How To Win at Association Membership



We have all heard the old adage, “A chain is only as strong as the weakest link.” More often than not, the context in which this is used in the business world describes a team and its people. In that scenario, however, the implication is that you can simply cut out the weakest link in the chain, and everything/everyone will be better off for it. But what happens to everything below that link in the chain?

I recently watched a brief video on LinkedIn of a machine that manufactures chains. What struck me the most, other than the satisfying repetition of the individual links being intertwined by a series of powerful levers, was that if there happened to be an individual weak link created in this process, there would be no way of knowing where this particular bond would land in the section used in its ultimate application. 

The Membership Life Cycle Is Like a Chain

What if this weak link were the FIRST link in a chain carrying a wrecking ball over one of your members? Silly metaphor but stay with me for a moment. What if it were the LAST link in that chain? What if that link represented the exact middle? The point is…it doesn’t matter where the weak link lies. You’ve dropped the proverbial ball and your member is crushed. 

As I continued to scroll through LinkedIn posts and videos from my association colleagues, it occurred to me that membership life cycle management and its components (sales/recruitment, onboarding, engagement, retention, and overall experience) are much like a chain and all of its links. Weakness in any one area (link) will lead to lost membership, lost revenue, and worst of all, a negative impact on your brand (a broken chain). 

How to Prevent a Broken Chain

To prevent this broken chain and lost members/revenue/value, I suggest spending some time with your old friend – the whiteboard. Start literally mapping a visual of your member life cycle from end to end. To help you make sure you have all of the strong coverage in every area, ask yourself the following questions: 

  • Sales/Recruitment – Are we reaching everyone who could benefit from our membership? What is their first impression of us? How often are we following up? 
  • Onboarding – Is there a formal process in place for onboarding new members? Are we following it? How do we know? Do our members have someone that they can go to directly for questions? Do they have that person’s contact information? 
  • Retention – What is our biggest valuable proposition to our members? Do they know it? Do they have our contact information, and have we spoken with them? How engaged are our members? How are we measuring that? 

By the way, use this exercise as an opportunity to think about both the people and tools involved. Challenge your current model and really be looking through the lens of “there’s always room for improvement.” Don’t be afraid to level up through investment. Your members are worth it! 

Creating Cohesion Between Links

Have you identified what strength looks like in each individual link in the chain? Great! Now you’re ready to begin thinking about the cohesion between them. After all, what good are chain links if they aren’t interlocked and bonded with each other?! 

How well you connect these separate areas is directly related to the quality of your overall member experience…and the likelihood of your members renewing. A top-tier sales team can bring in all of the best prospects, but they need to understand the next steps and be able to work together with onboarding. A prompt and welcoming onboarding team is exactly who new members want to be greeted by after they join for the first time. Once the member has been properly introduced and the honeymoon period is over, they need to know who will continue engaging as their point of contact moving forward to ensure they keep coming back for more. A solid retention team that executes on high engagement is the lifeblood of membership, but often shifting the relationship back to your sales team is just the change in perspective needed to ensure your members are satisfied with your value and participating at the correct dues level at the time of renewal.

The point is, it’s not just that your individual links are made with the strongest steel on earth, but it’s that they’re woven together that makes them a chain. Separate teams that specialize in their own strengths but work cohesively as one unit. That’s how you win at membership. 


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