August 11, 2020   |   Vol. 19   |   Issue 8
By Tony Rossell, MGI Senior Vice President

Announcing the Release of the Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report

The 12th edition of the MGI Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report (MMBR) is now available as a free download. To access your copy, please use this link.

One of the questions we get asked most often when doing client research is: will we gain actionable information from this survey? The answer is yes. The purpose of market research is to help an organization make sound strategic and tactical decisions.

This action-oriented focus is particularly true with MGI’s Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report. Our goal is to help associations understand what is working and what is not working in membership marketing. From the 12th edition of our report, here are ten actionable findings to improve your membership results.

    1. Recruitment. The report highlights that associations use a wide variety of channels to add new members. This year, when we look at larger individual membership groups, two channels – one new and one old – are helping to drive new member acquisition. The emerging marketing channel is paid digital advertising. As one research respondent shared, “Paid digital advertising is no longer optional.” Associations with operating budgets over $1 million are now significantly more likely to use online digital advertising for membership acquisition, retention, and reinstatement. Facebook paid advertising (46%), search engine optimization (37%), and retargeting (31%) are the most commonly used digital marketing tools by associations. The traditional channel of direct mail also continues to perform well for larger associations. Groups with over 20,000 members are significantly more likely to report direct mail to be highly effective for recruiting new members.

    2. Special Offers. The use of incentives to encourage a member to join is often debated. However, since your website provides a 24/7 opportunity to join, the reality is that getting a prospect to take action now requires offering a deal. The data shows that associations showing increases in their overall counts over the past year are significantly more likely to consider dues discounts for the first year of membership to be very effective. The other offers that respondents highlighted as the most favorable to get a member to join were conference discounts and monthly or quarterly installment dues.

    3. Value. Our data once again shows that members join for networking with others in the field, continuing education, accessing specialized information, and learning best practices in their profession. For trade associations, advocacy is an additional reason to join. However, the critical question is whether associations can deliver this value. Specifically, the research found that associations reporting gains in their membership numbers and improvements in new members over the past year are significantly more likely to indicate that their association has a compelling or very compelling value proposition. The challenge is that only about half of associations consider their value proposition to be compelling (48%). Understanding what is important to your members and prospects and then effectively delivering on it is the foundation for a thriving membership. As one respondent commented, members “need to see value. Just because someone is a member or has been a member, it is not a given that they will renew. You need to continually show new value and ROI.”

    4. Innovation. Our data shows that a culture of innovation is the critical driver for creating member value. As one respondent made clear, “Try something new or you’ll plateau and decline.” Indeed, the survey results show that associations with increases in their membership over the past five years are significantly more likely to have a process in place for innovation and new ideas. At the same time, those showing declines over the same period are more likely to say that they have no innovation process.

    5. Membership Models. One area where associations have been innovating is introducing new membership models. Among associations that have adopted a new model, a tiered configuration has been the most common choice (46%). A tiered membership often replaces a static structure and allows members to choose the value proposition that best satisfies their particular needs and budget. The second new model is moving to a combination format by adding an individual or organizational category to the membership offerings.

    6. Engagement. Once a member joins, the way for associations to build a strong membership foundation is by proactively putting in place plans to engage members. Respondents have been consistent in sharing why members do not renew. This year, once again, they say members do not renew because of a lack of engagement with the organization or because they could not justify the cost of membership. However, when associations establish an active program to engage members to raise their usage of benefits, membership retention increases. This year, 78% of associations that have seen an improvement in their renewal rates say that they have a tactical plan to increase engagement.

    7. Participation. The report also highlights a continual shift in the membership benefits where associations are seeing improvement in their members’ participation and engagement. In our research this year, there were five areas where respondents said that they were seeing broader member participation. Most of these growth areas reflect ways to enhance interaction with members and share information, primarily on a digital platform. The top services seeing more usage are:

      • The use of their mobile app
      • Participation in their public social network
      • Attendance at their webinars
      • Participation in their private social network
      • Participation in their young professional's program
    8. Generations. This migration to more digital member services may also be supporting how associations are effectively attracting emerging generations of members. Our benchmarking data shows that associations reporting increases in their one-year membership levels are more likely to have a higher percentage of Millennials in their membership. Nevertheless, associations are still most likely to say that the most significant proportion of their membership consists of Baby Boomers (35%).

    9. Renewals. Two findings related to renewing members have come out of this year's benchmarking research. The first highlights that, after email, direct mail represents the marketing channel that generates the most renewals. With the average individual association achieving a 79% renewal rate, it is almost impossible to lose money through renewal efforts. The second finding is the effectiveness of automatic credit card renewals. Fully a third of individual membership groups make this option available. And those that offer this option see substantially higher renewal rates for members, especially for first-year members.

    10. Budgets. Right now, every line item of an association's budget is under scrutiny. So how do you make a case for sustaining and even increasing your membership marketing budget? Benchmarking data would support that funding membership marketing produces improved results. Associations seeing one-year and five-year membership increases are more likely to have increased their awareness, recruitment, and engagement funding. A total of 34% of respondents said that they increased their budgets for recruitment, and 32% increased their engagement budget. One important reason to fund membership marketing is that it produces an outstanding return on investment compared to many of the other products that an association offers. Customers come and go, but the average member will remain with an association for five years producing a stream of dues and non-dues revenue.

The 12th edition of the MGI Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report contains over 60 pages of additional information segmented by size and type of association. Take this opportunity to download the full report to see how your organization compares with others.

For more information, or if you are interested in a more formal, customized analysis of how your association compares to industry standards, please contact Tony Rossell at or 703.706.0360.

Request a Membership Consultation