Too Many Ideas for Boosting Member Retention? Never!

While an in-depth look at the state of membership retention in associations awaits in the mid-summer issue of Associations Now, get a preview with these bonus ideas on boosting retention from several association pros and experts.

If you’re not a journalist, here’s something you might not know about the typical article you read (or video, report, or white paper—”content,” if you must): It’s an iceberg.

That is, what you read in a final news article is often just 10 to 20 percent of the knowledge a writer gathers. The rest remains below the surface, frozen in the unhiglighted portions of a reporter’s notes or in the deleted margin bubbles of the second-to-last draft.

Of course, this is a feature, not a bug. Reporters sift through a mound of information and deliver you the best scoops, but often some great nuggets are left behind.

If they haven’t engaged with us by month six, we have a whole separate program that includes additional email touch points and phone calls that we haven’t done yet.

This was most certainly the case with a forthcoming feature on membership retention that I wrote for Associations Now. I conducted seven interviews, which transcribed ran to more than 30,000 words; the article is 1,600. The May/June issue of Associations Now is out today, though the retention article will be in the July/August issue. (Articles getting held back for space and published later is another journalism thing that happens.)

But the good news for you is that this online Membership Blog is a great outlet for bonus material from all that reporting, and that’s what you get today. I asked the association membership professionals and experts I spoke with for their thoughts on great membership retention practices, and below are a few of their insights and ideas that didn’t quite make it into the pages of the next issue.

Uncover your vulnerable members. At the American Chiropractic Association, first-year members were an obvious group of at-risk members (less likely than most to renew), but ACA analyzed multiple member segments and found that, curiously, members passing the 10-year mark were also slipping in their renewal rates. Kerri McGovern, senior director, marketing and member services at ACA, says members reaching about a decade as chiropractors are “in the sweet spot of their practice,” meaning they’ve passed from an early-career phase of learning and growth into a more established stage. And that meant changing which benefits it promoted most to that group. ACA launched a 12-month, multichannel onboarding campaign for new members in 2014, and in the process it developed a parallel version for 10-year members aimed more at reminding them of benefits they may not have focused on before.

Get leaders involved in retention. ACA’s onboarding program aims to boost retention through better engagement, and McGovern calls it an association-wide effort. For instance, ACA’s executive vice president, Rick Miller, personally signs thank-you letters to members, and one of the email messages in the onboarding series is a letter from the president of the ACA board of directors, which McGovern says gets an open rate above 50 percent. (She calls that “astronomical,” and she’s right.)

Show proof of value received. Some associations are using engagement tracking to provide custom reports to members at renewal time to remind them of their activity with the association during the preceding year. Ed Rigsbee, CSP, CAE, association consultant and author of The ROI of Membership, says associations ought to take this one step further. “There’s still a hole out there that’s translating engagement to value,” he says. Rigsbee has long urged associations to put dollar values on their benefits. In a recruitment scenario, that’s hypothetical value for prospects, if they join. But, for existing members, an engagement report at renewal time could also include specific dollar values of that engagement activity, to put a hard number on the value the member has received.

Go to company decision makers. Bill Schankel, CAE, account executive at Association Headquarters, an association management company, agrees with the approach Rigsbee suggests. He recommends targeting such an effort to managers and executives in member organizations, the people for whom an argument in terms of dollars will be most relevant. It could work whether your association enlists members as companies or individuals. “When retention comes, [it’s] reaching out to the managers of employees and letting them know, ‘Your employee is a member of this organization, they’re getting X amount of value,'” Schankel says. Targeting the boss aims to “help them to give the OK for people to sign up” or renew.

Branch your engagement campaign based on response. At the Society for Human Resource Management, members who do engage and those who don’t are treated differently. “If they haven’t engaged with us by month six, we have a whole separate program that includes additional email touch points and phone calls that we haven’t done yet,” says Lisa Diener, director of marketing at SHRM. “That’s sort of part of our enhancement strategy, to do a check-in.” Diener says SHRM adds an extra call for members who haven’t filled out their member profile in the first three months after joining.

Remember the value of cleanup. The American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine invests some extra time and energy into placing phone calls to members who haven’t renewed after three notices. It pays off in the form of about 40 percent of call recipients going on to renew, but it also gives AAHPM insight it wouldn’t have otherwise had on its lapsing members. “You do get some feedback from people, saying, ‘At this point in time I’m changing jobs,’ or ‘I can’t afford it.’ So, there is information that we learn from the calls, as well,” says Laura Davis, director of marketing and membership at AAHPM, which is managed by Association Management Center. Getting non-prospects off your lists will make future recruitment or reinstatement efforts more efficient.

Tap into member energy. Erik Schonher, vice president at Marketing General Incorporated, believes in the 80/20 rule about decision-making. “It says that 80 percent of our life is about feeling and 20 percent is about cognition or thinking,” he says. “So, therefore, you can change how somebody thinks, but, boy, it’s [tough] to change how they feel.” That, of course, suggests an association must create a positive member experience. But it’s a dynamic that can also be leveraged into fostering member evangelists who welcome the less engaged, Schonher says.

“If you really want to have a strong impact on your acquisition program, maybe you should re-channel some of those dollars from acquisition into retention and try and build up member referral,” he says. “And not through the typical bounty program that [associations] do, but by really targeting a specific group and making them happy and contented and actually emboldened with a desire to spread the word, because that will have a tremendous impact on your members.”

What are your favorite membership engagement and retention tactics? What works well for you, or what new efforts have you tried lately? Share your ideas in the comments.


Joe Rominiecki

By Joe Rominiecki

Joe Rominiecki, manager of communications at the Entomological Society of America, is a former senior editor at Associations Now. MORE

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