Association Management Best Practices

Best Practices To Acquire, Grow and Retain Members

Membership organizations, which include associations, non-profits, clubs and other member-based groups, are under increased pressure to acquire and retain members.

But that's no easy task. According to this year's Association Survey Results by GrowthZone, 58 percent of Associations report a decrease or no growth in membership size. This is a crucial situation as member-based organizations' viability depends on their ability to acquire, engage and retain members.

Here are some of the most effective methods that apply both strategy and technology to advance the overarching mission.

Association Management Best Practices in Member Acquisition

Member Personas — Strategic member acquisition starts with understanding what is most important to members. Best in class organizations periodically acquire data to answer key questions, such as:

  • Who are our members? This data is used to create member segments, and align members by demographics, interests, life styles, geographies and other dimensions. This segmentation is then used to personalize messaging, form special interest groups and target donations.
  • Why do members identify with our cause and align with our purpose? The answers to these questions are essential in determining whether the organization's mission and purpose are clear and impactful. They are also a tell-tale of membership affinity.
  • What do our members want from their membership experience? The answer to this question normally impacts member services and benefits, and correlates to member retention.

Member profile data is normally managed in a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system, often called Member Relationship Management software in the association and nonprofit industries. CRM software uses questionnaires and other Voice of the Customer (VOC) tools to survey members, capture their responses in a 360-degree member profile, segment members and personalize outbound messaging. Best in class organizations go a step further and create member personas within their CRM software.

Outbound Member Campaigns — Once members are truly understood, organizations need a mix of inbound and outbound marketing campaigns to acquire more members. Fortunately, member candidates tend to be social. They share their interests and passions online, sometimes with simple Likes, retweets or comments, or sometimes with prolific posts on social networks. Most CRM software systems include social listening for outbound member acquisitions.

Social listening software tools search social networks for keywords illustrative of your mission, purpose, values, passion and programs. Once found, they facilitate an online introduction, conversation and link to your website. It's important not to come across too strong and adhere to the social network's etiquette. But when used correctly this is effective and scalable method to reach like-minded people who tend to be an outstanding fit with your organization.

Inbound Member Campaigns — The most scalable inbound marketing campaign method is content marketing. Organizations publish high value content online which is then found by member candidates and linked to the organization website. It's a simple and effective strategy, but difficult to execute.

To be successful, content must be high value and should be written for specific member personas that will find, read, tag and share the content among their social circles. Tracking content consumption and conversions can be automated with a Marketing Automation System (which is generally a component of CRM software.)

Association Management Best Practices in Member Growth

GrowthZone research reports that "It costs 7X more to get a new member than to keep a current one" which is why focusing on existing members and growing member share is so critical.

Member Onboarding — New member first impressions tend to be lasting impressions. You can maximize that impression by recognizing that good onboarding isn't an event, it's a process that occurs over an extended period. For example, it may be a nurture campaign with sequential flights that start with a welcome kit, then an invite to attend an event, then an offer to join a special interest group to be followed by other offers of engagement.

You may also want to replicate a referral method used when joining social networks. After joining a social network and while filling out your profile, the network offers you an option to invite or notify your friends. This announcement permeates the new member's inner circles, generates relatively high conversion referrals and provides new members some trusted friends to navigate the organization together.

Member Experience Management — Only the most forward looking leaders were talking about Member Experience Management a few years ago. However, now this phrase is becoming ubiquitous. The member experience is the member's perception of the organization based on the totality of their interactions. Not all interactions are equal, so Member Experience Management uses a plan and roadmap to flawlessly deliver the highest impact experiences for each persona – often across member journeys or pursuant to life cycle stages.

As with their counterparts in the commercial sector that use Customer Experience (CX) Management for customer retention and profit objectives, association and nonprofit leaders have learned that the member experience can be identified, planned, measured and forecasted. And that even small improvements lead to much higher member renewals, referrals, volunteerism and donations.

Member Engagement — Industry leaders also know that member engagement directly contributes to member and organizational growth. However, engaging members in an effective, efficient and scalable way is easier said than done. The best technology tools include VOC, gamification, email drip marketing campaigns, contextual nurture marketing campaigns, online forums and social networks.

Best in class organizations increase engagement by leveraging their member profiles, using progressive profiling techniques for continuous enrichment, engaging with members in their preferred communication channels (i.e. email, mobile, social network, website chat, telephone) and tracking their member interests and behaviors (via digital footprints). These actions then enable them to deliver personalized, relevant, contextual and predictive member experiences. They also track member responses for every offer so that they don't repeat previously declined offers, tailor offers by member segment and continuously improve offer conversions.

Most member engagement occurs on the website, and most organizations track simple metrics such as page views and time on site. However, a better approach is track keyword searches, navigational paths and repeat visits to particular content or topical areas. This type of implicit information identifies member interests and behaviors that enable the most contextual and effective segmentation and engagement.

Association Management Best Practices in Member Retention

Why do members churn?

The Abila Member Engagement Study reports that "1 in 5 members has canceled or lapsed in the last year." To keep your members' it's helpful to understand why they leave. A member retention best practice is to use surveys to identify why members leave or why they do not renew. The most common reasons include the following:

  1. Lack of value
  2. Lack of interest
  3. Limited time to participate
  4. Budget cuts (for companies) or cost (for individuals)

Additional member renewal best practices include:

  • Periodically audit the renewal process with an aim to simplify. Also, review the incentives, messaging, timing of renewal, and the time and effort required to complete the renewal. Make sure the renewal form is optimized for mobile. Renewal forms are a great place to use A/B or multivariate testing.
  • Don't just send a renewal invoice. Instead, use a multiple flight nurture campaign to engage before, during and after the renewal. Good renewal messages are personalized, succinct and reference the member's tenure (how long they have been a member). They also recap services or benefits the member has participated, share benefits yet to enjoy, reinforce the associations vision and purpose, offer a simple and fast renewal form with easy payment options, and are from a real person with their contact information.
  • Consider offering discounts for early or automated renewals.
  • Finally, implement a member recovery nurture campaign for members which have lapsed.

Recognition — Member recognition is highly correlated to tenure and financial contributions. Leaders use recognition programs to stimulate engagement and increase tenure. For example, creating exclusive groups whose eligibility is based on engagement will increase engagement and deliver a feeling of standout appreciation.

This can be supplemented with a private venue, such as dedicated online forum or social network, that offers unique content and assets to group members. It's important to keep the benefits valuable and exclusive for these programs to flourish.