New Report Sheds Realistic—and Promising—Light on Membership

Marketing General Incorporated’s annual report on membership has some predictably dire findings. But there are also lots of positive trends and revelations about how associations weathered a mighty storm and never lost sight of meeting member needs.

It’s probably no surprise that Marketing General Incorporated’s 13th annual Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report has some bad news, but there is also a lot of good—and intriguing—news. Let’s start with the bad news, and then move on quickly to the promising findings.

Here goes: 47 percent of associations reported a decline in membership and 45 percent saw a renewal rate drop, which is pretty dramatic after only a 24 percent drop last year. Eighty percent canceled in-person meetings, which had financially devastating effects. “Far and away, it’s one of the worst years we’ve seen,” said Tony Rossell, senior vice president of MGI and the report’s coauthor.

Ready for the good news?

Overall, the long-term membership trend for associations remains positive. Nearly half of associations—45 percent—still show an increase in membership and 71 percent of associations said the level of member engagement increased this year. “An important point this year was that associations really did step up and meet the needs of members,” Rossell said.

“Rethink, Innovate, and Change”

And that responsiveness paid off. Eighty-three percent of associations said they saw a significant increase in webinar participation, which is up from 53 percent last year. An impressive 78 percent of associations reported that they developed new products and services to assist members and member companies over the past year.

And don’t ever underestimate the importance of a strong value proposition because it is essential for successful membership recruitment. Associations that reported increases in their new member and overall membership in the past year were significantly more likely to say their association’s value proposition is very compelling.

“Associations really did rethink their value proposition,” Rossell said. “Whenever you have pain and challenging times, it’s a really great opportunity to rethink, innovate, and change.”

There is no doubt it has been an extremely challenging time. There were panic lapsers—members who left because they lost their job, or their company was cutting costs. But Rossell remains optimistic because the people most likely to join an association are lapsed members.

“You have a gold mine sitting in your database, because people have lapsed in the last few years,” he said. “If you go back to them, the likelihood of them joining is much higher than just going to a cold prospect.”

Community Matters

In a drastically changing world, associations are a constant and still provide all-important professional development through certification programs, webinars, or other training. People want to keep their skill set up, whether they’re looking for a new job or trying to maintain their current position.

The report found that there was a 57 percent increase in members attending professional development programming. And 37 percent of associations said they saw an increase in members accessing career services.

“The best unemployment insurance you can buy is joining your professional association,” Rossell said, “because you have a career center, networks, and you can reach out to people.”

Having a community to turn to in troubled times also mattered a lot, specifically members-only areas. The report showed an uptick in visits to members-only sections of websites—56 percent, up from 44 percent last year. And there has been a 53 percent increase in participation with private social networks, which Rossell said is a “revolution for associations.”

That online accessibility, with people seeking information, community, and interaction, was a big step up in members connecting. “You’re buying into a community that can help you,” Rossell said. “That will be a powerful pull for associations.”

(LarsHallstrom/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Lisa Boylan

By Lisa Boylan

Lisa Boylan is a senior editor of Associations Now. MORE

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