Communicating tangible value is key to achieving high member renewal rates.
During difficult times—whether the current situation or other economic downturns– some members might be at risk for non-renewal due to financial hardship. However, many still desire to stay connected with their industry and place involvement in associations high on the priority list. Pursuing success in renewals depends largely on managing efforts in two main areas: member engagement and member retention in the service of creating and communicating tangible value.
Satisfied members who understand the value they receive from their association are more likely to renew. Thus, it is important to keep members actively informed and engaged throughout the year.
(Source: Marketing General, Inc, Annual Benchmarking Report (2020))
We often hear that members are not aware of specific membership benefits. Whether that means you aren’t communicating frequently or clearly enough, or that members aren’t paying attention to your communications, either way you have a messaging problem that needs to be addressed.
To tackle these shortcomings, CAM suggests implementing a tactical plan tailored to your association on how to increase member engagement. The strategies should outline the following: how to properly onboard new members, how to keep both new and existing members involved throughout the year, and how to make them aware of various benefits your association offers without overwhelming them with the frequency of communications (it is possible that members could be flooded to the point where they want to unsubscribe).
The following are effective, yet inexpensive ways to engage members:
- Have them serve as a subject matter expert by either delivering a presentation at an industry conference, or by presenting at your association’s annual meeting
- Ask them to volunteer at an expo booth
- Suggest they submit an article, a blog, or an interview to your organization’s newsletter or podcast
- Send them the association logo to add to their website (a great SEO link-building strategy!) and offer them a draft press release describing their association membership
- Ask them to submit a testimonial about their membership experience, or give them a shout out on social media!
The goal of membership engagement is to make members see your association as a helpful resource they directly benefit from, rather than just being perceived as an annual renewal bill.
Member Retention & Renewals:
As you prepare to send your members annual renewal invoices, consider adding a letter from the President, a flyer, or an infographic explaining member benefits, a Year in Review, or new initiatives or benefits. You could think of it as, “What’s in it for me?, or “Why Should I Renew?”
Clearly define some of the tangible ways that your association provides value for members. For example, explain why your members would choose your association over your competitors. Do members attain greater access to work? Do you offer free live and on demand CEU opportunities to your members? Do you offer networking opportunities virtual and in person? Include member testimonials received throughout the year, highlighting useful member benefits. Think carefully how you would like to present the information. Less is more, and visuals get people’s attention.
Most associations have direct and indirect competitors, so you will want to flesh out why each member would associate with your organization. Such examples could include
- Listing specific work opportunities that certification holders are eligible for.
- Describing access to RFPs and RFQs
- Highlighting past achievements, both customized for the individual and as an organization
CAM Case Study:
A medium-sized ($1.5 million in annual revenue) trade association, servicing a specialized niche in the construction industry, required a two-pronged renewal process. Member companies had to pay their annual renewal fees, and certified personnel within these companies had to fullfill their recertification requirements (this included accumulating a certain number of continuing education units or CEUs). Below, we will describe different strategies and timelines that CAM, an AMCI accredited etc., used to accomplish a 96% renewal rate.
Every month, we emailed members opportunities to earn CEUs (featuring free opportunities first). In the second half of the year, we added a personal scorecard, which showed an individual’s total CEUs as of that date. We made sure that these communications were engaging as well as helpful in subtly reminding members of their renewal requirements.
The goal is to start early, but not too early. For our client operating on a calendar year basis with all memberships and certifications expiring on December 31, September works best as the beginning of an invoice renewal timeline. (We would suggest ~4 months prior to expiration if you have a different cycle, or rolling renewals based on join dates.) Some of our members prefer paper invoices and some prefer electronic ones, so for the time being we continue to do both! To avoid miscommunication, we send out a hard copy once, and then follow up with electronic invoice reminders.
Though marketing platforms work well, the chance that your email will actually end up in a member’s inbox (as opposed to Spam or Promotions folders) rate is never 100%! We have to be absolutely sure that our message is delivered. We use all available means of communication; this includes marketing platforms, personalized one-on-one emails[AK1] , and even using text messages, if they have opted-in.
(Source: Marketing General, Inc, Annual Benchmarking Report (2020))
The suggested frequency of email notifications in September and October (for regular year membership) is monthly, and then bi-weekly in November and December. Once you go into the following year (and if you offer a grace period), with hopefully 80%+ of membership renewals already secured, a weekly personal outreach works best, coupled with periodic phone calls or text messages. The length of your organization’s grace period will dictate your plan, but do not be surprised when several members renew at the last possible moment. Therefore, you should not give up on your renewal efforts!
The target renewal rate varies based on the type of association and its industry, its history, and how easy or difficult its policies make rejoining after an expiration. While an individual membership renewal rate could be 80-85%, your renewal target for trade associations with corporate memberships should be no less than 90%+.
Despite difficult times, associations can take steps to keep renewal rates from slipping by focusing on member engagement and communication of value. Following a detailed plan of action holds the whole team accountable, so that all parties will reap the benefits.