February 27, 2020   |   Vol. 19   |   Issue 2
Rick Whelan, CDM, MGI President

Why Prospects Don’t Join and Members Leave

It may not come as a surprise if I tell you that not every prospect you ask to join your association will, and that at some point even the most devoted long-term members may not renew.

We “Membership Marketers” know instinctively that we oftentimes survive and even thrive on 1/10th of a percentage point rate of return. The difference between a 0.90% and 1.00% in the number of members and revenue you generate can be huge.

Knowing the reasons why prospects don’t join and members don’t renew can only help us do a better job in growing our total members and revenue. You may remember some of these thoughts from years past, but they are still good reminders.

Here’s my take on the basic obstacles we need to overcome to attract and keep members:

First, realize that no matter what you offer and no matter how great you think your association might be, most prospects will never join and at some point every member will leave.

There is a percentage of the population who are nonjoiners. In fact, being a nonjoiner is a personality trait of most introverts. And an ever-growing number of prospects (and maybe even members) are also suspicious of groups. They are afraid to make a mistake, got burned by a bad choice once before, think they don’t need what your association offers, that your association does not offer them anything new, or that they can get what you offer for free somewhere else.

Second, your association has an awareness or engagement problem.

You send out promotional materials that the prospects or members many times did not request, that are confusing, lack a strong and compelling offer, and make it difficult to join or renew.

The harder you make the process to join and renew, no matter what the valid reason, the fewer the people who will join or renew.

Furthermore, there is nothing in your offer that’s “sticky.” Getting a prospect to join or a member to renew is only a start in the marketing process. Getting them to find value or engage with your organization is key to maximizing long-term tenure and lifetime value.

Remember that most adults delete their emails, hang up on phone solicitors, and sort their mail over a trashcan. You’ve got just seconds to get a reader’s attention, so make sure to clearly explain why prospects or members should take their valuable time to read and then respond to your offer.

Third, your prospects may say, “No one I know or have ever heard of is a member.”

The old saying “birds of a feather flock together” is right on point. Unless you can show potential members that others who have made it in their field are members, that their friends and associates are members, and that they will be better in their career and perhaps even richer in knowledge or money for joining, you will never get or keep their interest.

Fourth, know your competition and what they offer that you do not.

The ASAE Foundation in a widely read report states, “The greatest risk to revenues is that our products, services and benefits can be delivered better, faster, less expensively and more fully customized to our members and customers by others.” This is so very true.

Keep this in mind when planning your membership marketing. Drawing comparisons (pro or con) between you and your main competitor is a good and valid way to increase your response rates, even if your main competitor is not another association.

Fifth, your offer of membership does not convey any value.

It’s what I call the “gets” of membership. You seemingly do not have any indispensable or “must have” benefits or services. You offer the readers nothing that they think they really need or realize they really need. In their mind, the dues you want do not match the perceived value you offer.

And finally, there is no need to belong.

The truth is that we do not always tell a prospect or member what possible bad things will happen to them or their careers if they don’t join or renew—simply because nothing bad will happen. You must present a compelling reason to join or renew, make it well thought out and properly priced to ensure success.

I frequently use the example of the AAA (American Automobile Association). They work the fear and value factors very effectively to get folks to join and renew. Seeing a visual of someone who could be my mother, wife, or daughter on a dark, lonely road in a broken down car gets my attention every time. And their simple current $1 a week offer of membership with a variety of money-and time-saving “gets” is all I need to know to join or renew.

Fundraisers have known for years that negative outsells positive every time—save the whales, feed the hungry kids, keep the library open—yet most of us do not think about and do not market what bad things will happen to our members and their careers if they do not join and do not renew their membership—but we should.

So the next time you wonder how you can recruit or renew more members, keep my short list of obstacles in mind. Working to overcome them in your offer, copy, and unique selling proposition will help you grow to new levels of membership success.

For more information about ways to recruit and renew more members, contact MGI President Rick Whelan at Rick@MarketingGeneral.com or call him at 703.706.0350.

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