Membership Renewal Guide

3. Which communications methods to use

Membership Renewal Guide Table of Contents

Common practice:

Our Membership Renewal Survey results, as well as those of the much larger Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report (from MGI), suggest that the preferred communications methods are:

  • Email
  • Direct Mail
  • Phone

It’s interesting to note that phone is still in the mix. In fact, the MGI report found that “Associations reporting 80% or higher renewal rates are significantly more likely to indicate they employ staff, board member, and/or peer member phone calls as part of their renewal campaigns.”

However, how you employ these three communication methods, in what combination, as well as your timing and messaging will depend on a number of factors, including:

  • your renewal cycle – is it an annual cycle with all members renewing at the same time or is it a rolling cycle where each member renews on the anniversary date based on when they joined? With annual cycles, you need to reach every member simultaneously – which means you might want to employ a multi-channel approach to ensure you get each member's attention. For rolling renewals, you can set up (and test) a series of communications and send these automatically to each member based on their anniversary date.
  • your members’ communications preferences – for example, if the majority of your membership has indicated that they prefer email, that is a great communications method to use. If, however, you have a large member component that prefer to continue to receive hard copy communications via mail, then you may need to focus your efforts on a direct mail campaign, possibly with telephone follow-up.

Basic 3-prong Multi-channel Strategy

Renewal management newcomers might want to consider the following three-prong, multi-channel approach (resources permitting) – in this order:

  1. Email renewal notification: If you offer online renewal and payment processing, it would seem to make sense that your initial renewal reminder would be via email – with a link to and clear instructions on the online renewal process.
  2. Reminder letter via mail: next, for those who do not renew after the first email notice, you could send a direct mail letter. Depending on your processes, this letter might include an invoice and also offer instructions for optional online renewal and payment (e.g., include the URL).
  3. A phone call – from staff and/or volunteers can be a powerful final step for those members who have not renewed after the first two notices.  This offers an opportunity for your staff, board members or renewal/recruitment volunteers to address the member’s questions or reservations first-hand.

If your renewal cycle is an annual one – where all members renew at the same time – you can also consider including renewal reminders in other communications vehicles, such as:

  • in any publications (online or off), such as e-newsletters or mailed newsletters
  • on your website – message on your home page and/or members-only area
  • what about sending a post card to all members with instructions for online renewal?

Tips for Renewal Communications:

In an ASAE article - The Care and Feeding of Your Renewal Strategy – Monica Williams offers some practical suggestions about renewal communications (both the message and the medium) – here are some excerpts from her article:

  • Tailor the renewal message to your acquisition message. Is your message consistent across your marketing materials? Review your renewal copy to make sure you're reselling what they originally bought. This is especially important when converting new members toward the end of their first year.
  • Vary your package. Redundant mailings are easy to ignore. Change the look of your mailer to get people to notice your message. This raises the cost slightly, but improved response rates will offset any increases.
  • Test methods. E-mail, phone, and mail are all valid channels for renewals. If your organization sends an e-newsletter, add a renewal reminder during "expiration month." Stick reminder cards in your monthly magazine. Create a pop-up for users when they log in to the members section of your Web site. Make it hard for them to forget to renew.
  • Test packages. While printing small quantities may drive up the cost of your renewal series, testing within your series is well worth the investment. Track by effort and by total response of the test and control groups. You'll want to select the methods and determine which ones drive the highest response for the least money.
  • Keep it simple. With renewals and acquisitions, keep the offer simple. If it's too confusing — or if members perceive it as misleading — you'll get complaints instead of renewals.

In a post – Membership Renewal Should be More Than a BusinessTransation – Lowell Applebaum (Association 141 blog) also offers some tips on renewal communications - here is an excerpt from his post:

  • Invoice first? ...I really believe that in today’s membership world, the first formal renewal ‘ask’ should be electronic. I’d rather click through, pay through the site, and be done in under three minutes. The benefits to this are a win-win all around – saves the member time and postage/finding a fax machine, online renewal should be tied to the AMS so that upon payment renewal is immediately acknowledged, and best of all – not printing an invoice and mailing it saves costs. Yes, if I do not renew after the first email/e-outreach then send the invoice – but give me the chance to do it online first!
  • Missing the Warm Fuzzies –...When the time comes for membership renewal, the ‘ask’ can start from a place of conversation and appreciation. Thanking the member for their ongoing participation, recognizing that their affiliation with the association has made it a more rich and vibrant community. With the help of members, some highlights of what has been accomplished, and what the association is looking forward to in the year ahead.

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