5 Fundamental Member Retention Strategies for Associations

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Written By:

Kerry McCreadie Cropped Photo

Kerry McCreadie


Long-term member relationships are the beating heart of any association. These connections help build your credibility, expand your network, and serve as a key source of revenue. With this in mind, you can imagine why it’s so important to have member retention strategies in place.

There’s no denying that acquisition campaigns can be a hit—but if those members don’t end up renewing the following year, you’re back to square one. Consistently seeking out new members eats away at the time and money you could use on bigger projects.

Honing in on member retention is a far better investment of your resources. After all, a stable pool of members will offer ongoing funding and create a real community for your association. All it takes is some thought and planning ahead!

Here are 5 fundamental member retention strategies to get you started.

1. Constantly seek to learn more about your members

A key part of association management is staying in regular communication with your members. Start asking questions from day one, but keep in mind that over time, their wants and interests will likely evolve. Checking in at every stage of the relationship will keep you up to date with where they’re at.

Consider these key touchpoints:

  • Welcome surveys tell you why members joined in the first place. Once you understand their expectations, you can strategize about how your membership program can meet them.
  • End-of-year satisfaction surveys about the programs, services, and resources you offer. This will get you ready to make changes in the coming year—especially before holding your annual member acquisition drive.
  • Post-event surveys give you immediate feedback on how members feel about your offerings. Sending these out promptly will give you honest reactions while the event is still at the front of your members’ minds.
  • Exit surveys and interviews aren’t always fun, but they show you what was missing for certain members. If you see a pattern, it might be time to make some changes.

As with any relationship, members want to know that they’re being listened to. Asking for feedback both builds trust and gets you the information you need to better serve them in the future.

2. Actively track member engagement

One of the most important member retention strategies is actively collecting member data with the help of association management software. Member survey feedback gives you a look at how people are feeling, and hard numbers fill in the rest of the picture.

With the right software, you can track key information like:

  • Login frequency
  • Event registration
  • Forum engagement
  • Renewals
  • Click rate on emails

The best goals are measurable goals, and these data points give you a strong foundation when it comes to working with your member retention strategies. With a frank look at your current member engagement, you can set clear and specific goals.

At the individual level, it also allows you to identify trends that lead to disengagement and membership lapses. What campaigns are people responding to? Which events are routinely getting lower engagement?

The data doesn’t lie, so be sure to use it as a resource when marketing your program and communicating with members.

3. Provide a welcoming, organized experience

Start relationships with new members off on the right foot with a warm and organized welcome. This first impression is what sets expectations for the rest of their member experience. You’re setting the tone here, so be sure to emphasize gratitude for their support and an eagerness to offer them resources.

Some things to put in your onboarding package include:

  • A thank you letter
  • A summary of your benefits
  • Member spotlights
  • Upcoming events

Don’t forget that organization is a big part of great onboarding. Lay out your benefits in a way that’s easy to follow. If participating in your association (particularly online) is messy or complicated, you’ll end up with less engagement—which means lower retention rates.

Finally, keep the comms going beyond the initial hello! One of the most important member retention strategies is keeping up the energy long past the welcome package.

4. Diversify your member offerings

Different members will have different needs, so having a range of valuable resources and opportunities will give you a wider reach.

These benefits can include things like:

  • A robust member database
  • Private networking events
  • Professional development opportunities (workshops, certifications, etc.)
  • Discounted tickets to public events
  • Mentorships
  • Other helpful resources and online content

If you’re planning on including events in your offerings (and you should), consider going virtual. Holding your events online helps you reach people all over the world, and costs a whole lot less than their in-person counterparts.

It also offers new and creative ways to boost virtual event engagement. You can easily facilitate networking opportunities and set up a variety of events both formal and casual. With multiple options available, the likelihood of member engagement will pop, and you’ll learn more about member interests along the way.

Keep in mind that you do have to actively promote these events. Your members won’t necessarily find them on their own, and hearing about them a few times will make them more likely to attend.

5. Revisit your membership structures and benefits

Once you’ve collected engagement data and direct feedback from your members, take a look at the story it’s telling and your current membership structure. Do your tiers offer real value to your members? Are they actively engaging with what you’re offering?

If you discover that your programs aren’t doing what you’d hoped for your association, it’s always acceptable to make changes. In fact, it’ll show members that you’re taking their feedback seriously.

Some tweaks you can make include:

  • Adding a tier that fills a gap in pricing or needs
  • Removing a tier that isn’t getting engagement
  • Reworking the cost of dues
  • Setting a consistent renewal schedule
  • Automating payments for easy renewals

Engaging and retaining members can be as simple as being a good listener. Some feedback will be contradictory, so be sure to listen to your most active majority. They’re the ones whose renewals you want most!

Remember: as long as your structural changes are within your budget and capabilities, it’s never too late to course correct.

Making connections with member retention strategies

Every single member of your association has valuable information to offer. By understanding their ever-evolving needs and getting honest feedback about their member experience, you can build a membership program that offers real value to your community.

Using these member retention strategies will give you a richer picture of what has worked best throughout the years—and set you up for success in the future.

Kerry McCreadie Cropped Photo
Kerry McCreadie
Wild Apricot, Senior Content Marketing Manager

What matters most to membership organizations? As the Senior Content Marketing Manager for Personify’s Wild Apricot and MemberClicks products, this is the question always on Kerry’s mind. Their goal is to help nonprofits, associations, and clubs discover the solutions that solve their most frustrating pain points—while growing and retaining their member base. The CEO and Founder of their own nonprofit organization, Kerry is passionate about nonprofit and charitable work—especially in the arts.

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