Four Reasons for a Record Growth in Membership

Sometimes adversity can lead to opportunity. While data shows more people are leaving their jobs, they haven’t stopped working—they’re looking for new opportunities. One association is ready to meet them where they are and chart a new course.

The International Coaching Federation achieved record-breaking membership growth and retention in a tough year. In 2021, ICF increased new members by 20 percent, overall members by 22 percent, and hit a record 81 percent retention rate. As of December, the group has 50,000 members in more than 140 countries.

Several factors played a part—including reasons that might be related to the Great Resignation. In November, more than 4.5 million Americans voluntarily left their jobs, according to recent data from the U.S. Bureau of Data Statistics.

But people aren’t necessarily leaving the workforce, they’re just changing what they’re doing, Sheri Jacobs, FASAE, CAE, president and CEO of Avenue M Group, recently told me. She predicted that “entrepreneurship is going to grow, giving associations a huge opportunity.” That shift in career mindset could have led the way for ICF’s growth, in addition to other factors. Here are some examples.

A new career path. People had plenty of time to reassess their career goals during the pandemic and their dreams of entering the coaching profession suddenly seemed more achievable, said Don Whittle, ICF’s membership director.

People who had gone through coaching training, but never followed through and officially become coaches, revisited the idea. They had the opportunity—and the time—to change their perspective and look toward a new career path in coaching. “Coaching is in vogue right now,” he said.

Meet members where they are. Whittle remembers advice from a presentation by Mary Byers, CAE, president of Mary Byers, Inc., who recommended meeting members and prospective members where they are by bringing the association to them.

Almost daily, 30 to 50 people leave incomplete applications on ICF’s website for membership, credentialing, or training. Whittle takes that opportunity to follow up with them and ask if he can help in any way by answering questions or putting them in touch with the appropriate ICF staff member.

“It gives you the opportunity to learn where they got stuck and how you or the association can help,” he said.

A successful rebrand. ICF recently rebranded into six different family organizations. Some changes included “coaching and organizations,” “credentialing and standards,” and “learning and development.” The rebrand and the digital credentialing badges ICF offers were a big draw.

“It really helped put us on the map in the LinkedIn community,” Whittle said. “We had a lot of rejoins. People who hadn’t been members for a number of years came back.”

Flexible payment options. ICF launched installment payments and auto renewals two years ago, which gives members around the world more options to pay and renew. “It’s helped lots of people and it’s been more convenient for members,” he said.

The successes in a challenging year were encouraging, and Whittle has a positive outlook going forward. “I think membership is going to continue to flourish as well as growth in credentialing,” he said. “We have a pretty great team here, and I think we’re going to do some great things.”

What has your organization done in the past year or so to boost membership growth? Please share in the comments or send me an email.

(z_wei/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Lisa Boylan

By Lisa Boylan

Lisa Boylan is a senior editor of Associations Now. MORE

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