Chances are your association’s business operations are largely digital already, but print communications and direct mail still have their advantages when it comes to invoicing. Which is right for you? Consider these tips.
Some associations have gone all-digital for their member billing. This move—which seems like a no-brainer in a digital-first world—has paid off in the past year, as notices sent to business addresses might not have found their way to the intended recipients. It pays off in other ways, too: The American Camp Association saved a significant sum of money by going digital.
“In mailing costs alone, it saved us nearly $10,000 annually,” says Grechen Throop, ACA’s director of member and customer development.
But other associations have compelling reasons for using print. Some still have a large percentage of members renewing by mail. The Emergency Nurses Association saw a considerable drop in retention rates after temporarily eliminating print invoices.
“The number of members who said they didn’t know they were up for renewal increased significantly,” says Matthew Hessler, CAE, director of member engagement at ENA. “We also started receiving calls from the segment of our members who needed invoices to submit for reimbursement or payment with their hospitals. That created more manual work for my team and frustration for some of our members.”
Which method is right for you? Elizabeth Weaver Engel, CAE, chief strategist at Spark Consulting, offers a few tips.
The case for digital is clear: Communications are cheap, instant, and trackable. Send an email, and you’ll be able to see who opened it and how they interacted with it.
But as with any communications strategy, if your messages aren’t multichannel, they might slip through the cracks. Email messages might be delivered to a spam folder or get lost in a sea of other messages in a recipient’s overcrowded inbox. It’s wise to supplement email with another digital touchpoint or print component.
Given the relative rarity of direct mail in the digital age, print mail is generally more memorable than digital communications.
Engel says one organization she worked with saw a major uptick in retention after it started sending print renewal notices in the form of eye-catching postcards. The front of each postcard featured a picture of a real member and a testimonial, while the back had a reminder about renewing and a short URL that directed recipients to an online renewal form.
“We had a terrific response,” she says. “There were other things that we changed about the renewal cycle, but the combination of things improved their retention rate from 65 percent to 72 percent in one cycle.”
But printing and mailing can be costly, and printed communications aren’t delivered instantly and can get misplaced in the delivery process. Also, without the ability to track recipient behavior, you don’t know if intended recipients actually received your communications, even if they were delivered successfully.
“A lot of people are in an association in a professional capacity, so the address they’ve shared with you is their work address,” Engel says. “Are they in the office right now? There’s a very good chance that they’re not.”
What’s Right for Your Organization
For member renewals and invoicing, Engel recommends a combination of digital and print communications. How heavily you should lean on one or the other depends on your needs, but every organization could benefit from a multichannel approach.
Consider these factors as you find your balance:
Renewal process. If your payment process is complex, completing it online might be impractical. You could email renewal notices—since they don’t involve accounts receivable transactions or other paperwork—while sending invoices and other forms via direct mail. But if members can renew and pay with a simple one-page form, you might be able to go all-digital.
“Our fee structure is relatively complicated, so even though we email the renewal notice, we don’t have a way for them to pay online,” says ACA’s Throop.
Industry. You can set up credit card transactions online for members to pay dues, but Engel says it’s more common in certain industries for members to send a check. And if your industry commonly uses purchase orders, you may want to stick with direct mail. Consider industry norms and preferences as you craft your strategy.
Member demographics. Which methods would your members prefer? If your membership consists mostly of baby boomers, direct mail might be more successful.
Hidden costs. If you have a small number of members paying large dues amounts, you probably want a check instead of online credit card payment because of the high credit card fees on large payments.