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12 Practical Ways To Engage and Retain Members in Today’s World

Sonia Urlando Avatar
Sonia Urlando
Published on September 27, 2022

Your association’s members go through many steps in their membership journey before signing up. This journey can be long (and often expensive) which is why associations think carefully about what steps they can take to retain the members who complete it.

According to Amy Gallo of the Harvard Business Review, “acquiring a new customer is anywhere from five to 25 times more expensive than retaining an existing one.” That’s because of the cost that go into marketing and outreach.

But once a member has signed up, they bring tons of value to your association! Your association can collect membership dues and provide worthwhile content without investing the time and money into re-capturing their interest. That’s why it’s important to keep up the effort to engage your members once they’ve joined.

Ready for your association to improve how you retain members? We’ll explore 12 strategies your organization can implement to engage members and keep them around for years to come. Whether you’re launching a new association or you’re well-established, these tips aim to be practical for most associations, no matter the size. So let’s get started!

1. Discover why your members joined (and do more of it!)

The top reasons people join associations are to network with others in their field, for continuing education or professional certification and to access specialized information. Others join associations for their own unique reasons, like to attend webinars or advance their careers.

Knowing members’ motives for joining is the first step to retaining members. Make sure your association is delivering the value members want and expect.

Imagine a member joined because of their interest in your association’s online classes. But then your organization decides to pivot back to primarily in-person instruction. You might disappoint members and risk losing them!

Despite the importance of knowing why your members joined, many associations don’t track their members’ reasons for joining! If you’re in this boat, you’re in luck! There are a few ways you can learn this information:

  • For new members: Right on your new member application form, you can add a field where they can write or select their reason for joininga field.
  • For existing members: Get curious! Send out a survey to learn about their reasons for joining. You can send out a survey by email, during events or even use any one on one conversations as an opportunity to ask.

Once you start gathering this data, you can focus on providing the benefits your new and current members want. Keep in mind that your members’ interests may change over the years, so consider surveying them on an ongoing basis.

Here are some sample questions you can use for your current members:

  1. What should our organization continue doing?
  2. What should our organization stop doing?
  3. Which benefits do you take the most advantage of? (check all that apply)
  4. Would you recommend our organization to a friend? (1- no, 10- definitely)
  5. Why did you give that rating in question 4?

Be sure to vary your question types to make your survey easy to fill out. Offer multiple choice and rating options when possible and provide only a few short answer questions at the end to encourage members to see your survey through to completion.

2. Remind members about your benefits—often!

Does your association have a dedicated onboarding process to let members know about your benefits? What about when you add or change benefits? Sometimes associations will end up with members who aren’t aware of all of their benefits. Or, an organization will launch a new program and forget to devote enough resources to marketing, resulting in low engagement.

Getting the word out is easier than you might think! Send marketing emails whenever you launch a new initiative and refer to ongoing benefits and programs in your newsletter. This will keep both new and current members informed about what your association has to offer. Plus, reminding members about your benefits can be a helpful tool for retaining those in danger of lapsing.

Include detailed information about your benefits on your website. That way, new members will know what they stand to gain by signing up, and current members will be able to easily access your programs and resources.

Last, as a proactive measure, make sure you have a scalable and consistent onboarding process for all new members so they’re aware of all your benefits right away. The easiest way to do this is to send your onboarding materials in your new member confirmation email.

3. Create a memorable member onboarding experience

Retaining your members starts from the moment they join. Onboarding your members is a proactive way to keep them informed and engaged. When members first join, you’ll need to take several steps to help them find the activities and resources they joined your association for.

To help, your onboarding process should:

  • Welcome them. Your onboarding email is your new members’ first impression of what it’s like to be a member at your association. Personalize each message to welcome them by name. As they interact with your organization further and you learn more about them, you can add more personal details to your messages to create a membership experience tailored to their interests.
  • Teach them how to find content on your website. Your website should be intuitive for all of your members, but it never hurts to help direct new members to your members-only resources. Provide basic instructions for accessing your content and consider suggesting new or popular content for them to check out first.
  • Share any onboarding materials or documents. If your association has any documents to share with new members, attach them to your onboarding email. That way, your members will be able to easily access them later for future reference.

