The Most Significant Obstacle to Membership Growth
There is an ancient proverb that helps describe the purpose behind the 2010 Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report. It says, "Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed."
By learning from the experiences of more than 400 participating associations, our hope is that the Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report will help you manage a more effective membership program for your organization.
In last month’s MGI Tipster we looked at the declines in new member acquisition, renewals, and total membership counts that many associations reported over the past year.
This month, we highlight a challenge that associations identified with membership and solutions to help bring about membership growth.
The Challenge of Membership Value
Our research revealed that one of the most pressing membership challenges was a decrease in association renewal rates compared to the previous year.
So for a second year, we asked association executives to tell us the key reason that their members did not renew. Last year, the answers focused on cost, with the top two reasons given as "the employer would not pay for membership" or the membership was "too expensive."
In 2010, however, the top reason given for non-renewal was a "lack of value." A total of 36% of respondents cited value as the key issue, an 80% leap over last year.
Is there any good news in identifying this perceived lack of value as the major renewal challenge? We think so. When we believe members lapse because dues are too expensive, it does not leave much room for fixing the problem.
However, if we think members leave for value issues, we can do research to better understand what they are looking to receive and make changes to communications or the products themselves to enhance the value.
Asking how we can deliver more value to our members is a very productive question when we put actions behind it to solve the problem.
Membership Growth Strategy
If membership is declining for associations, is there anything that the study showed can be done to turn around the trend? The answer is yes. From what we found, it appears there are numerous actions and practices that can help grow membership.
One of the most interesting is that membership growth may depend on what the association has targeted as the membership goal. In the study this year, we asked participants to tell us their membership growth strategy and offered three options:
1. A greater priority on acquisition than retention.
2. A greater priority on retention than acquisition.
3. An equal priority on acquisition and retention.
Then we cross tabulated these answers with reported membership growth rates over a one-year period and a five-year time span to see which strategy correlated with increased membership growth.
Interestingly, those organizations that put a priority on membership acquisition compared to either a retention strategy or a balanced strategy directionally were more likely to experience growth in membership.
This outcome may be because organizations that traditionally focus on building market share in tough economic times come out of recessions stronger than those that stop their marketing efforts.
A Second Opportunity for Growth: Focusing on Clear Goals
In our 2010 research, we sought to gain a better understanding of the overall goals that associations adopt.
The goal question arose out of conversations the study’s author has had with a variety of association leaders over the past year. It became evident that there seems to be a lack of clarity in what associations attempt to accomplish.
In fact, stated association goals are often in conflict with one another. An association may set a goal to significantly grow membership as well as to increase net revenue. These goals can conflict since membership growth typically requires re-investing net revenue in marketing. It is very difficult to increase volume and profits at the same time.
Tactical versus Strategic Goal Setting
The responses to the goal question suggest that there may be a lack of consensus within associations on strategic goals. Here is a breakdown of how respondents ranked various association goals.
Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report Background
The Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report is intended to help associations better understand the strategies and tactics most often used to recruit members, engage new members, renew existing members, and reinstate former members.
More than 400 associations participated in the survey and shared their membership practices and their opinions about what works best for each stage of the membership lifecycle.
Get Your FREE Copy of the Report
If you would like a full copy of the Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report, you may also download it by using this link.
Get Help with Your Membership
If you would like to talk about how your organization can improve your membership results, please contact Tony Rossell at the address below.
Marketing General Inc.