Remember the Human Side of Membership Retention

Sometimes we get so focused on the marketing mechanics of membership renewals that we forget that we are dealing with real people involved with everyday real life challenges.

I have been reminded of this as I have read through hundreds of open ended responses shared by members in some clients’ research where they explain why they have not continued their affiliation.

There are always a few comments that members disagree with the association’s policies or stances or they do not feel that they have received value for their dues dollar or they do not feel engaged or connected with the association.  And these are the common reasons membership directors believe that members lapse, but these responses are actually not all that frequent in unprompted member comments.

Instead, real member comments present a different picture.  Simply put, members say that life is complicated, busy, transient, and costly and this interferes with them continuing membership.

Here are some of the paraphrased responses members shared as to why they have not continued their membership.

1.      My employer STARTED to pay for my membership, so my membership address is now at the office.

2.      I am retired and want to continue, but did not see a low cost retired membership category available.

3.      I have not had a raise for years and I simply cannot afford membership.

4.      I was very busy and just keep forgetting to renew.

5.      The online renewal process was too complicated or did not work, so I gave up trying.

6.      I have been sick, but plan to renew when I feel better.

7.      We trade off membership every other year in my office.

8.      I have some unexpected expenses, but plan to come back when I have some more funds.

9.      I thought that my membership was still active.

10.   I am out of the country, but plan to continue when I return.

So what are the lessons that we may want to take away from these “life happens” types of member responses?

I have two suggestions.

First, be sympathetic.  We spend so much time and effort in trying to communicate with members that when our efforts go unnoticed it is easy to assume the worst.  We assume that either our organization does not have the value members want or that members do not care about our issues or industry.  But remember to walk in your members’ shoes and understand that just like us they have financial, health, work, and family priorities that keep them from focusing on your organization.

Second, be persistent.  In the comments that I have reviewed, very few members complain that an association stays in touch with them too much over time.  So keep checking back with former members.  Let them know that you have not forgotten them.  Tell them about the new products, services, and content that you have waiting for them.  Be available to them when life gives them the time, funds, and needs to re-engage with you.

Finally, remember that since life is complicated and members are busy, we need to make the renewal process as simple and seamless as possible.  If you have a retired membership category, make it clear.  Test the website to be sure that renewal is easy.  And de-duplicate your records, so that you have a member’s latest address in the system.

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