MGI Tipster – Volume 12, Issue 6

June 11, 2013   |   Vol. 12   |   Issue 6
2013 Benchmarking Report confirms associations gained strength

The majority of membership organizations that were hit hard by the 2009 global economic meltdown have continued their slow but steady 4-year recovery into the first quarter of this year. More than half of those surveyed in early 2013 reported increased total member counts and nearly two-thirds reported new member growth over the past year.

The continued steady recovery of association membership headlines the findings in the 2013 Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report, the fifth annual survey of leading association indicators conducted by Marketing General Incorporated.

New membership

This year’s benchmarking survey found that 63 percent—almost two-thirds—of the associations sampled reported new member growth, which is a significant improvement from the 42 percent reporting new member growth at the depth of the recession in 2010.

(n = 690)
(n = 687)
(n = 638)
(n = 405)
(n = 325)
  Percentage Increased Overall 63% 60% 57% 42% 49%
  Percentage Unchanged Overall 17% 17% 21% 20% 22%
  Percentage Declined Overall 16% 15% 16% 26% 21%
  Percentage Unsure 4% 10% 8% 12% 10%

This year, just 16 percent of the associations surveyed saw their new membership numbers decline compared to 26 percent that were lower in 2010.

Total membership

More than half—52 percent—of the associations surveyed said their total membership grew in the past year while far fewer—31 percent—reported declines. When the association sector bottomed out in 2010, just 36 percent were adding new members while 48 percent were losing them.

(n = 691)
(n = 689)
(n = 642)
(n = 405)
(n = 331)
  Percentage Increased Overall 52% 52% 49% 36% 45%
  Percentage Unchanged Overall 16% 16% 16% 14% 16%
  Percentage Declined Overall 31% 29% 34% 48% 35%
  Percentage Unsure 1% 3% 2% 3% 5%

Why the numbers are important

Most membership organizations use three key indicators to measure trends in their overall health: total membership, new members acquired, and members renewed. This data helps gauge performance compared to the industry as a whole as well as identify areas of strength and weakness in their membership marketing efforts.

This year, 695 membership organizations participated in the benchmarking survey, the only study of its kind to examine the practices associations commonly use to recruit new members, retain current ones, and reinstate those who have lapsed.

Renewing membership

If there is a weakness in association health revealed by the survey it lies in renewals. Just 35 percent of the associations polled reported improved renewal rates in 2013. That is just slightly higher than the 31 percent of associations that saw their renewing members decline this year.

(n = 691)
(n = 683)
(n = 638)
(n = 403)
(n = 326)
  Percentage Increased Overall 35% 36% 32% 21% 22%
  Percentage Unchanged Overall 30% 33% 37% 27% 39%
  Percentage Declined Overall 31% 22% 24% 44% 31%
  Percentage Unsure 4% 10% 7% 8% 9%

While not that surprising since renewal rates tend to move up or down more narrowly than other indicators, it does raise a cautionary note for membership organizations since renewals remain so fundamental to their success.

This year’s 35 percent renewal rate is a marked improvement over 2010 when just 21 percent of associations surveyed reported increased renewals. At the height of the recession in 2010, 44 percent of associations saw their renewal rates drop.

As the economy recovered, renewal declines were half that—24 percent in 2011 and 22 percent 2012. This year’s 2013 survey found that associations with declining renewals jumped up to 31 percent, the same level as in 2009.

The majority of renewal rates are healthy

There was some improvement in association economic health as evidenced by the strong majority of associations—68%—that reported their renewal rates at 80 percent or higher while only half as many—32%—reported renewal rates below 80 percent. The mean renewal rate for participating associations is about 81 percent.

Impediments to association growth

Asked in this year’s survey about obstacles to membership growth, respondents selected these as the top three: (1) Insufficient staff; (2) Difficulty attracting and/or maintaining younger members; and (3) Perception of the association and/or its culture.

These largely mirrored the 2012 responses, except that in 2012 “Membership too diverse” was the issue most cited, while in 2013 it fell out of the top three to fourth place.

Most important goals

When respondents were asked their association’s most important membership goals, an equal percentage—74%—cited “increasing member engagement” and “increasing both membership acquisition and retention.”

Want to learn more?

MGI makes the annual benchmarking report freely available in print and online for the benefit of the greater association community. To download a copy, visit the web at

MGI is able to customize the benchmarking report for your individual association with most information available in considerable and actionable detail. Contact MGI President Rick Whelan at 703.706.0350 or email him at to learn more.

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