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The Ultimate Membership Renewal Guide

Author: Matthew Baggetta
April 24, 2024
🕑 14 min read

Your members are your organization’s lifeblood — and while one of your top activities is likely bringing in new members, one of the most common challenges associations face is a low membership renewal rate.

People are busy and forgetful, and paying annual membership dues can be inconvenient and low on the most well-intentioned member’s priority list.

According to the 2023 Membership Marketing Benchmark Report, 24% of associations saw a decline in member renewal. This is down 27% from 2022, however, 45% of associations report that their renewal rate has remained the same. Our goal in this guide is to show you how to increase your renewal rates and get out of a slump – whether your rates decline or stay the same. 

Having an engaged and growing membership is key for any nonprofit, club, or association that wants to run a healthy and impactful organization. After all: replacing members with new ones is way harder than keeping the ones you already have.

So let’s look at all the ways you can keep your retention rates high.

In our comprehensive guide below, you’ll learn all about:

  • What does membership renewal mean?
  • Why do healthy membership renewals matter?
  • How to start improving the membership renewal process
  • Show off your member benefits
  • Create mentorship programs
  • Boost member engagement
  • Don’t forget: Be kind, remind!
  • Communicate on the right channels
  • Set up a multi-channel strategy
  • Thank you members for renewing
  • Offer incentives and discounts
  • Automate your membership renewals

About the Data in This Guide

Marketing General’s 2023 Membership Marketing Benchmark Report is chock-full of the stats that can help you make more data-driven decisions about your membership renewal plans. 

But to help save you some time, here’s some of the best data to skim through, including:

  • This report included responses from 960 total participants who are association professionals

  • The member renewal cycle of organizations was:

  • 43% fixed calendar date (all members renew on the same date)

  • 54% membership anniversary date (members renew on their own anniversary date)

  • 3% renew according to other criteria

  • The median membership renewal rate was 85%, which has remained steady over the past couple of years 

  • The median member renewal rate for new members dropped slightly in 2023 to 75%, compared to 78% in 2022 

  • 37% of organizations offered automatic credit card renewals while another 14% offered annual automatic electronic funds transfer (EFT) renewal options 

Click through to claim your 60-day trial of WildApricot to create effective QR codes that will speed up event check-in.

What Does Membership Renewal Mean?

Membership renewal, at its core, is all about keeping the members you’ve worked so hard to recruit to your organization.

Can’t keep existing members around? No amount of effort in acquiring new members will be able to fill this gap.  

Keeping established members provides your organization with a steady stream of income, of course, but it also creates a more diverse member base. Newer members can also benefit from the wisdom and institutional knowledge of seasoned veterans, who’ve had the time to build a community that matters to them.

Why Do Healthy Membership Renewals Matter?

We said it above: NO amount of recruiting can plug a leaky membership base.

Getting members to stick around gives us more than just warm fuzzies — it makes good business sense. As studies have shown, it costs five times as much to recruit and acquire new customers than it does to keep your current one.

The longer a member stays with your association, the higher their lifetime value (LTV) will be with your organization. Think of it this way: if your staff spend a ton of time investing in member recruitment, but your benefits aren’t competitive, your new members will leave for greener pastures. And you’ll be left starting from scratch. Eep!

Not only does it literally pay to keep your current members, but keeping a close eye on renewals can help you spot bigger trends or issues within your organization. Maybe members don’t understand the value they’re getting. Maybe you aren’t reaching out often enough—or too much! Or, oops: what if your website went down during a renewal week?

Low membership renewal rates could point to other issues like:

  • A poor website experience
  • Not using the right tools to encourage members to renew
  • A lack of meaningful engagement with members across their journey
  • Not reaching out to members about renewal at the right time
  • Members not feeling like their needs are being met
  • Members not understanding the full benefits of their membership

Read more: 10 Member Appreciation Day Ideas + 6 Quick Steps to Show You Care! 

