Make 2022 the Year of Member Retention

February 16, 2022
Thomas Altman

I spent the last year speaking with as many Association professionals as I possibly could. I ended up having hundreds of conversations, every one of them enlightening. But one message jumped out from those conversations that I think is universally valuable. That message is simultaneously obvious and surprising: Member retention is the most valuable part of running an Association.

Let me say that again. Member retention is the most valuable part of running an Association. 

And it’s not just for the obvious reasons. Even Associations that have retention rates in the high 90% need to understand why and how members renew. Because at its most fundamental level the decision to renew is a vote for the value your organization provides to its members. And understanding that value (or the different channels of value that appeal to different segments) allows you to stay innovative and ahead of the curve.

Put simply, understanding member retention is understanding the value proposition of your Association.

Put urgently, investing in member retention is investing in creating value for your members. And you need to start today.

Member retention is the key activity that sustains a healthy and growing association, even when retention rates are already high. Without putting in the time and effort to understand why and how your members renew, you are making yourself vulnerable to the shifting winds of change. Or even worse, you’re making your organization susceptible to becoming irrelevant to the communities you serve.

For example, I spoke with tons of organizations that did not have a renewal problem pre-covid because membership was either required to attend an annual conference or trade show. Or the discount members got to the event was so great that renewing the membership was a no-brainer. A lot of these organizations had 90+% renewal rates.

But then covid hit and in-person events were postponed and canceled. This is where things got interesting. Organizations that invested heavily in member retention (even though retention rates were already high) knew exactly how to pivot and keep retention high. 

These organizations understood that attending the event for its own sake, or getting a hefty discount wasn’t the deep motivating factor for becoming a member. That value is temporary. It doesn’t stick. 

Organizations that had a robust member outreach and retention program understood that the value wasn’t the event. It was the knowledge building. It was the community. It was the value that the association provided back to that community through advocacy. So when the event needed to be canceled, it was easy to reach out and get people to renew.

This type of pivot is only possible if you know your value proposition in advance. And the easiest, most effective way of understanding your value proposition is to invest in member retention.

I’m going to follow up this post with a series of articles that will help you build a robust member retention program (I’ve got a lot of cool content planned for 2022). But for now, I hope any Association professionals reading this takes a moment to make member retention a priority for 2022.

Thomas Altman

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