It’s that time of year for sending members holly-jolly messages and for associations, messages about membership renewals. But to think strategically about renewals, let’s consider why members join in the first place.
People join associations for many reasons. Many want to further their careers by learning new skills or network with others in their chosen vocation. Some want to have an impact in their industry or have a voice in policy decisions.
While the reasons to join an association vary greatly, the reasons members do or don’t renew are usually more succinct. It’s up to your association’s staff to keep members engaged and want to be a member year after year.
Fortunately, a formula for renewal exists—a strong engagement strategy. To create that strategy, you’ll need to:
1. Start planning at least six months before the renewal deadline.
2. Set realistic engagement goals (i.e., 10 percent more participation in an event or activity from the previous year).
3. Create a list of engagement activities (i.e., events, webinars, website visits, social media).
4. Record a schedule that lists all online, virtual, and in-person membership engagement opportunities.
Engagement Leads to Renewals
According to last year’s Membership Marketing Benchmarking Reports, 50% of members don’t renew because they feel a lack of engagement with their association, and 39% departed with a perceived lack of value. That’s not the member’s fault. It’s the responsibility of the association’s leadership and staff to foster engagement because engagement means communication. It is active contact initiated by the association in anticipation of the member’s needs. It’s the way you create a relationship with your association’s members. You can use various communication channels such as emails, phone calls, websites, social media, events, and committees.
Now, let’s look at five association member engagement strategies that can reduce renewal stressors and put fun back into your renewal season.
1. Create a Membership Persona
Do you know what the general characteristics of your members are? If you haven’t surveyed them and compiled data, you may have a less accurate, but good “feel” for what demographics a typical member possesses. This is where the membership engagement strategy begins—a persona. The persona you create is a generalized representation of an “ideal” member. Personas are beneficial in membership sales and recruiting. The persona allows you to better understand and focus on what a member may want, as you tailor content to their specific communication needs and behaviors. It is also a good reference point as you consider future engagement ideas.
For example, member personas for the National Education Association (NEA) are probably dissimilar from the National High School Rodeo Association (NHSRA) personas. In reality, all association personas are different. Therefore, your engagement and communication strategy will be unique to the persona(s) you create.
Your member persona can be as few or as many as you need. Start with one if you’re new to personas, then develop more if you perceive that it will help refine your engagement strategy for specific demographics.
2. Match Your Personas with a List of Benefits and Incentives
Your member benefits are a cornerstone of your organization because it is the main reason many members join and renew. Association benefits and incentives must be interesting and useful to the persona(s) created. As a key engagement strategy, be sure a member can easily and immediately access benefits and incentives after they join or renew.
As mentioned, engagement strategies need strong communication. Using the personas you’ve developed, figure out what members value and enjoy through surveys and polls. The act of surveying and listening to your membership, and then acting on the results, is a great engagement strategy.
3. Have an Online Membership / Mentor Directory
A major reason people join associations is to network within their chosen industry. To create a community within your industry, allow members access to a directory. Having the ability to look up other industry professionals is a core engagement strategy, one that many will automatically pay dues for year after year.
If you decide to create an online directory, make sure it is an interactive communication tool that allows members to edit their profiles with job titles, educational degrees, accreditations, interests, and a link to their LinkedIn profile.
Have a communication tool within the directory to message other members, especially if you decide not to list members’ email addresses. Having the ability to reach out individually to members will be a huge plus, and having the ability to send group messages can give members the ability to coordinate networking events and meet-ups in their cities.
Lastly, many members may be open to mentoring opportunities to share what they have learned. Consider listing the year people joined the association to show tenure, and if some tenured members want to mentor newer ones, put an asterisk or another glyph by their name.
4. Offer Different Membership Levels
Giving association members control over different membership levels is an excellent engagement strategy.
As mentioned, people join associations for various reasons—and at different participation levels. Another engagement strategy you might offer is a two- or three-tiered level (i.e., Bronze, Silver, Gold) with increasingly richer benefits for more dues revenue.
Another membership-level format could be different tracks that fit a member’s goals for joining. For example, one level could include more educational forums and webinars, while another revolves around networking events and annual conference registration.
But before you invest in tiered membership levels, make sure your billing software solution can accommodate the different membership tier levels. Also, decide whether a member can change their membership level at any time or only during renewal season.
5. Frequently Ask For Feedback
People want to know they are being heard. This is especially true with association members. To drive engagement, ask members for their viewpoints on various topics. The marketing activity of asking for a survey response is another engagement touch point that will keep your association top of mind.
Use anonymous surveys to acquire feedback about members’ interests, concerns, what’s working, and what’s not. Ask if there are any events or webinars they would like to see happen. But above all, make sure members know their opinions are being heard and are valuable! Reach out to those who leave their contact information as soon as possible. They would not have left their contact information if they didn’t want to hear from the association.
Picking up the phone and calling a member is another way to obtain critical feedback. When someone joins, a quick welcome call to say thanks and ask them if they have any questions leaves a powerful and meaningful impression on a member. Leave a friendly voicemail if they don’t pick up. You are a step closer to building a member relationship or advancing an existing one.
To help avoid renewal pressure, make sure your engagement strategy is ready to go at least six months before renewal season. These five engagement strategies will help you start, but remember, association members want to see and hear your communication to feel engaged. Refer to your persona(s) if you have questions, but don’t be afraid to adjust personas over time.
If you or your association team members have any questions about member engagement or would like help introducing affinity programs into your non-dues revenue strategy, contact Core Affinity today. We can help.