Two existing members are not renewing their association membership. One feels they don’t get their money’s worth. The other feels they want to pursue a hobby in their spare time.
Sounds familiar? Don’t worry. You’re not alone! In 2020, 45% of associations reported a decline in renewals and 47% reported a decline in total memberships. Revenue numbers saw a similar drop as well.
Member retention has always been an uphill battle. With COVID-19, that challenge has amplified. It’s time to take action and make sure it doesn’t hurt your association in the long run.
4 Strategies to combat membership renewal decline
Adopt the first principles thinking to understand you audience. What motivates them? Their reasons to join your association? The things they like about your association? Their reasons to shy away from membership renewals? Answering these questions will be crucial while developing your member renewal strategy.
Let’s look at the reasons why your membership renewal rates have dropped. And uncover actionable strategies to prevent this decline.
1. Increase engagement opportunities
It’s no secret that members want professional development and educational opportunities. They want recognition. And with fewer and fewer engagement opportunities happening across the industry, they just aren’t getting it.
In 2020, 80% of associations canceled their annual in-person meetings. Additionally, most member meet-ups, charitable events, training & workshops, and mixer events were canceled. Online engagements saw limited participation. Engagement opportunities disappeared overnight.
Here’s a look at some engagement strategies that will present an opportunity for you to spark members’ enthusiasm again.
Ask Me Anything (AMA)
A recent study revealed that in 2020, 66% of associations engaged attendees by involving them in the discussion.
Organize a virtual AMA event and identify what motivates members. Understand their biggest challenges. It’s also a great way to bridge any gaps formed over time. Take this a step further and arrange 1-1 consultations for those who ask for it. Knowing your audience is crucial for member retention.
According to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, it is human nature to seek a sense of belonging. In a remote-first world, it is likely your members want to feel connected to the community. Encourage a sense of community with virtual get-togethers to celebrate festivals and milestones. Organize fun games and activities to align with the theme of your party.
Interactive Social Media Posts
Encourage members to take part in online discussions with posts designed for engagement. For example, run a poll to get insights into your audience’s mindset. Or post a picture from a recent event and encourage attendees to do the same.
Organize a charitable event that supports a good cause. For example, raise money for all members who have lost jobs in the wake of the pandemic. This is likely to trigger the halo effect, motivating members to renew their membership.
Another member retention strategy is tickling the competitive spirit of your audience. Engage your members by organizing contests such as ‘Member of the month/quarter’. A member’s engagement level can be a criterion for winning this competition. The giveaway for these contests can be discounts on membership renewals.
Championing a referral program has two benefits. The first (and obvious) one is that members are incentivized for referring their friends to the association. Also, member retention becomes easier. Having friends around can keep members engaged. And they’ll be less likely to cancel their membership.
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2. Approach value-adds from new angles
With fewer in-person events, networking opportunities have declined. This has left members feeling like the membership benefits have diminished as well.
The number and quality of training programs are also on a decline. A change in members’ priorities can also make them feel like the association is of limited value to them. Members are likely to shy away from renewals if they feel like the membership value has fallen.
Try the following strategies to boost membership renewals.
Increased Benefits at Each Level
Most associations have a tiered membership structure. You can start by providing more benefits at each membership level. For example, increase the number of free training sessions at a membership level. Or provide free educational content in weekly emails.
Certifications & Licensing Programs
Professional certifications and licenses are fundamental to career growth. But they come at a price that can sometimes be steep. Encourage members to renew their memberships with subsidized certification programs.
Education & Training Programs
Boost retention efforts by applying the above logic to education programs as well. For example, sponsor advanced education for a few deserving members. You can also partner with education providers to subsidize training fees for members. Opportunities to upskill through in-person education and training programs have become fewer. Gain an upper hand by facilitating these programs through virtual mediums.
Receiving recognition features in the top 10 reasons members join an association. Indulging in this aspiration can be key to increasing membership renewal. Some ways to recognize members are
- Awards and honors for the work they have done through the year.
- Promote member stories and successes on your social media and emails.
- Share member success stories with the media.
One thing to make note of here. Ensure you have permission from members before using their personal information in any public forums.
Partner with brands to provide members with savings. There are three types of partnerships you can get into.
- Partner with brands that are complementary to your association. For example, as an association for businesswomen, partner with an investment company.
- The second type of partnership is with brands that we use every day. For example, e-commerce stores, luxury hotels, and more such brands.
- Special holiday discounts from brands can also be a type of partnership.
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3. Offer renewal discounts
In the U.S. alone 25% of adults have reported at least one family member losing their job because of COVID-19. Approximately 32% of adults say that at least one member in their family has taken a pay cut at work. [Source: Pew Research Center].
Businesses have shut down or have suffered economic losses too. Expenses have increased too. All these reasons have resulted in people cutting back on their discretionary spending.
In a world where you can be anything, be kind. -Unknown
There is a lot that associations can take away from the above statement. Empathy is a silent way of telling your members you have their back. It can go along in retaining members right now and in the future.
Here are some membership renewal strategies to tackle tough times:
In the spirit of holidays, cut down the membership renewal fees for members. Discounts are an effective way to motivate members to renew their association membership.
Early Renewal Discount
Give early bird discounts to members who renew their membership before it expires.
This is a stretch, and we know that. But if you can, renew the annual membership for free – at least for a few members. Alternatively, you can also provide a few initial months for free. This will help members get the time to arrange the required membership fees.
You can also enable members to pay in installments instead of a one-time upfront payment.
4. Encourage Timely Renewals
Groceries. Bill payments. Other errands. Balancing all this while managing a full-time job.
Let’s face it, amidst all this renewing association membership can take a back seat.
Missed renewals are the simplest problem to solve because it’s not about intention. It is a mere case of oversight. And here are some ways you can address it to increase member retention:
An annual conference is a great way to reignite any lost momentum amongst members. Use this opportunity to give them an overview of the association’s activities. Also, provide them a look at future plans. Members will gain a sense of direction and will be motivated to renew their memberships.
This is a no-brainer. Send members reminders on email, SMS, or call on their preferred channel of communication. Follow up with at least two more reminders to ensure members renew their membership.
Address declining renewal numbers by enabling members to automate their membership renewal. This can be done at the time of enrollment or later through an email campaign.
Another variation of automated renewal is multi-term renewal. For those interested, give them the option to sign up for multi-term memberships. Motivate members to select this option by giving them a discount on the membership fees.
Emails, Messages, & Greeting Cards
When you’re not organizing events, increase top-of-mind recall by sending emails and messages to celebrate milestones and holidays. Use snail mail to send greeting cards when you can. In a remote world, even a small tangible element can be of high impact.
Members are the lifeblood of any association. And without renewals, your financial stability and ability to live up to your mission are severely diminished.
If you truly want to help your members and retain them, create tangible value. Engage with empathy. Meet your members where they are at. Bridge any clear gaps. Employ renewal strategies with S.M.A.R.T. goals.