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9 Proven Ways to Increase Member Retention Right Now

Author: Tatiana Morand
May 25, 2020
🕑 9 min read

Member retention is always a concern for membership organizations, but never has it been more pressing than during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Retaining your members is key to ensuring the long-term survival of your organization… but how can you make sure you’re providing enough value so that they’ll continue to stick around?

To help you out, I spoke with a handful of membership organizations who’ve found success increasing their member and donor retention rates.

Here are nine of the top ways they’re doing it, and that you can try today.

1. Create This Kind of Offer for Lapsed Members

Have you ever abandoned your online shopping cart, then gotten an email asking you to check out and reconsider with an additional discount code?

This tactic has definitely worked on me… so why not create something similar for your membership?

The idea here is to send unengaged, or lapsed members something enticing to re-engage them.

Here are some ideas:

  • A discount on one month of membership
  • Limited-time free access to your resources
  • A free invite to an event

If you choose to go the discount route, research by Marketing Land found that win-back offers that included dollar-off discounts worked 200% better than offers with percent discounts.

Even a simple appreciation letter thanking someone for their membership can work wonders. This is the strategy of Patty Foley, membership chair of Friends of Lucy Robbins Welles Library. She simply sends a yearly appreciation letter to her members, which she attributes to raising their retention rate over 90%.

All that’s in the letter is an explanation of how a members’ contributions have made an impact on the organization with a request to renew their membership.

2. Reduce Buyer’s Remorse with This Tactic

Have you ever purchased something only to feel dissatisfied with it immediately afterwards? That’s called Buyer’s Remorse.

Sometimes this happens to new members when they sign up, but don’t get the attention they expect.

Lowell Aplebaum, Senior Director of Membership for The Society of Neuroscience offers a solution: “a robust, vibrant welcome stream is one of the strongest investments an organization can make in keeping its members.”

That’s because it helps educate the member about the services and resources they can access and point them in the right direction for the questions they have (but may be too shy to ask). The result is that they feel much more confident about the decision they made to become a member.

Over the years, I’ve seen many great new member welcome emails. Here are five elements they typically include:

  1. A personalized message from a real person at your organization
  2. A brief introduction on the background of your organization
  3. A list of member benefits they can now access
  4. Links to helpful resources on your website
  5. A clear description of what will happen next, like an invitation to an event, or a heads up to look out for the next newsletter

In fact, we’ve put together a complete guide on how to write your new member welcome email because of how important it is when it comes to member retention.


3. These Three Strategies Make Current Members Happier

There are many tried and tested membership retention strategies that work to retain (and attract) members no matter what your organization offers.

The two most popular ones I’ve come across (also confirmed by research conducted by the Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report) are:

  1. Encourage a thriving, engaged community of like-minded individuals. In this case, putting on more networking events, mentorship programs, and creating an online member directory can all help to boost member retention.
  2. Create specialized resources, and educational content. The more you publish industry reports, educational webinars, or offer member discounts, the better.

A good rule of thumb is to ask yourself: why did members join in the first place? What kind of value were they looking for?

Then, once you’ve answered that, you can continue to create programming that will create that kind of value for them.

Connecting activities you’re running to a larger cause can also make members want to stick around.

For example, the Hiawatha Bike Club held a fundraiser to support their local food bank. For every mile of bike rides they reported, 50 cents would be added towards the goal of $2000.

This allowed members to remain safely socially distanced while continuing to do the activity that they loved, as well as helping out a great cause.

And they succeeded: in less than 3 weeks, over 50 members rode more than 4000 miles to meet the $2000 fundraising goal!

This helped build a sense of community, and made members feel like being part of the club was also helping them help society at large — a great way to keep them coming back.

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4. Do This to Find Out Why Members Left

Have you ever left a job and been asked for an exit interview?

The reason exit interviews so important is because employers can learn valuable information that can be used to improve staff retention.

This same principle applies to membership organizations. When a member leaves, ask them if they’d like to share why they have chosen to leave.

Some of the most common reasons I’ve come across include:

  • They actually just left the industry
  • They don’t feel engaged enough
  • They’re not getting enough value out of your membership
  • They think it’s too expensive
  • They simply forgot to renew (which is a great opportunity to remind them!)

If you notice any trends in the member feedback you collect, it’s a good idea to change things around so more members don’t leave. Plus, you might be able to attract old members back.


5. Create a Limited Membership Level

Sometimes members leave because they don’t feel they’re getting their worth from the dues they pay.

One easy thing you can do to keep these members active is to create a new membership level within your membership model.

This new membership level offers limited access to your organization for a lesser price.

The lesser cost of this membership level is easier to justify, while still giving access to some of the core resources of your organization.

For example, one organization I know offers access to only the member directory for a small monthly fee. Another created a “Friend” level which only allows access to monthly meetings.

If you choose to follow this strategy, a word of caution: don’t make your limited membership too attractive, otherwise you may end up getting a lot of current members downgrading their dues!