If you’re interested in automating your onboarding emails, your membership management software should have or integrate with communication tools. Create templates for each of your onboarding messages and configure your communication tools to populate them with the right data—adding in that personalized touch!

4. Win back unengaged members (before they leave!)

Know the signs of a disengaged member! If you can identify members at risk of lapsing, you can take action to win them back. You can use your member database to keep an eye on engagement rates and find out what makes a member at risk of lapsing.

Here are some examples of specific “triggers” or criteria of members at risk of lapsing:

  • Any member who hasn’t attended the last three events
  • Any member who hasn’t updated their profile in the last year
  • Any member who hasn’t opened any of your emails in the last three months

When one of these triggers occurs, make a note of the member’s profile in your database. Then, you can create an action plan to win them back.

Now that you know which members are unengaged, you can send them a “win-back” email! This should be a special offer, just for them! (Bonus: If you understand their reasons for joining, your special offer can be tailored to their interests!) The value you offer at-risk members could be a discount, an invitation to a special event or simply a request to chat.

5. Give them a good goodbye with an exit interview

Have you ever moved on from a job and completed an exit interview with Human Resources?

Businesses use exit interviews to learn how they can improve their management and reduce employee turnover. The same goes for exit interviews with lapsed members! These meetings providing you with insight into how your association may need to change to retain members.

Sharlyn Lauby of HRBartender suggests including “a solid plan to review and act on those results. With solid information, you can incorporate positive change and, hopefully, reduce the need for exit interviews.”

Every time a member lapses, ask them to take 15 minutes to speak with you on the phone about their experience with your organization. Then, based on what the interview reveals, make a plan to change your operations, if necessary, to prevent more members from lapsing for the same reasons.

6. Signal boost your benefits with clear value propositions

According to the 2022 Membership Benchmarking Report, the top three reasons members don’t renew their membership are:

  • Lack of engagement from the organization
  • Forgetting to renew
  • Lack of value

These stats show just how important it is to communicate with your members often! Make your association’s value known and remind members regularly about your association’s benefits and why they’re worth sticking around for.

Remember how most members join associations due to career, learning and networking benefits? Lots of associations may offer these benefits. So make it clear: why are your association’s benefits better than others’?

Whenever you launch a new program, be sure it has a compelling value proposition. A value proposition is essentially your association’s sales pitch and should include the following elements:

  • Benefits your members will receive
  • Why your association is unique
  • How your association’s programs can solve members’ problems

Having a clear value proposition for your content will also make your marketing efforts easier. When your team knows exactly what your audience can gain from your membership program, you can create highly targeted marketing messages.

7. Engage members everywhere with online events

Events are one of the best ways to engage your members!

Events check a lot of boxes when it comes to members want: networking, learning, accessing specialized information, having unique experiences and meeting new people. But not everyone will be able to easily (or comfortably) gather in-person. Members who live in remote locations or those who prefer to stay at home will appreciate being offered online opportunities.

Here are a few tips to help your association engage members virtually:

  • Engage members through your website by regularly creating fresh content
  • Enable two-way communication and alert members of your new content on online platforms (blog, forum, social media)
  • Use social media to get in touch with your members and share your latest work and benefits
  • Invest in an online community so members can communicate and network with one another
  • Host virtual events like webinars, panel discussions, workshops and courses

Many of your members may have come to prefer online events (a trend that emerged during the COVID-19 pandemic). Continuing to offer these opportunities long-term will help give your entire audience a comfortable and engaging way to participate. Equip your website to handle online communication, events and other virtual interactions.

8. Make getting involved easy

Your association puts a lot of effort into creating engaging content. Make sure that the steps to get involved aren’t an obstacle for members to get through before they can participate.

