Engage Lapsed Members with the Right Emails

To win back lost members, associations need to craft communications with a tone, structure, and messaging that reinforce the value of membership.

Losing members is an unfortunate reality for every association. This is especially true in 2020, when new outside pressures—particularly the financial turmoil caused by the COVID-19 pandemic—might have more people ready to cut membership fees out of their expenses, on top of the other numerous reasons people let memberships lapse.

But a well-coordinated email communication strategy can win members back. In fact, according to the 2020 Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report from Marketing General Incorporated, email is the top channel for reinstating lapsed members.

Check out these tips to craft your own email communications that will re-engage lost members.

Take Advantage of Exit Surveys

By the time a member lapses, you’ve probably already tried multiple ways to get him or her to renew—dues notices, phone calls, emails detailing approaching renewal deadlines—and you might not know the reason for the lack of action.

“That’s where your exit surveys come in,” says Camille Sanders, CAE, director of membership at the Water Environment Federation (WEF). “It’s an opportunity for you to gather data about why people are lapsing, because it’s not going to be the same for every organization.”

Send lapsed members a survey to get their reasons for leaving, and use that to inform your communications. If people cite cost as the biggest reason, for example, consider working discounts or incentives into your reinstatement campaign.

To promote survey participation, Sanders recommends limiting the survey to just a few questions that take only a couple of minutes to answer.

Strike a Personal Tone

A dry, formal request to renew probably won’t drive lapsed members to action. Though you don’t need to be overly casual, messages should carry an air of familiarity, and your care for members should shine through.

“That’s the mistake I see in some communications. Organizations are almost talking to lapsed members as though they’re new prospects,” Sanders says. “Build on the advantage of the fact that they do know your organization.”

Show appreciation that the member signed up in the first place and lead with a tone of understanding about why they might have lapsed, touching on the pain points you discovered in exit surveys. Sanders recommends using empathetic language, such as: “We know these are tough times, but we value your membership,” “We’re here to support you,” and “We miss you, and we’d like to win you back.”

Point Out Benefits

Sanders says some lapsed members might not even be aware of the full cache of member benefits, so give them a quick refresher by listing core benefits in your communications with them. You could also include testimonial blurbs from current members about how these benefits have a real impact.

Offer More Than Incentives

If you’re going to offer incentives or discounts, remember that not everyone responds to price, Sanders says. Be sure to also reinforce the value of membership from a community and professional development standpoint while demonstrating how your organization is supporting members during unprecedented times.

Communicate Consistently, But Don’t Be Overbearing

Timing is important when it comes to how frequently you contact lapsed members. Asking for a renewal too often could drive them away.

“We don’t want people to get annoyed and say, ‘Hey, take me off of all of your [contact] lists.’ So I think that’s something you have to be careful with,” Sanders says.

At WEF, renewal outreach starts before expiration with soft reminders. But once a member lapses, the organization sends monthly renewal communications, and only up to 90 days after membership expires. After 90 days, they drop off WEF’s member rolls and are left alone until six months after expiration.

Pack Your Emails With Multiple Elements

A plain wall of text might not catch a lapsed member’s eye. Sanders recommends:

  • adding visual elements, such as images of real members at events (try to avoid stock photography, as it’s unlikely to have as strong an effect)
  • using bullet points to break up copy—when listing core benefits, for example
  • linking to a landing page with more detail instead of dumping all the information into the email

Be Brief and Use Multiple Channels

Studies have shown that the shorter an email, the likelier that a user responds. Keep messaging to just two or three paragraphs, and deliver important information in a bite-size format, such as with bullet points.

And while email is most effective, phone calls and direct mail are good supplements to help bridge the technology skills gap.

“We have a membership that is aging. Some of our members are responsive to email, to digital touch points, but not all of them are,” Sanders says. “We still have to be really intentional about how we communicate with our members and meet them where they are.”

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Michael Hickey

By Michael Hickey

Michael Hickey is a contributor to Associations Now. MORE

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