MGI Tipster Volume 1, Issue 18

Top Five Findings from the Membership Marketing Benchmarking Survey

This spring, Marketing General Incorporated (MGI) launched a survey designed to gain insight into the tactics and strategies that associations use to recruit members, engage new members, renew existing members, and reinstate former members. The goal was to better understand what tactics correlate with higher new member input, better renewal rates, and overall membership growth.

More than 400 association professionals participated in the survey and shared their associations’ information and experiences. Here are five highlights from the report that you can take advantage of right now.

  • Most associations report continued membership growth.
  • Direct mail is the most effective channel for recruiting new members.
  • Giving a first-year dues discount is the most effective membership recruitment incentive.
  • A highly personal approach to new member on-boarding might help new members stay.
  • Continuing renewal contacts and services may improve renewal rates.

The final report will be released at the ASAE & the Center for Association Leadership’s Annual Conference in Toronto, Canada, on August 16. If you would like to receive a copy of the report once it is released, contact me at:

1. Most associations report continued membership growth.

Is membership growth a possibility even in today’s economy? Our membership marketing benchmarking data would indicate that it is.

Over the past year, 46% of associations are reporting that they have seen their total membership grow. While 16% have remained the same, 35% have seen a decline in membership numbers.

The numbers show a stronger picture when looked at over the past five years. During this time period, 60% of respondents reported growth and 26% of the associations had membership growth of over 10%. At the same time, 8% reported no change, and 26% reported a decline.

In addition to seeing strong growth in overall membership, the data indicates that new member input has also been strong over the past year with 54% reporting an increase in new member input. While 22% have seen a decline, 24% have remained the same.

2. Direct mail is the most effective channel for recruiting new members.

It is not as hot as some marketing topics like social networking or viral marketing; but based on responses from our survey, direct mail still tops the list with 31.7% of respondents saying it was the most effective source for attracting new members.

Here are the channels that were rated as top performers to recruit new members.

The following channels registered at less than one percent on most effective: Paid Search Advertising, Online Ads, Public Relations, Social Networking, and Print Ads.

Of the respondents who reported using social media to recruit new members, 26.8% of those who used it reported a decline in new member acquisition compared to just 21% reporting a decline from all the respondents.

Why might some of the more passive channels be reported as less effective? Membership is what marketers call a “push” product. A push product must be proactively sold. So it is not surprising that highly targetable, proactive, and direct-to-customer methods are rated as the best channels for recruiting new members from this research.

3. Giving a first-year dues discount is the most effective membership recruitment incentive.

In direct marketing there are three traditional keys to success: list, offer, and copy. A good promotion, for example, should include some type of offer to highlight why the prospect needs to respond now.

So in our survey, we asked what recruitment offer was most effective in getting the most new members. We also cross tabulated their answers with renewal rates.

Respondents reported that the best recruitment offer was a “discount on first-year dues.” This did not come as a surprise, because MGI membership marketing tests have regularly shown a discount as effective for a variety of organizations.

But here is a surprise. Some marketers reject using a discount because they fear it might hurt long-term renewal rates. However, the research results seem to show something else. Of those who reported offering a new member dues discount, 75% had renewal rates of over 80%, and 25% had renewal rates of under 80%. This outperformed the overall respondent base with 68% having renewal rates over 80%. In other words, new member discounts actually correlate with higher membership renewals.

4. A highly personal approach to new member on-boarding might help retain new members.

We also asked in the survey for a list of all the communication methods that were in use to engage or on-board new members. Here are the top ten as reported by survey respondents, starting with the most used.

In addition to the most used methods, some of these engagement techniques also correlated with organizations that reported higher renewal rates in the survey.

The methods that correlate with higher renewals are what I would call “high touch” contacts and include mailed welcome kits, volunteer or staff welcome calls, new member surveys, and a new member reception. Sending a membership card or certificate did not correlate with higher renewal rates.

Methods that were very rarely used to engage new members were telemarketing welcome calls, early bird or “At Birth” renewals, and using a custom new member renewal series.

5. Continuing renewal contacts and services may improve renewal rates.

In the survey, we asked “when does your organization finish renewal efforts” by months from expiration. We then cross tabulated this against their reported membership renewal rates.

The data appears to indicate that organizations that stop their renewal process earlier are more likely to have membership renewal rates under 80%. However, those that continue in their efforts to renew members are more likely to have membership renewal rates over 80%.

In fact, those who say that they “don’t stop contact” are 83% more likely to be in this higher renewal grouping than those who stop contact earlier.

But wait! There’s more.

Using the same cross tabulation, this trend also appears to be true when we asked in the survey how long a member is “graced” with the continuance of membership benefits after expiration. Organizations with longer grace periods tended to report renewal rates of over 80%. In fact, groups that grace member benefits three or more months are nearly three times more likely to have renewal rates over 80%.

Client research that I have read independent of this study often suggests that one of the most common reasons for a member to lapse is that he or she forgot or did not get around to renewing. So it does not surprise me that those who keep working at restoring the relationship with a member end up keeping more members. Members tend to leave an organization for reasons of omission, not commission.

If you would like to reserve a copy of the Membership Marketing Benchmarking Survey final report for yourself when it is released in August, please email me at the address below.

Tony Rossell
Marketing General Inc.
Direct: 703.706.0360

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