|As soon as a prospect joins an association, she or he becomes the most likely person not to renew. Most organizations have the same experience—first-year members are the lowest renewing cohort. New members take the organization for a test drive, so to speak, to decide whether membership value justifies the dues they paid. Therefore, the more frequent and more positive the interactions the association has with the first-year member, the higher the renewal rate is likely to be.
Engagement has become an absolutely necessary component of membership retention and growth. Organizations have discovered they must pay special attention to new, at-risk members and be certain that they interact with the association beyond being just a mailbox members.
Better engagement means better renewals
Research shows that in the past year members who…
•…upgraded their membership to a higher level of service were 12% more likely to renew
•…ordered a product in the past year were 28% more likely to renew
•…were also chapter members were 17% more likely to renew
•…attended an association meeting in the past year were 19% more likely to renew
•…attended an association meeting at any time were 7% more likely to renew, and
•…attended four or more meetings were 30% more likely to renew
Engagement does not need to be difficult; it can be as simple as a telephone welcome call.
Any communication with members is good; more is better
Effective engagement programs usually involve a series of communications that invite members to interact with the organization. A compelling engagement program orients members and steers them to make the most of the benefits, products, and services an organization has to offer.
This might be as easy as asking members to complete a simple satisfaction survey. If the first interaction succeeds, follow-up contacts reinforce the relationship, which in turn makes first-year conversions far more likely.
Engaging new members
The opportunities are almost endless:
• A welcome letter or phone call from a member service representative
• An offer to assist with registering for the password-protected sections of the website
• A mailing with a dollars-off voucher for a first purchase
• An email survey verifying the use of member benefits
• A courtesy call to answer member questions
A second purchase or interaction is important. Customer-retention expert Jim Novo says, "If a customer (or member) has not made a second purchase within 30 days, he or she is telling you something is wrong."
What research tells us about engagement
The 2010 Membership Marketing Benchmarking research study included a question that asked participants to list all the communication methods in use to engage or onboard new members. Here are the top ten, as reported by survey respondents, starting with the most used:
1. Email Welcome – 72%
2. Mailed Welcome Kit – 68%
3. Membership Card or Certificate – 59%
4. Volunteer or Staff Welcome Phone Call – 32%
5. New Member Introductory Email Series – 27%
6. Invite to a Chapter Meeting – 25%
7. Special Discounts on Services – 23%
8. In-person New Member Reception – 20%
9. New Member Newsletter – 20%
10. New Member Survey – 18%
The communications that correlated with higher renewal rates are high-touch contacts that can include mailed welcome kits, volunteer or staff welcome calls, new member surveys, and new member receptions. Associations with larger membership counts were more likely to report they used volunteer or staff calls to new members compared to other-sized groups.
Engagement is essential to growth strategy
The best measure of membership engagement is member behavior. A member who attends or buys, volunteers, or reads electronic communication posts is more likely to stay a member than one who does not.
The bottom line is this: lots of information sent to a member does not build engagement. However, finding ways to get a member to interact, use, and take advantage of the value the organization offers builds a more successful and longer lasting member relationship.