But: fret not. When you take the right steps to improve the renewal process, that can translate into major benefits for you and your organization, like:

  • Spending less time doing admin work and more time welcoming and engaging with members
  • Retaining happy members year over year
  • Achieving more consistent renewal revenue
  • Meeting member needs at every point in their journey

Doesn’t sound too shabby right? We agree. Keep reading for the actionable steps you can take now to start reaping the rewards of higher membership renewals!

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How to Start Improving the Renewal Process

Ready to go? Well—wait one sec.

Before you dig in, you’ll first need to do a little prep work to smooth the pathway to an effective renewal process for your members. That way, you’ll be able to assess issues within your current renewals process and understand how to take the right steps to address them

If you’re deciding where to start your renewal process, here are three tips that can help you out:

1. Review Historical Renewal Data

The numbers don’t lie — which is why your data is the first place to start when revamping your membership renewal process.

Dive into your membership management tool to get an understanding of any trends, spikes, dips, or gaps in information you have about when and how your members renew.

Try to answer the following questions:

  • What is your baseline membership renewal rate? What’s your average rate for last year and previous years? Figuring this out helps establish a benchmark for yourself.
  • When did members typically renew? Do most send in their renewal a week after their first set of email reminders? Or is there a significant portion that only renewed after getting a direct phone call from your association? Dig into this timeline.

  • What communication method spurs the most renewals? Do reminder emails really do the job most of the time, or are direct mailers most effective for getting members to act?

2. Conduct an Online Survey

Maybe your historical data is minimal or has gaps.

Maybe you’d like some additional info to supplement all those great data points on renewals.

Either way, getting input directly from your members via an online survey is an effective method to get their valuable feedback.

With a survey, you can ask members about:

  • Their needs
  • Their expectations for your association
  • Where you aren’t living up to them
  • Where you’re hitting the mark
  • Where you have opportunities to grow
  • Whether they’re aware of all the exclusive member benefits you offer

Here’s your chance to get the answers directly from your members and then adjust your efforts to better resonate with their needs. It’s also a low lift! You can deploy the member survey wherever your members prefer to communicate with you:

  • Through a SurveyMonkey survey sent via email
  • Via a poll distributed through your branded social channels
  • A few questions posted directly on your association website for discussion

3. Take a Longer View

Take a look at all your membership renewal initiatives in the past: were they mostly one-off campaigns launched in hopes of a quick boost to renewal rates?

If so, it might be time to take a long-term view of your renewal campaigns and planning.

Take a look at a calendar for the full year ahead. Now, start filling in key dates like those membership renewal deadlines (whether they’re annually, quarterly, etc.) and create a workback schedule for your initiatives to initiate the process earlier.

For example: Instead of sending your first renewal reminder email to members two weeks before their membership expires, try something like this this:

  1. Send the first email six weeks out

  2. Follow up with another email at the four-week mark mark

  3. Send a direct mailer two weeks prior to their membership expiry date

Now, this exact timeline might not work for you (that’s why you’re looking at the data), but this type of nuanced approach can help you get your members when they’re thinking about renewals. It’ll be less ad-hoc, and ultimately more effective.

Don’t forget! – Between renewal deadlines, make sure you have all the latest contact details for your members.

4. Map Out and Understand Your Member Journey

When it comes to retaining and engaging members, optimizing your member experience is everything. But when it comes to how to make it better, it can be difficult to know where to start! But that’s where the member journey can help.

A member journey map follows members from the first time they make first contact—like reaching out on social media, emailing to ask for more information, or attending a recruitment event. Then, it follows their engagement with your organization throughout their years of membership. Essentially, a member journey map should document a member’s entire experience.

Mapping out a member’s typical journey, from first contact to sign up to an engaged lifetime member, can help you identify shortcomings (as well as successes!) in your member experience and make improvements from there.

9 Ways to Improve Your Membership Renewal Process

Now that you’ve done the research and did a deep dive into your renewal process, it’s time for the actionable steps. With these you will keep your members longer, beef up their engagement and make growing your organization smooth sailing.

1. Show Off Your Valuable Member Benefits

You spend countless hours drafting communications, planning events and nurturing relationships with current and prospective members. But are they getting everything they want out of their memberships? Do they even know all the member benefits available to them?

