Survey: Membership Growth Stagnant Among Associations

In its latest survey, the AMS platform GrowthZone says that more associations are seeing member stagnation or declines than are seeing growth. However, there are some signifiers of an organization that’s more likely to see member growth.

As a whole, the association field is struggling to make headway on membership growth, according to a new survey from the AMS provider GrowthZone.

The firm’s 2019 Association Annual Survey [registration] found that there was only marginal growth in the percentage of respondents that saw an increased number of members in the past year—rising from 41 percent in the 2018 edition of the survey to 42 percent this year. Another 42 percent saw their membership numbers stay stagnant (an increase of 2 percent from the prior year), while 14 percent saw their membership levels decrease.

Other highlights from the report:

Weak points. The report noted that there was room to improve board makeup. While nearly two-thirds of boards got performance marks of 4 stars or below, 57 percent rated their boards at 3 stars or below on representation. And despite the heavy focus on social media—more than 90 percent of respondents used Facebook for marketing—it wasn’t anywhere near as effective a channel for drawing in new members as traditional means. More than a quarter of respondents (27 percent) cited word-of-mouth as the most effective growth tactic, with sponsored events (17 percent) in second place; in comparison, just 7 percent cited social media and search engine marketing as their most effective tactic.

Big changes. Of the changes associations were willing to make in the last calendar year, those that were often the most beneficial were related to staffing and technology, according to the report. (To offer an idea of the changes seen, the report cited an example where an entire staff was replaced with an association management company; in another, the respondent noted a move to online-only publications.) Moving forward, respondents suggested that membership would go totally digital in the coming year, while there would be an increased push to hire more young professionals.

Growth signifiers. “Regardless of their size, budget, or mission, the survey results show that most associations are facing similar challenges,” the report states. But the differences between what makes a growing organization and one that’s shrinking still matter. For example, more than half of organizations experiencing growth (55 percent) said they offered membership incentives of some kind, compared to 44 percent among organizations that weren’t seeing growth. Growing organizations were also more likely to actively use Instagram, participate in the legislative process, and run an organizational blog.

Association professionals from the U.S. and Canada responded to the survey. More than half (55 percent) of the organizations represented had 1,000 or fewer members, while 45 percent had budgets of less than $1 million and 33 percent between $1 million and $5 million.

(kledge/E+/Getty Images Plus)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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