Digging Deeper Into Membership Renewal Trends

A new survey says that membership renewal can be one of an association’s biggest challenges. And a quick study of respondents’ renewal tactics can help membership pros fine-tune their renewal process.

Membership renewal doesn’t always come easy. From the moment a member joins, your association needs to establish a connection that makes the individual feel valued and engaged. Otherwise, you face the much-dreaded membership churn.

If you’re an association leader who agonizes over the renewal process, you’re probably not alone. According to the recently released 2017 Membership Association Survey, conducted by MemberZone, membership retention is one of the biggest challenges facing associations right now.

While many associations are focused on renewals, almost half of survey respondents (49 percent) said their renewal rate has remained unchanged since last year. Meanwhile, 26 percent said they saw an increase in renewals, and 16 percent reported a decrease.

“There are clearly associations that are doing membership renewal right, but then there are those that still need a lot of help,” says Amy Gitchell, marketing specialist with MemberZone. “Respondents who saw strong membership renewals also saw strong membership growth in general. What we’re seeing is that there are consistent methods for improving your entire membership strategy.”

In its second year, the survey gathered responses from 1,071 association leaders, both membership teams and CEOs from North America. While the general findings indicate that membership rates continue to hold steady, some data nuggets on tactics used by membership departments are particularly useful for associations thinking about fine-tuning their renewal strategy.

Pick up the phone. The MemberZone survey found that the majority of respondents use email (68 percent) to get members to renew. No surprises there. Email is one of the most cost-effective and mobile-friendly ways to prompt renewals, Gitchell says. But many associations reported that phone calls were nearly as effective: 66 percent of respondents picked up the phone to get a member to renew, and it’s not just the membership team that’s calling. Nineteen percent of associations involved their board of directors, and 15 percent said they used calls from other members to spark renewals.

Test new digital tools. Associations are still comfortable using traditional communication methods, such as snail mail and newsletters or magazines, to remind members to renew, but Gitchell says there are savvier methods. Some associations (16 percent) are using social media to target members for renewal. Platforms like Facebook and Twitter allow associations to “micro-target” audiences with social campaigns, Gitchell says. And a small percentage of associations are testing other technologies: 5 percent of respondents reported using push notifications through a smartphone device to reach members. “It’s nice to see that associations are changing how they reach people,” Gitchell says. “Technology is always advancing, and it’s really a question of if an association can keep up.”

Talk to lapsed members. While it’s impossible to retain all members, Gitchell says it’s important to follow up with your “gone-but-not-forgotten” members. Asking why a member did not renew can lead to valuable lessons. Top answers from survey respondents on why members did not renew included low membership value or return on investment, cost or budget, lack of engagement or interest, and limited time or attention.

Finally, it’s interesting to note that associations still aren’t entirely sure about the duration of or need for grace periods. While the largest group of respondents (40 percent) stick by the conventional two- to three-month grace period, some go longer: 15 percent said they have a six-month grace period, and 12 percent reported a year or more.

As Joe Rominiecki noted on this blog last year, simply keeping members onboard after their membership has lapsed doesn’t mean they’ll be more likely to renew, and some respondents to the MemberZone survey seem to subscribe to that view: 13 percent had grace periods of only one month, and 16 percent reported no grace period at all.

Regardless of its length, “if you’re not getting renewals by the end of your grace period, you have to find out why,” Gitchell says. “Following up with your members to ask why they did or did not renew is a critical step.”

Are you fine-tuning your renewal strategy? What lessons have you learned so far? Share your comments in the thread below.

Tim Ebner

By 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

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