As we enter 2023, have you taken a look at your association’s membership retention data from last year yet? How did you do? Did you see an uptick in renewals after a two-year “virtual” world? Or are you still not seeing the membership retention numbers you enjoyed pre-pandemic? If the latter is the case, you are not alone.
As you begin the new year, it’s time to lock down your membership retention strategy if you haven’t done so already. But as you do, there are two groups of members you should be paying close attention to- those who didn’t renew, and those who renewed for the first time.
But first, let’s look at some recent membership research and what the data shows regarding why members may not renew, and then we’ll address how to overcome these potential barriers to renewal.
Research Shows Why Members Leave
· 37% left the industry or profession
· 28% lack of engagement with the organization
· 26% could not justify membership costs
· 24% forgot to renew
· 22% too expensive
· 19% lack of value
The categories representing those who “could not justify membership costs,” found it “too expensive,” and felt a “lack of value” correlate directly with not seeing the value they anticipated when they joined the organization.
But perhaps the most enlightening piece of data is the importance of retaining first-year members. If first-year members do not perceive any benefit from joining the association, they are far more likely to not renew than those who have been members for multiple years. More specifically, if new members believe there is “too much effort required to engage in meaningful benefits,” then they likely won’t renew. Retaining inaugural members is a universal challenge, regardless of association industry, size, or location.
Focus on First-Year Renewals
Is focusing on first-year member renewals worth it? Yes, and here’s why. According to the aforementioned research, each time a member renews they will be more likely to do so again the following year. On a national average, a first-year association member has a coin-flip chance of renewing (50%). But if they do renew the second year, the chances increase to 80% for a third year, and each year afterward.
Converting renewals to dollars and cents means it costs less to keep members after the first year. It’s the newcomer membership hurdle you should focus on. This doesn’t mean, however, you should exclude efforts to renew multi-year members, but if you invest more in first-year conversions, you won’t have to invest as much in subsequent years to retain them.
Create a 3-Month Engagement Plan for New Members
As a population, our attention spans are shortening. When we purchase something new and shiny that interests us, it has our focus—for a time. The same can be said for a new member. A study by Dynamic Benchmarking and Kaiser Insights noted that associations have a three-month window after a new member joins to foster and maintain their interest in your association. After that, the new member’s interest in the association starts to wane and can drop precipitously from there.
The solution is more active engagement for first-year members. You probably already send out an onboarding packet to new members to thank them and inform them of the benefits of joining the association. But do you go a step further from informing to engaging?
Unfortunately, most associations treat all engagement opportunities equally even though, as the data shows above, the best investment is to spend more on retaining first-year members.
Three Ways to Actively Engage New Members and Boost Renewals
Sequence’s New Member Engagement Study noted that while all membership engagement is good, not all is equal when it comes to renewal efforts. It would be best to track the results of engagement efforts through KPIs such as attendance, email opens and clicks, and phone calls. Your data should reveal which activities have better responses from members. Look to see which efforts correlate with renewals and be sure these tactics repeat each year.
Use your data to build a three-month new member engagement plan. To help you get started, here are three key tactics that can be components of your plan or idea-generators for other tactics. These are time-intensive but pay bigger dividends during renewal season.
1. Offer new members a discount or complementary invitation to their first event. Sharing a calendar of your association’s upcoming events is an important part of onboarding and new member communication. But discounting or waiving a registration fee a new member’s first event shows how much you value them and it gives them a chance to plug in and engage right away. If that isn’t feasible due to the cost of some events, creating a quarterly new member networking event is another option that can also have a big impact on future engagement.
2. Call each new member within two weeks of joinings. Personal contact goes a long way toward renewal efforts in the future. New members often join for reasons such as specific member benefits, education, or networking within your member community. Engaging them via phone or an online meeting is a chance to ensure that they connect right away to the benefits that align with why they joined. It’s also a way to make sure their expectations are met and convey how much you value them.
3. Create a new member welcome committee. Many associations have a mentoring program, but do you have a new member welcome program? Most people like to share knowledge and help others in their industry and community. Solicit your established membership to start a “Welcome Aboard” committee. A couple of weeks after a new member has joined, have individual members from the Welcome Aboard committee call the new members to see if they have any questions and help them get the most out of their benefits. Chances are your new members don’t know about all of the resources available to them and may appreciate recognizing a few friendly faces when they attend their first event. Encourage the committee to reach out to new members at least once a quarter to stay in touch and help them build their professional network.
Solving the first-year membership renewal hurdle can be challenging but not insurmountable. It takes focus and a deliberate plan to make your new members feel welcome and appreciated. By actively engaging your new members, you can help boost retention for years to come. Contact us to learn about more ways you can increase member retention including our affinity programs, which also help boost engagement and create non-dues revenue for your association.