How does your association handle member retention? Is it simply a statistic that you calculate every year and reflect on at your development meetings and mention in your annual report? Or does it form both the backbone and heartbeat of what you offer and how you communicate with members?
Retaining members is a key performance indicator of how well you are meeting the needs of your members. You should certainly be comparing this figure every year with what you achieved in the previous few years and also with the industry norm for your type of association.
The reason why retention is important becomes clear when you consider the analogy of water being poured into a leaky bucket. There is no point in recruiting members until you know why members leave and put resources behind any obvious ways of encouraging vulnerable members to stay.
There will always be ‘natural’ reasons why members leave, with companies closing down or people passing away being two obvious examples.
But are there other reasons why you are loosing members that you could retain? Conducting member exit research will start to tell you why.
For example a problem that is common to individual member organisations that represents a ‘hole’ in the bucket is retirement or redundancy. So could you offer these groups the opportunity to stay involved with the profession by way of offering them writing, speaking, research or mentoring opportunities? These people now have what everyone else is likely to be desperately short of – time. You could also offer a lower membership fee category if they are likely to become more concerned about cost.
The heart and backbone of a healthy membership association is involvement. Firstly you need to foster an organisational culture that promotes member involvement. For example, in internal meetings do you talk about ‘us’ and ‘them’ or ‘we’? Encouraging the use inclusive rather than exclusive language in all your communications is very important.
Secondly you need to focus on the members expectation and definition of involvement. It is when they are satisfying this expectation that they will remain members.
Some members join simply because they want access to material that you produce through the post or via email. That is how they judge the value of their membership. They may not want to come to any events that you run. They get annoyed by all the mailings you continually send them about events and see this as a waste of money. However other members may be the exact opposite. They have joined to meet up with other people in the community and network to exchange ideas or develop their business. This is exactly what they want out of their membership.
It is important to take the time to recognise member involvement, particularly from volunteers. There are many ways to do this from an informal simple handwritten thank you note to engraving their name on a long service member board that hangs in your foyer. Recognise their involvement, both active or passive, in ways that will encourage them to move up the ladder of involvement.
The task of finding out what individual members want and then meeting those involvement needs may seem like a huge task. However with a member segmentation strategy in place, where the member has clearly and easily been able to express their involvement expectations in a way you can manage and service.
Each member is asked to award points to nine statements that reflect these categories to highlight how they would like to get involved. This then becomes the basis for how you involve and communicate with them.
To summarise, start by calculate and compare your retention ratio so you know where you are. Then use exit research to highlight groups of members that you can economically retain. Finally make sue you treat members differently by introducing a member segmentation strategy that is based on ‘their’ involvement expectations and find ways to move members up the ladder of involvement.