6. Try Out This Solution

If you’re still collecting member information on paper, taking cash and checks for dues, and communicating with your members via snail mail, there’s a good chance you’re actually pushing people away.

Technology is constantly changing our behavior, and nowadays people have a much shorter attention span and expect instantaneous results.

Unfortunately, if your organization isn’t keeping up with technology, it’s falling behind, and any other organization using the latest tech will naturally attract more people (especially the younger generations).

This is especially true considering the effects of social distancing on our society these days. Since we’re not able to meet up in large groups, it’s key to find virtual ways to replicate the connections that you might have had in person previously.

Fortunately, there are simple software solutions designed to modernize any membership organization quickly and easily.

This type of software is called Membership Management Software, and using it, your organization can:

  • Offer online registration for membership and events.
  • Allow members to access and update their profiles.
  • Instantly process payments and invoices online.
  • Improve member communication through automated emails, newsletters, reminders, and invoices.
  • Build a professional-looking website complete with member directories, event calendars, downloadable resources, a blog, and more.
  • Create a full contact database that’s easy to search, filter, and update.
  • Access financial reports, analytics, and membership summaries in seconds.
  • and more.

If you think your organization could benefit from using this type of software, we offer a free, 60-day trial of our own Membership Management Software called WildApricot.

WildApricot is the #1 rated Membership Management Software used by over 25,000 associations, clubs, and nonprofits around the world.

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7. Make Sure Old Members Aren’t Scaring Them Away

Take the case of a youth hockey coach who quits part-way through his first season of volunteer service, because he’s getting too much abuse from certain over-competitive parents of the young players in the organization.

Or the community soup kitchen that just can’t seem to keep volunteers. They peel veggies for a few weeks and then drift away – not because of the work or the constituents served or anything to do with the way the organization itself is run, but because of one sharp-tongued kitchen helper who makes new people feel inadequate and unwelcome.

Or the charitable organization that must rely on the same small core of members to run all of its fundraising events, because new members tend to volunteer once and not step up again.

  • Were those newbies isolated at the event, stuck handing out programs at the gate, while the old-timers appropriated to themselves all the “fun” jobs?
  • Were they were thrown in too deep, too soon – set to man an information booth and field public questions for which, as new members, they didn’t yet have the answers?
  • Did anyone else even talk to them?

We know that one of the most powerful reasons why people join and volunteer with any organization is for the social aspects. A sense of shared purpose. A sense of connection, in this increasingly wired but humanly disconnected world…

We also know, unfortunately, that there’s an unattractive side to human nature that has a way of showing up whenever people are brought together in groups: the tendency to guard territory and power. And it’s a fair bet that in any organization, you’ve got at least one “old hand” whose need to control is, well, out of control.

If an established member feels threatened by a competent new member and reacts with hostility or unfriendliness, it may be damaging your membership rolls or your cause more than you know.

To stop this from happening, make sure you have a strong member onboarding program that helps new members to learn the ropes and gives them a guide to your world. Giving longstanding members a chance to mentor new members can also help them continue to feel included rather than worrying that they’ll be displaced.


8. Figure Out What Members Are Doing Right

Every organization has some members that stick around longer than others — it’s just a fact.

And you may already know who those members are, but you might not know what exactly they’re doing that gets them to stick around.

Are they posting more often in your discussion groups? Are they participating in more events?

If you can determine what the key activities are to keep members engaged in your organization, you can drive more members to those activities.

For example, if you see that only a few members are joining your online training webinars, but that those who do end up loving them and being highly engaged, you can send out more emails to remind non-attendees that they exist. You could also provide social proof on your sign-up page to show that people who have already attended love them.

You just have to figure out which activities that keep members around longer, and then drive more members to take those actions.


9. Give Members this Option

Sometimes, members just aren’t in the position to continue paying for or using your membership.

This is particularly true during periods of recession like the one we’re currently experiencing, during which many households are experiencing additional financial strain or might not be able to take part in activities due to additional care responsibilities.

But instead of only allowing them to cancel, why not give them the option to pause their membership?

That way, they can continue to receive updates and remain part of your community. When they can participate in your membership again, they’ll feel more motivated to do so.

On your side, you’ll still have a record of their membership, so that you won’t have to learn all about them from scratch a second time.

PS: If you’re already using WildApricot, here’s how you can do this. 


If You’d Like More Ways to Increase Member Retention…

If you’d like more sure-fire strategies on how to keep your members longer, listen to this free webinar with nonprofit legal expert Erin McClarty to learn how being more intentional about your infrastructure, partnerships and contracts can help you keep growing members steadily.

Or, if you’d just like some more quick tips, check out our article called 12 Practical Ways To Engage and Retain Members in Today’s World.

Remember: retaining your membership isn’t just a one-time activity. It should be something that’s kept in mind throughout the whole member lifecycle, not just when it’s renewal time.

To keep members around for the long haul, you should be focusing on building better relationships with them from day one.

All the best with retaining your membership!

Read More: 3 Ways a Welcome Package Can Affect Your Donor Relationships

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