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4 Steps to Increase Your Association’s Member Retention

Membership Liz Dupont

Increasing member retention rates is at the forefront of any association’s mind. And, it’s a common adage that it costs five times as much to gain a new customer as it does to retain an old one.

This principle is the cornerstone of all businesses, but it’s especially true of the ones that are based off of an ongoing service or membership basis. Associations, we’re looking at you.

Turnover is inevitable in any sphere, and associations are no exception. Member loss can occur for a number of innocuous reasons; perhaps the member changed industries or simply forgot to pay their dues. However, more often than not member loss can be chalked up to one overarching cause: the member ceased to find the association valuable.

In a professional association where a large portion of your revenue comes from member dues, loss due to a perceived lack of value is a significant problem. Thankfully, even members who have been lapsed for a long period of time can be brought back with a strategic win-back campaign and you can increase that member retention rate.

Here we’ll go over some of the basics of win-back marketing, and cover some best practices so you can perform your most effective campaign yet.


The basics of a win-back

A win-back campaign is pretty straightforward. The end goal is to attract those members that have lapsed or left the association using a variety of marketing tools.

Some businesses approach win-back entirely through email blasts, but you, as a savvy association, will want to use a variety of channels to reach your target.

The successful win-back campaign will have a number of elements, but we’ll start at the very beginning: your own initial research.


Step 1: Discovery

The first step to increase your member retention and get back lapsed members will be to discover and understand the “why” behind your members’ lapse.

Now, we discussed earlier that members lapse for a variety of reasons, some outside of your control (i.e., the member changed industries). However, there will be some reasons that are within your power to fix, and these will be things you can address as part of your campaign.

When a member leaves or lapses, your next move will be to find out why, in a subtle way (no crying or insecure rambling… this isn’t a high school break up). Sending out follow-ups in the form of an email or even a written letter is a good way to get feedback. Consider messaging such as:

“We’re sorry to see you go! You are a valued member and we are grateful for everything you bring to our organization. As such, your feedback is important to us and we’d like to ask one more favor – please hit reply to this email and let us know why you’re leaving so we can continue to make our member experience better.”

You can also take a simpler route and develop a short multiple-choice survey so the member doesn’t feel like they have to write an essay explaining their reasons. Give options such as “Membership dues were too high,” “Did not find value in member perks,” “Left the industry,” etc. This will give you an immediate (if not as nuanced or individual) idea of the “why” behind your member loss, and you can easily develop statistics based off of the responses to understand what motivates the majority of your member loss. Don’t forget that picking up the phone and calling can also be a great avenue to connect with lapsed members.

When you have more insight into why members are leaving, you can develop a strategy to get them back.


Learn how to increase member retention by engaging with them on social media.


Step 2: Strategy

Having reasons behind member loss is critical to your strategy phase. From here, you can go one of two routes: You can focus on one overarching problem that’s causing your member loss and address it as part of your win-back, or you can segment your lost members into buckets based on their reasons, and have a different message for each segment.

For the sake of example, we’ll cover the first method in detail.

Suppose your member loss is due mostly to a lack of interest in your member events. Members don’t find your events useful or they have found other options for networking.

Begin by crafting a marketing campaign that specifically addresses this problem. Develop ideas for totally new and unique events, and then talk about them in your message, i.e.: “We have more events than ever this year, with professionals from around the world ready to answer your industry questions in a personal setting.”

This tells your lost members that you indeed know of their issues and are working hard to shore up deficiencies. Additionally, it gives a teaser that can entice your lost members to dig a little deeper into the changes you’re making.

Once your mission and message have been hammered out, you’re ready to create an actual implementation strategy.


Step 3: Implementation

As with most marketing campaigns at this juncture, your win-back will gain the most traction if it is disseminated through multiple channels – both traditional and digital.

Since direct mail is still as effective as ever, a postcard or letter is a good way to get a response to your win-back, especially if it uses an unusual or eye-catching design, or a textured card stock. A mail piece that shows care, craftsmanship, and of course, your strong “we miss you” message will go far in securing your target’s interest.

If your particular target demographic responds particularly well to personal contact, plan a phone strategy to try to get an actual dialogue going with your lost members. Not only does this allow you a chance to personally convey the win-back sentiment, but it also gives your former members a chance to give you more insight into the reason behind their leaving.

As usual, direct campaigns need help sometimes, especially when you’re dealing with digital junkies like Millennials. That’s why you’ll also need to have your win-back carry across email and even social media.

Follow up your direct mail campaign with an email blast, and consider reaching out via social media messaging or even retargeting ads. A slow, steady drip coming from a number of different sources is enough to make a significant impact on your target – sometimes even unconsciously at first. Time your efforts so that there’s space in between your touch points. Too much contact from you will feel like bombardment, so be mindful of the timing of your messages in order to increase member retention.


Step 4: Follow-through

Once you’ve successfully won back a number of lost members, the real challenge begins. This is where you work to keep your member retention rates high, and fulfill all the promises of your win-back message.

The most difficult part about the follow-through is the fact that it will be ongoing, and in some cases, may even require significant shifts of practice. However, when you make positive changes to meet the needs of your members, you create a lasting culture that is member-centric and willing to adapt to accommodate its members.

This, in turn, aids with retention as it provides members with everything they need to succeed and keeps them satisfied with the services you provide. 


The payoff

Win-back strategies can be an incredibly effective way to regain ground in your membership base. One marketing expert from the American Association for Respiratory Care reported a win-back campaign that resulted in 800 reinstated members in a matter of 45 days!

While you can’t always expect these kinds of outstanding numbers, you can be assured that if you’re taking strategic steps to show former members they’re valued and listened to, you can not only win back their loyalty – but also create an environment that makes current members want to stay and benefit from your association.



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