Cultivating Association Membership Growth and Retention 



Why Nurturing Members is Akin to Tending a Year-Round Garden 

Just as a dedicated gardener tends to their garden throughout the year, associations must approach membership retention as a continuous, year-round cultivation effort. Like the changing seasons, each phase brings unique opportunities and challenges that require careful cultivation. In this blog, we’ll explore the parallels between sustaining a vibrant garden and fostering a thriving association community. Let’s look at eight tactics to grow your association membership year-round.

1. Planting the Seeds of Engagement

The first step to growing a garden is to plant seeds in fertile soil. For an association, seeds are the new members, and your association’s offering is the rich soil for growth.  However, just as a gardener doesn’t walk away from his garden after sowing seeds, associations shouldn’t cease their engagement efforts after acquiring new members. Continuous engagement is the sunlight and water that helps these new members grow and flourish. Your association needs to have scheduled strategic engagement efforts so your membership not only grows, but also thrives.

2. Understanding the Seasons of Member Engagement

Gardens change with the seasons, and so should an association’s engagement strategies. Let’s start by looking at engagement events in the Spring.

In March and April, association members will be looking for any excuse to get out of the winter doldrums. To accommodate, host networking events or mixers to introduce new members and “plant the seeds” for new connections. This is also a good time to launch a new mentorship program to pair experienced members with those seeking guidance, growth, and knowledge exchange. 

Another spring “gardening” idea is to launch an early membership renewal campaign, emphasizing the renewal process as a natural part of the growth cycle. You can offer incentives or discounts for early renewals to encourage members to commit to another season.

Summer may be ideal for outdoor networking events. Summer is also a great time of year to organize a community service day with your local association members to support a local cause. Since school is out, these events could be more family-focused. This fosters a sense of unity and shared purpose, much like gardeners working together to beautify a communal space. 

For Fall events, most associations schedule events to coincide with the obvious time of Halloween and Thanksgiving. Consider doing something original and schedule an Autumnal Equinox event where members can share success stories and lessons learned. You can use this as an opportunity and open it up to questions from younger members. 

As the days shorten toward the winter months, member engagement events could focus on professional development events with virtual learning series about industry trends, emerging technologies, and other relevant topics to keep members informed and engaged. December is also a good time to send renewal reminders with a “gratitude twist” thanking specific members for their contributions throughout the previous gardening year.

3. Pruning and Shaping: Personalized Communication

A gardener prunes and shapes plants for optimal growth, and associations should do the same with their communication strategies. We cannot emphasize this enough: Year-round personalized communication is the trimming and shaping that goes beyond generic updates. Acknowledging member milestones, addressing concerns promptly, and tailoring messages to individual interests create a well-crafted landscape of connection. And, the impact and value of “low-tech, high-touch” approach of sending handwritten notes to members and volunteers cannot be over-emphasized.

4. Fertilizing the Soil: Continuous Value Addition

Just as a gardener adds fertilizers to enrich the soil, associations must continuously add value to keep their community thriving. This involves offering a diverse range of benefits, from educational resources and professional development opportunities to exclusive networking events. The ongoing process of value addition acts as the nourishment that keeps the association’s garden vibrant.

5. Harvesting Renewal Reminders

Harvesting time in a garden requires planning and execution, much like the strategic reminders for membership renewal. Instead of a last-minute rush, associations can spread renewal reminders throughout the year. This approach ensures a smoother renewal process and serves as a reminder of the ongoing benefits of association membership.

6. Checking the Soil Health: Feedback Mechanisms

A gardener monitors the soil’s health to ensure optimal conditions for growth, and associations should actively seek member feedback to maintain a healthy community. Regular feedback mechanisms, whether through surveys, focus groups, or one-on-one conversations, act as checks on the association’s soil health. This ongoing dialogue allows associations to adapt and evolve in response to member expectations.

7. Celebrating Member Blooms

Just as a gardener celebrates the blooming of flowers, associations should celebrate the successes of their members. Recognizing individual achievements fosters a sense of community and camaraderie. Member spotlights in newsletters, social media, or events are akin to showcasing the diverse blooms within the association’s garden. This should be done throughout the year, regardless of season.

8. Embracing the Garden’s Diversity: Diversity and Inclusion Initiatives

Gardens are often diverse for a richer landscape. Associations must commit to ongoing diversity and inclusion initiatives for a stronger and more vibrant community.

A well-tended garden is diverse, with various plants coexisting harmoniously. Associations can draw a parallel by actively promoting diversity and fostering an inclusive environment.


In the world of associations, membership retention is not a seasonal task but a continuous act of cultivation. Look at your association like a gardener looks at their plot of land. By planting the seeds of engagement, adapting to the changing seasons, and continuously adding value, associations create a flourishing community. The network connections they make with the association are the roots of established growth. Personalized communication, strategic renewal reminders, and a genuine commitment to diversity and inclusion are essential tools for nurturing lasting relationships. In the end, it’s the ongoing effort to understand, engage, and celebrate members that transforms an association into a thriving and indispensable community.


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