2015 Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report

May 11, 2015   |   Vol. 14   |   Issue 5
2015 Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report

In June, we will publish the 2015 Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report. For those of you who simply can’t wait, an Executive Summary of the report will be available at the upcoming ASAE Marketing, Membership and Communications Conference.

If you won’t be at the show, you can request a copy by emailing Erik Schonher at eschonher@marketinggeneral.com or by contacting your MGI representative. In addition, Erik Schonher, MBA, and Adina Wasserman, Ph.D., will host a webinar on May 19, 2015, from 2:00 to 3:00 ET on the study results. So, if you’d like to get a deep dive look into this year’s results from the two lead editors (a membership marketing strategist/tactition and a researcher), register now to attend by clicking here.

This year’s survey—our seventh consecutive annual sampling—proved to be a banner one as we achieved a new record with 914 participating associations, an increase in response of 5.6% over last year!

As we do every year, we changed some of the questions to provide us with a greater understanding of what strategies, tactics, and channels are most effective at acquiring and retaining members. Focuses this year included member engagement and the expanding use of social media.

Overall, 46% of the associations reported membership growth, a decrease from 54% reported in 2014.

How has your membership changed in the past ONE YEAR period?

Chart 1


In the past ONE YEAR, how has your NEW member acquisition changed?

Chart 2

There was a sharp increase in the percentage of associations who are maintaining the number of new members acquired (34% vs. 21% reported in 2014). While the percentage of associations indicating an increase in newly acquired members continues its downward trend from previous years to 44% (2014 – 58%; 2013 – 63%), the percentage of associations reporting a decline in new member acquisition increased to 15% from 13% in 2014.

What recruitment marketing channels get your organization the most new members?

Chart 3

Survey participants remained consistent with previous years reporting that word-of-mouth recommendations and email continue to be ranked among those channels considered most effective in recruiting new members. Further analysis indicates that individual member organizations continue to rank direct mail (28%) in the top three most effective channels for new member acquisition, whereas trade associations rank personal sales calls (34%) above email (22%) and combination associations rank their website (26%) as the third most effective channel behind word-of-mouth (46%) and email (34%).

What do you believe is the ONE TOP reason members join your organization?

Chart 4

When asked why members join, of the top reasons cited by respondents, the majority of associations noted that the top membership driver is networking with others in the field (23%). Differences between the types of associations became apparent with the second reason why members join: individual member associations cite continuing education (15%); trade associations mention advocacy (15%); combination organizations report that members join for access to specialized and current information (14%).


In the 2014 Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report, many associations indicated that they planned to increase their focus and resources on member engagement and retention. Therefore, the increase in renewal rates reported this year appears to confirm efforts made by associations and their membership staffs in bolstering these two areas.

In the past ONE YEAR, how has your member RENEWAL rate changed?

Chart 5

In 2014, the mean membership renewal rates for individual member organizations, trade associations, and combination associations were 76%, 85%, and 80%, respectively. This year, we observed a positive change for individual member and trade associations (79% and 87%).

Forty-four percent of the associations answering this question state that their renewals remain consistent with last year. This is a dramatic increase from the trends set in previous years (2014 – 36%; 2013 – 30%; 2012 – 33%; 2011 – 37%; and, 2010 – 27%).

What is your overall membership renewal rate?

Chart 6

Regarding association renewal programs, the use of a multi-media approach remains the preferred tactic. The median number of membership renewal series mail contacts is three for an individual member organization and two for trade associations and combination associations.


What are your organization’s TOP THREE biggest challenges to growing membership?

Chart 7

Aside from staffing issues and budgets, the top challenges that associations face are a difficulty in communicating the association’s value (33%) and a difficulty in attracting and/or maintaining younger members (18%).

One solution associations are implementing to address these challenges is the use of private social networks. For associations reporting more participation in their private social network, 53% report an increase in membership over the past year, compared to 22% whose membership declined.

Similar to last year, the top three goals for associations continue to be increasing member engagement (68%), increasing membership retention (67%), and increasing membership acquisition (62%).


We recognize that the amount for basic annual membership dues varies by the type, focus, and size of an association. Taken as a whole, for this study, the median response is $193 for individual member associations, $673 for trade associations, and $195 for combination associations. The majority of associations increase their dues "as needed" as opposed to "annually", "every other year", or "never."

Social Media
Associations’ main reason for using social media is communication and engagement with site users. The metric most often used by associations to measure the impact of their social media is the number of followers, likes, or fans.

Words of Wisdom

Given the success realized in previous years, we increased the number of open-ended questions from five to nine:

  1. Describe an acquisition or recruitment strategy that your association has employed that has been successful.
  2. What goals do you hope to accomplish using your online community? Have you seen these goals realized?
  3. In what ways have you been able to increase participation in your online community?
  4. Describe an engagement or retention strategy that your association has employed that has been very successful and/or from which you learned something valuable.
  5. Describe how you have used social media for your association in a very successful manner.
  6. If you could freely say anything to your members, what would you say?
  7. With regard to your association, what keeps you up at night?
  8. If there was one hurdle you could remove to make your association run smoother, what would it be?
  9. In your own words, what are the most important or successful lessons you have learned in the area of membership marketing?

You’ll have to read the 2015 Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report to see how your peers answered these questions.

If you have any questions concerning the 2015 Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report, would like to receive a special report that compares your association with other similar associations, or would like to learn more about Marketing General Incorporated and how we might be able to assist you and your association in accomplishing your goals, please contact Rick Whelan, President, by calling him at (703) 706-0350 or emailing him at rick@marketinggeneral.com.

If you’d like to see previous MGI Tipster newsletters, click here to access our online archives.

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