Are You Retaining and Engaging Retiree Members?

Whether you offer a retiree membership category or not, there’s a good chance you’re missing opportunities to engage older members.

Last week, we explored how millennials are increasing their engagement with organizations big and small. And this week we turn our attention to older members who are thinking about retirement.

The fact is age 65 no longer means you stop working. According to Gallup, 74 percent of Americans say they plan to work beyond age 65, and many associations find it difficult to know when a member has retired.

That’s prompting some associations, including the National Business Officers Association, to think about an engagement strategy focused on recognizing retirees. Right now, the average age of a NBOA member is 55. And even though the association has a retiree category of membership, the staff doesn’t always know when a member exits the workforce.

Accurate member data and an effective engagement strategy can help associations to retain retirees well into their golden years. The biggest benefit may not be the membership dues, but rather the degree to which these members remain active and continue to volunteer.

Take, for instance, Susan Nowicki, CAE, a retired association professional who, at age 71, says she goes out of her way to maintain her association memberships. But sometimes she feels as if she’s been forgotten.

“I pretty much dropped off peoples’ radars once I retired,” she says. “And my sense is that until you stop paying your dues, the association has no clue whether you’re retired or not.”

Nowicki isn’t afraid to end a membership if an association ignores her. She’s looking for simple benefits, things like reduced membership dues, continued access to the online community (maybe even a forum dedicated to retirees), magazine or newsletter publications, and the ability to retain an earned credential.

Often those small benefits stack up to a stay or go decision. But she’s also looking for more opportunities to remain active as a member, especially now that she has plenty of time to devote to the organization.

“I was one of those people who was very involved in associations throughout my career. I volunteered. I wrote articles for publications, and for many years I participated in annual meetings,” Nowicki says. “It feels jarring for associations that have absolutely no opportunities for me to get involved. . . . If I get set adrift, I’m not afraid to leave.”

Create Opportunities to Volunteer

Nowicki is a great example of how effective member engagement can lead to long-term retention and volunteering. She currently maintains memberships with ASAE and the Public Relations Society of America and is willing to dedicate time to serving both associations. The biggest question she has when it comes to volunteering: Where and when to start?

“I have all of this great experience, and I would love to put it to work,” she’s says. “It could be as simple as helping out at check-in for a meeting, or collecting evaluation forms after a session, but I think there is a lot of untapped potential.”

At a deeper level, retirees have important institutional knowledge of the association and can serve as mentors, archivists, or committee members. At the Society of Government Meeting Professionals, retirees serve as chapter liaisons or committee members, and in some cases they’re helping to rewrite the rules of membership.

“Retirees can’t vote or hold a board position, but we have changed a policy where they can receive chapter scholarships and use them for either chapter events or our annual conference,” says Michelle Milligan, president of SGMP. “Through our chapters, retirees are playing an important role when it comes to training and being the historical perspective for newer generations.”

The first step for any association thinking about increasing retiree retention and engagement is the recognition that comes with a special category of membership, Milligan says. SGMP established a retired member category several years ago and offers a discounted dues rate of $25.

For associations just starting to think about retirees, Milligan suggests surveying older members to gauge specific needs. With many baby boomers continuing to join the retiree ranks, she predicts that this membership category will become a bigger force to be reckoned with in the near future.

How is your association thinking about its retiree members? Do you have specific strategies to retain or engage these members long-term? Leave your comments and examples 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

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