If your member retention is low, the answer is likely no to one or both those questions.

But never fear — you can make positive improvements on both accounts!

To make sure you’re meeting (and exceeding) expectations, regularly assess your members’ needs. Conduct an annual or semi-annual survey (similar to the online surveying we mentioned above) to ask members what they need most from their membership:

  • What benefits resonate deeply with them?

  • What could they live without?

  • What’s missing?

  • Which programs need more development?

  • Are they aware of all their benefits?

  • Do they feel like your member benefits are competitive?

Make adjustments accordingly: members need to feel like you’re listening, not just asking questions with no results.

Next, you’ll need to help current members get the most of the memberships they already have. So, get ready to shout about your membership benefits from the rooftops. It isn’t enough to mention all the great perks members get at your annual meeting. Run through the full list of advantages of belonging to your organization early, often, and across mediums.

That could take shape as:

  • Newsletter member spotlights
  • Sharing upcoming events across your channels
  • Publicizing volunteer opportunities
  • Call attention to educational opportunities
  • Regular social media posts about recent and upcoming programs
  • Promoting discounts and partnerships over email
  • Listing member benefits in an easily accessibly place on your website

The point is: Spread the word far and wide about the spectrum of benefits you provide!

2. Create Mentorship Programs

Go beyond basic networking opportunities in your organization. Give newer or younger members the chance to build connections in your industry and develop their skills with a mentorship program.

By matching seasoned members with younger or newer ones, you’ll add value in the best way possible: creating a community your members can rely on to grow their careers. Experienced members:

  • Offer guidance on forging a career path

  • Point to ways to upgrade their skills

  • Provide tips on how to handle negotiations

  • Support newer members in finding new business opportunities

  • Create new connections for members just getting started

You’ll build community, and a more successful member base.

3. Boost Member Engagement

The 2023 Membership Marketing Benchmark Report revealed just over half of association executives said lack of engagement was why members didn’t renew.

So, it’s crucial to keep your members plugged into your organization. How can you do that? Well…

  • Website. Your website should be an easy way for members to find news, participate in online community, register for events, explore upcoming programming, register for courses or certifications, find benefits, and manage their member profile and annual dues renewal. A hard to-navigate-website could stand between you and better member engagement.

  • Social media. Engage on the channels where your members are most active! Share inspiring content about the work you do, advertise upcoming events and programming, create interactive content, and post your members’ content.

  • Events. Events are also a great way to provide additional value to members by tapping into their other reasons for joining your organization. For example, if you’re a professional association, networking events that will provide a professional development opportunity for members are sure to be valuable.

  • Community. One of the most valuable things you can provide your members is community. Community is better than networking because it’s based on relationships that matter—so do everything you can to develop one, whether an online community or offline one.

Read more: Your Complete Guide To Increase Member Engagement

4. Don’t Forget: Be Kind, Remind!

Your members are busy — between personal and professional obligations, most are likely stretched thin.

That’s why it’s important to remind them that their membership is coming up for renewal. And don’t be afraid to gently remind them across mediums and more than once!

For example: Based on the 2023 Membership Marketing Report, associations use a mix of channels (think email, paid ads, text, and mail).

Email is the most common communication channel, with associations using emails a median of five times per member to spur renewals.

A close second is paid ads, which associations employed a median of three times per member for renewals.

5. Communicate on the Right Channels

You don’t need to proverbially put all your eggs in one basket when it comes to communicating to your members. One single communication channel (as in a medium like a phone call, a letter, social media, etc.) won’t resonate with every single member on your roster.

Instead, send out your renewal notices and reminders through a few different communication methods.

The most common ways to send out your renewals is via email, text, mail, and phone calls. You can set up a process that incorporates a couple (or all) of these communication channels, depending on which resonate most with your unique members.

To help you nail the right communication combo, timing to send your renewal notices, and target your messaging, keep these two things in mind:

  1. Your renewal cycle. Do your members renew at the same time every year, or does each member renew on their own rolling anniversary date? With annual cycles, you’ll need to reach out to all your members at the same time, across channels. With rolling renewals, set up a series of messages (maybe start with an email, then a mailer, then a phone call) to auto-send when they’re approaching their membership anniversary.

