New Report Reveals Current Membership Successes and Challenges

Membership numbers are up, but with economic uncertainty looming, associations face challenges too, says a new Marketing General report. However, groups can overcome them by communicating the value of membership, aligning dues with the current economic environment, improving marketing efforts, and creating a pipeline for younger members.

For associations, membership is up, as is virtual engagement, but many are struggling to effectively communicate value to their members, according to the 2022 Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report released July 7 by Marketing General Incorporated.

MGI Senior Vice President Tony Rossell calls the report’s findings on membership promising.

“Last year was really discouraging; everyone got hammered by the pandemic, and only about 26 percent of associations said their membership increased,” Rossell said. “This report is encouraging because we saw a real turnaround: about 38 percent of associations said their membership went up.”

That rise in membership is likely linked to increased virtual engagement. “Areas that saw substantial increases in participation were webinars, social media and networks, career centers, and then people coming to the website,” Rossell said. “We’re seeing a lot more digital participation, and at the same time, associations are telling us that they’re seeing overall engagement increases.”

While increased membership numbers and better virtual engagement are great, associations still face some challenges. Here’s a look at a few that stood out in the report and how associations can overcome them.

Value proposition. One concern noted in the report revolved around communicating value.

“Each year over the past three years, we have seen the number of associations reporting that their value proposition is compelling or very compelling rise,” said Jana Darling, MGI vice president of account services. “At the same time, one of the top reasons that people are not renewing is perceived lack of value. What we’re finding is a communication gap. We are seeing [associations] feel like they have very strong value propositions, but is that effectively being communicated and marketed to the members?”

This means associations may need to spend more time learning what matters most to members to better communicate value.

“One of the things that came out of the survey is the number of associations that are planning on doing research this year was way, way up,” Rossell said. “Associations are realizing there is a need to reevaluate what value people are looking for, what needs do they have, and adjusting to meet those needs.”

Inflation impact. Data from the report suggests dues increases are one tactic associations are using to deal with the current economic situation.

“This last year, 30 percent of association said they raised their dues rates,” Rossell said. “We’ve done this survey for 14 years, and we’ve never had that. So, associations are realizing, ‘Hey, inflation’s here. We’ve got to do something about it.”

Some associations may be concerned increased dues will negatively impact renewals. However, if done right, dues increases are unlikely to be a problem.

“If you do a modest dues increase—and we did a lot of questions around dues increases this year in our report—it’s not negatively impacting your renewal rate or your membership growth,” Rossell said. “I think people understand that, hey, prices are going up; just go to the gas pump. There’s not a lot of push back on these dues increases, which is important.”

Marketing improvements. The report also looked at why members didn’t renew. And while value proposition and engagement were in the top three, so was, “I forgot.” This suggests a need for better marketing.

“A lot of associations are not doing enough when it comes to renewals; they’re sticking to one channel,” Darling said. “Associations who are using multiple channels—email, direct mail, paid digital, telemarketing—are the ones that have the highest renewal rates. It’s very unlikely someone’s going to forget to renew when they’re being touched across every channel.”

Overall, the report found marketing budgets are increasing. “I think there’s a recognition that it’s time to go back in the market and begin to communicate more effectively,” Rossell said. “They’re increasing their budgets for recruitment, engagement, and renewals.”

Pipeline for younger members. The report found those with more younger members were doing better than those with more older members.

“The groups that have more millennials and more gen-Xers are growing,” Rossell said. “The groups that are heavier on the baby-boomer side are more likely to decline. So, a key is getting those younger members in to support [association] growth.”

Rossell said associations targeting younger members often set up programs aimed at bringing college and trade school students into the membership pipeline. “Starting to communicate with prospective members at a younger age is something that’s really important,” he said.

Another way to increase the number of young professional members is to offer an organizational membership tier. It reduces the likelihood that members will be limited to senior and high-earning positions. “With organizational membership, even younger, newer-to-the-profession staff can start participating,” Rossell said.

(imaginima/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Rasheeda Childress

By Rasheeda Childress

Rasheeda Childress is a former editor at Associations Now. MORE

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