Even though much of the world is consumed with fighting the spread of coronavirus, membership renewals are still coming due. Experts offer advice on dealing with renewal notices, while being sensitive to today’s unique environment.
Given the tough financial situation caused by coronavirus-related closures, associations are trying to figure out the best way to handle membership renewals coming due. Two consultants offered some advice, based on what they’re seeing at associations across the country.
“The sending out of renewals and deciding on the types of communication becomes much more strategic,” said Scott Oser, president of Scott Oser Associates.
With many associations hurting, it is more important than ever to convey to members the benefits your association is offering, so they want to renew. “Point them to resources your association has that are important to what they do,” Oser said.
David Patt, CAE, president of Association Executive Management, said it’s important for members to feel like you’re still there for them. “You need to maintain people’s loyalty and their trust,” Patt said. “You don’t want people to say, ‘I really don’t need this.’ You have to come up with a way to make them still want you.”
Oser recommends beefing up engagement communication. “It’s about letting them know what your resources are, how they’re benefiting from your membership, whatever benefit it is,” he said.
While Oser encourages engagement, he thinks renewals should be sent out at the usual times, without extensions or changes, except in extreme circumstances. “Unless they are in an industry where it’s dire, and they feel like it’s critical that they have to do something very different in order for the industry or members to survive, then they should continue to communicate with their members about renewing,” Oser said. “From what I’ve seen, associations that continue to send out renewals are still getting renewals.”
Patt takes the broader perspective that many industries have been hit by the virus. He’s seen blanket membership extensions for a few months. If an association wants to offer help but can’t afford a blanket extension, he recommends allowing members to self-select. “You can say something like, ‘You may have been hurt financially by the current crisis. So have we. If you are able, please renew your dues now. We’ll wait if you can’t,’” Patt said. “It shows people you understand, and it says to people who can afford to pay, don’t wait.”
Oser said he’s seen some associations emphasize how hard COVID-19 has been on the association’s finances. He doesn’t recommend that. “It’s not about the association,” Oser said. “Flip the script, so it’s about the members. If you list nine ways the association can help the member and the 10th is, ‘By the way, every dollar you give us goes to supporting the industry,’ fine. Now is not the time to say, ‘We, as an association, need your help.’ Members are struggling as much or more.”
Patt noted associations that renew everyone at one time may be facing tougher problems than those who renew on a rolling basis. “If everyone comes due April 1, you’re counting on a big chunk of revenue,” he said. Patt suggested those associations convert members to a rolling renewal.
Both Patt and Oser agree the tone in renewal requests should be reflective of the current situation. “Traditional marketing says to create immediate urgency,” Oser said. “If you’re expiring tomorrow, I’m going to tell you, ‘I’m cutting off benefits tomorrow.’ I wouldn’t recommend people do that now.”