a year-over-year increase in membership. Last year, 52 percent reported an increase. And for those associations that saw a rise in members in 2014, roughly a quarter reported at least a 6 percent increase in membership.

New Member Acquisition

Associations did, however, report less new member acquisition this year compared to 2013. Fifty-eight percent of respondents reported an increase in new members, down from 63 percent last year. Despite this decline, new member acquisition is still strong given other factors.

“This drop is quickly offset by the decrease from 2013 in the number of associations citing a decline (16 percent to 13 percent) and the increase in the number of associations that are maintaining the number of new members acquired from 2013,” the study noted. “In review of these results we quickly see that new member acquisition is very strong.”

In terms of the most effective ways to acquire new members, the MGI report found that word-of-mouth recommendations and email are still among the most successful marketing methods as in previous years.

Member Renewal

While new member acquisition may have been strong, member renewal was less so. Most associations, 36 percent, reported renewal rates were unchanged this year, and 31 percent of respondents reported an increase in renewals. That’s down from 35 percent last year.

“While it appears that membership continues to grow, it becomes apparent that it is now primarily due to the success associations are having in their member acquisition programs,” the report noted. “As most associations count on their membership to provide the majority of their income through nondues purchases, the decrease in renewal rates could have a severe negative impact in the not too distant future.”

As for the reasons why members are not renewing their memberships, lack of engagement came out on top this year, replacing budget cuts and economic hardships—the top reason in both 2013 and 2012.

Associations seem to be aware of this lack of engagement as increasing engagement was reported as the top membership goal by 67 percent of associations. Other top goals included increasing membership retention, membership acquisition, and the understanding of member needs.

What are your association’s top membership goals this year? Let us know in the comments.


Katie Bascuas

By Katie Bascuas

Katie Bascuas is associate editor of Associations Now. MORE

Got an article tip for us? Contact us and let us know!