If you could look at the latest trends in membership growth, you might see the data as good news. Surveys show more than half of associations experienced an increase in the number of members in recent years. But a closer look shows that member retention and communication needs more support.
Trend #1: Overall membership levels are growing, but retention rates are remaining unchanged or going down.
According to ASI’s 2014 Member Engagement and Performance Survey, among 154 mid- to large-sized associations, 59% reported increased membership, 31% unchanged, and 10% saw decreased membership.
A larger study of nearly 900 associations found similar trends: 53% reported an increase in total members, says the 2014 Membership Benchmarking Report from Marketing General Inc(MGI).
The primary reason for overall growth appears to be strong new member acquisition. 58% of associations reported an increase in the numbers of new members joining them, says MGI. They credit email and word-of-mouth recommendations, as the most effective methods behind their success.
While this is good news, member renewal rates may suggest a different story. The number of renewing members is not as strong. About two-thirds of associations saw the number of renewing members remaining the same or decreasing. The trend in membership retention is down from the previous year, according to MGI’s survey. ASI reported that 40% of their associations saw stagnant or declining membership in 2013.
Tips From This Trend:
- Association memberships appear to be growing overall, because of stronger member acquisition efforts.
- A downturn in retention may be a sign of trouble in the ways that associations meet the needs of members during the year.
- A lack of engagement – rather than a lack of available budget – appears to be the top reason non-renewing members do not stay enrolled.
Trend #2: Member engagement is the link between membership growth and retention.
Top-notch communication is credited with attracting more new members. Many successful associations have updated their message to deliver what members most want to know. More prospects join when associations adapt their messages to reflect their specific interests and tailor the communication to them. Messages that address the prospect’s individual interests are tied to better engagement.
Tips From This Trend:
- By putting aside a one-size-fits-all approach to content, associations have connected better with prospects, and have seen greater numbers join.
- If your current and future members feel you’re not talking to them as an individual, or not delivering what they want to know, they may turn to other resources to meet their needs.
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Trend #3: Associations are communicating with members more often in more ways, but associations have revealed their efforts are becoming less effective and less-well integrated internally.
Most associations (85%) believe their communication efforts have improved over the last 3 years, says Naylor’s 2014 Association Communications Benchmarking Report.However, when asked if they think members actually read their communications regularly, more than 7 in 10 believe their members read less than half of what they send. That’s up from about 6 in 10 who felt the same way in 2011.
Quality and quantity of communication isn’t the issue. Associations rate the quality of the communications to be on par or better in comparison to their peers. By far, associations cited the most common challenge to engagement were: “Really understanding what type of content is expected by recipients, and “Integrating messaging consistently across all channels.”
Tips From This Trend:
- Outdated knowledge of member expectations, and decreasing integration across communication channels can have seriously negative impact on member engagement.
- More-effective communication is linked to having an integrated communications program – a way to strategically manage your communications across all platforms with a consistent voice. It enables you to run campaigns in a systematic way on multiple platforms, to improve awareness and engagement, and to gain knowledge of what attracts more member interest.
- The ability to integrate and measure the effectiveness of your communications enables you to better engage members and personalize what you send to them.
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