MGI Tipster – Volume 13, Issue 1

January 2014 | Vol. 13 | Issue 1
Soon to be released: The 2014 Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report.

The 2014 Membership Marketing Benchmarking Survey will launch this month, the results of which will be used to write and publish the 2014 Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report in May 2014.

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, the Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report has become internationally recognized as the leading source of association membership marketing metrics. Association leaders find the information essential in developing their strategic plans, refining tactical strategies, and effectively communicating with their boards, membership, and stakeholders how their association marketing and communication efforts compare to other associations.

To “whet your appetite” for the 2014 Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report and introduce the report to some of our newcomers, I thought I’d review some of the key findings of last year’s study which included responses from 695 participating associations.

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 associations gauge their performance compared to the industry as a whole, as well as identify areas of strength and weakness in their membership marketing efforts.

New membership

This year’s benchmarking survey found that 63 percent—almost two-thirds—of the associations sampled report 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 in 2010.

Total membership

More than half—52 percent—of the associations surveyed report that their total membership grew in the past year while far fewer—31 percent—report a decline. 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%

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 report improved renewal rates in 2013. That is just slightly higher than the 31 percent of associations that report a decline in their renewing members 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 reported increase in renewal rate by 35 percent of associations 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.

81% Mean Renewal Rate

There was some improvement in association economic health as evidenced by the strong majority of associations—68%—that report their renewal rates at 80 percent or higher while only half as many—32%—report 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 results largely mirror the 2012 responses, except that in 2012 “Membership too diverse” was most cited as an obstacle to growth, whereas in 2013 this issue 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.”

Your Input is ESSENTIAL!

MGI makes the annual benchmarking report freely available in print and online for the benefit of the greater association community. In order for this report to remain the vital tool it has become we need your help. The 2014 Benchmarking Survey opened the week of January 6, 2014. Please click here to complete the survey.

To download a copy of previous studies, or any of the many whitepapers and articles we’ve authored, visit our website at

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

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