Here are a few ways your association can make it easy for members to get involved:

  • Fast registration. Ever been excited to sign up for an event, only to be stopped in your tracks by a long registration form? Members are less likely to complete long registration forms—meaning they’ll be less likely to get involved in activities. While you sometimes need extra information, choose what’s most important. A streamlined course registration software solution can help you filter and organize information and significantly speed up the process.
  • Accessible sign-up forms. Registration forms are a common stumbling block for accessibility. So make sure your forms follow accessibility best practices such as using text instruction for each information field and signifying required fields with an asterisk.
  • Automated email marketing. With some planning and preparation, you can let members know about upcoming activities and send them reminders! They’ll get invitations to get involved right to their inbox (or phone, if you set up SMS notifications). With your events top-of-mind, they’ll be more likely to attend.
  • Buddy system.Sometimes attending an event is daunting to do alone. Help your members meet one another by sparking communication on your website, forums, social media or elsewhere. Connect members to one another to break down barriers to getting involved.

Your association’s software should help you automate many aspects of your member organization, allowing members to quickly access the content they want. But it doesn’t hurt to have your team ready to provide direct assistance if needed.

9. Diversify your events

Keep your event calendar full with a diverse selection of events. This can include virtual, hybrid and in-person events, as well as different types of opportunities.

What activities your members most interested in? You might already know—or you might be ready to experiment! To nurture a diverse membership, your association should hold diverse events! Your events could include everything from galas that encourage more relaxed socialization to lectures that are informative but require members to sit and listen quietly.

When planning your events, make sure your event management tools are up to the task! For example, a hybrid event will need live-streaming and chat tools. All of your event software should also integrate with your membership software so you can get some data. These tools will help you easily track which members attended and participated, and what actions they took afterwards!

With data, you can better understand if you event was successful at engaging members. Over time, you can learn what types of events your members like. You can also follow up with marketing campaigns designed for their interests. And you can invest your time, resources and energy towards what your members truly respond to.

10. Set it and forget it—automate member renewals!

Save time and stress with automatic renewals!

Sometimes members lapse not because they aren’t interested in your association anymore, but because they forgot to pay their membership dues. Suddenly, they lose access to your offerings and opportunities to get involved.

You can change the course of the member renewal process beginning from the moment members first sign up. From onboarding onwards, encourage them to enroll in your automatic renewal program. That way, their membership dues will be paid on time every month (or year) without you or your members needing to take any extra steps. Members get the perk of uninterrupted service and access to your association’s benefits.

Automatic billing also provides your association with a more reliable cash flow. If your association has different payment plans for various membership tiers, your billing software should allow you to see your future income for each payment plan.

Get ready to have more control over your budget, because automation allows you to accurately predict how much revenue your association can expect each month.

11. Sweeten the deal and scale up your incentives

What is your membership pricing model? Is it built for growth? Flexibility? Clearly defined, high-value incentives offered at different membership levels, will not only help boost your member retention, but also sweeten the deal to get members to upgrade.

Knowing how you will scale up your association early on can also create a smoother transition for your members in the long run. Regpack’s guide to selling online courses outlines a few ways associations can grow programs like online courses:

  • Offer discounts to repeat customers. You can reward your members for participating in your programs and encourage them to participate in your other activities. Offer discounts to long-term members or members who have already made a previous purchase, such as attending one of your courses or buying tickets to your last event.
  • Collect feedback. As mentioned, the best way to learn what your members want from your association is to ask them. After a member participates in an activity such as a course, webinar, or event, send them a survey to learn about their experience. This not only engages them, but also provides opportunities for your organization to improve in the future.
  • Use smart reporting tools. As you collect data on your members and activities, add it to your membership database. Then, use your reporting tools to identify trends and analyze data to ensure you are making data-driven decisions.

Growing your association may come with obstacles and changes, which is why it’s always important to touch base with your members to better understand what they want from your association as it continues to develop.

12. Spark communication among members

Many of your members join your association to connect with other members. You can help facilitate these connections by providing your members with ways to get in touch easily online or in-person.

A few communication tools you could offer include:

  • Online forums
  • Direct messaging
  • Group meet-ups
  • Interest groups
  • Group chat creation features
  • Comments sections
  • Member directories

Public forums and messages can also be a useful way to engage your members and encourage conversations. Consider ways you can start conversations between members to get them to engage with one another. Once a member makes connections with others in your community, they’ll be more likely to stay due to the friendships they made.

Keep members coming back again and again

Engaging and retaining members is never a one-and-done process. To continually engage your members and keep them interested in your association, take steps to regularly assess their needs, offer a variety of opportunities to get involved and be ready to make changes at your association. Good luck!



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