New Report Reveals a Rebound in Membership Numbers

Marketing General Incorporated’s 2023 Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report found that associations are experiencing an increase in membership following declines during the pandemic. That growth was correlated with associations that have compelling value propositions, embrace innovation, and focus on recruitment.

Many associations are seeing an increase in membership following sharp declines during the pandemic.  

That’s according to Marketing General Incorporated’s 2023 Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report, which surveyed 800 participating associations.

This year, 49 percent of associations reported an increase in membership, while 22 percent shared that membership declined—one of the lowest decline percentages in the 15-year history of MGI’s benchmarking.

MGI Senior Vice President Tony Rossell isn’t surprised by the ebb and flow of membership over the last few years.

“We saw the hit membership took in our 2021 report. We also saw the negative impact of the Great Recession in our 2010 report,” he said. “However, coming out of those downturns, now for the second time, we have witnessed a remarkable rebound.”

The rebound is likely due to several factors, including a focus on innovative programs and new member recruitment, as well as associations successfully communicating their value proposition to members. Here’s a look at some of the strategies and marketing tactics that stood out in the report.

Focus on Recruitment

New members play an important role in increasing membership counts. According to the report, 50 percent of associations saw increases in new member acquisitions, and 67 percent of those associations also saw overall membership growth.

“While membership renewals typically remain constant in our benchmarking, growth is likely to occur when associations add new members to the top of the [marketing] funnel,” Rossell said. “Investing in membership recruitment is probably the number-one priority.”

This year, about one-third of associations increased their marketing budgets for recruitment (36 percent) and for awareness and engagement (32 percent each). Associations that reported increases in five-year membership levels were significantly more likely to report increases in marketing budget for member engagement.

However, not all marketing tactics are equally effective. Associations that reported one-year membership growth were more likely to use the following strategies compared to groups that reported decreases: compelling “What’s In It For Me” messaging (58 percent), tailoring messaging based on member or market segment (48 percent), and conducting member research to understand prospect needs (43 percent).

Understand Value

The report also found that the value propositions play a significant role in terms of membership growth and renewals.

For example, associations that reported growth in their one-year and five-year membership levels, increases in new member acquisitions and renewals, and those with a renewal rate of 80 percent or greater, were more likely to report that their value propositions were compelling or very compelling to members.

However, organizations that saw declines were more likely to say that their value propositions were less compelling. When asked what prevents associations from presenting a more compelling value proposition, 45 percent of association executives said it was an inability to effectively communicate it.

To tighten understanding and messaging around value, Rossell recommends conducting research with focus groups, executive interviews, and quantitative surveys. He also suggests doing A/B testing of messages to see what produces the best response.

“We know members are finding value from the reported 85 percent renewal rates,” Rossell said. “However, prospective members decide to join based on perceived value—how you communicate value—so defining the value an association provides is essential to growth.” 

Embrace Innovation

In addition, MGI’s research found a correlation between innovation and membership growth. Groups that experienced declines in membership were more likely to say that their organizations were “slightly” or “not” innovative.

Certain types of initiatives may affect membership numbers. The two most citied initiatives in the report—developed one or more new member benefits (48 percent) and expanded to audiences beyond core members (31 percent)—correlated with membership growth.

For instance, adding new benefits gives current members an additional reason to renew and provides prospects with another reason to consider membership.

“Associations that reach out to the same people will ultimately see diminishing returns,” Rossell said. “However, those who reach out beyond their database using marketing techniques like search engine marketing, online ads, and referral programs can capture the attention of prospects looking for solutions, community, and connections.”


Hannah Carvalho

By Hannah Carvalho

Hannah Carvalho is Senior Editor at Associations Now. MORE

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