  2. How members prefer to communicate. Not every member wants to communicate the same way, but your member surveys should let you know what your member base prefers on the whole. Follow the feedback: if they love email, send them emails; if direct mail is better, send them a campaign and follow up with a phone call.

6. Set Up a Multi-Channel Strategy

For those who are starting their multi-channel renewal strategy from scratch, don’t sweat — we’ve put together a quick series to help you hit the ground running:

  1. Email renewal. If members can renew and pay their dues online, send your first renewal reminder via email. Keep it short and sweet with a link to your renewal page and clear instructions on the process.

  1. Mailed reminder letter. For members who don’t respond to the email notice, create a direct mailer. You can enclose an invoice and instructions on how to renew online (you can even include the URL or a QR code!).

  1. A phone call.  Finally, schedule a personal call from one of your staff members or volunteers. A call can be a high-impact way to show members that they’re valued. Staff or volunteers can also take a moment to address any questions or concerns right on the spot.

For annual renewal cycles, you can also enclose renewal reminders in other communications. You don’t have to wait to send dedicated emails or mailers just for renewals to remind your members!

  • Online or print publications. Try e-newsletters, mailed newsletters or magazines

  • Your website. Include a message on your home page and/or members-only area

  • Direct mail: Send a postcard to all members with instructions for online renewal

7. Thank Your Members for Renewing

A quick “thank you” goes a long way to show your members how much you value them. That’s why a renewal isn’t done until you’ve shown your appreciation for their continued membership.

A thank-you note highlights how their dues lets your organization:

  • Foster community
  • Build industry connections
  • Host high-impact events
  • Continue serving your members top-tier opportunities

Make sure you promote the amazing work your association did in the last year that engaged and delighted your members. And above all: emphatically express your gratitude to them as an individual.

Without their support, you couldn’t do the important work you’re doing.

Set up an auto-email or mailer to thank every member with this kind of targeted messaging after they’ve renewed. Or you can deploy a “thank you” page as soon as a member pays their dues online.

Try a combo of these different methods to see what works best for your unique member base.

Read more: How to Create a Member Spotlight (+ Sample Questions and Examples)

8. Give Incentives and Discounts

Sometimes members need a gentle nudge to get them across the finish line and renew. And one effective way to nudge them to renewal is through incentives or discounts.

According to the Membership Marketing Report, associations leveraged a number of discounts for punctual renewals, including:

  • Conference or convention discounts (54%)

  • Dues discount for the first year (45%)

  • Monthly or quarterly installment dues (39%)

  • Additional months free, e.g., 15 months for the price of 12 (36%)

  • Multi-year dues discount (34%)

  • Product discount, coupons, voucher (31%)

  • Free trial (32%)

  • Member referral incentives (19%)

  • Free gifts or premiums (19%)

  • Money-back guarantee (19%)

  • Drawing or contests (14%)

9. Automate Your Membership Renewal

You don’t need the pain of admin work. Let technology do some of the work for you so that you can focus on big-picture tasks (like delivering on all those great membership benefits!).

Automating your membership renewals means you can:

  • Free up more of your staff’s time to focus on engaging with members

  • Send out auto-reminders via email to members whose memberships are expiring

  • Collect and process dues payments online

  • Let members choose the right renewal option for them (i.e., one-year membership renewal or a multi-year membership with a discount)

  • Collect your members’ latest contact information along with their renewal request

Read more: Your Ultimate Guide to Membership Management Software For Nonprofits

Moving Forward With Your New-and-Improved Membership Renewal Process

Now that you’re prepped with the tactics you need to assess and improve your membership renewal process, it’s time to get started with your own!

Take your first steps by building your own membership site.

WildApricot can do far more than just automate membership renewal — we can automate away other admin tasks as well. Remove some of those admin tasks from your to-do list so you can focus on high-impact projects that better serve your members. Start your free trial today!

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