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The Top 5 Reasons Your Members Aren't Renewing (and What to Do About It)

Written by Elizabeth Bell on October 23, 2018 at 8:30 AM

Membership Marketing

Marketing General’s 2018 Membership Marketing Benchmark Report revealed fascinating statistics on why members don’t renew their association membership.  

While a poor retention rate is bad news, the good news is that each reported reason is preventable. 

This is precisely why you can, and should, be addressing these top reasons members aren’t renewing: 

  • 37% of associations report lack of engagement with the organization
  • 28% of associations said members could not justify membership costs with any significant ROI 
  • 23% of associations reported members found lack of value 
  • 24% of associations said it was because of budget cuts/economic hardship of company/left the field, industry, or profession 
  • 21% of associations said members forgot to renew (Oh no, bro) 

Based on this list, there are obviously some common problems that plague associations. I’m not telling you these problems will be quickly solved – they’ll require serious attention from your organization – but they can be solved.  

Let’s go through and address each issue and how it can be fixed.  

Reason #1: Lack of Engagement with Organization 

Engagement has a serious impact on retention. According to said report, the biggest reason members aren’t renewing is because they don’t feel engaged. Focus on improving engagement, and you’ll see improved retention.  

Also? A reported 32 percent of associations do not have a tactical plan to increase engagement. If that’s you, or even if you think your members are pretty engaged, this is an area where you should be focusing if you want your members to stick around.  

How to fix it: Get your members engaged 

  • Center your focus: To start solving this problem, you first need to recognize that engagement is a real need for your members (and it’s also where our economy is heading).
    • Next, you need to recognize engagement as a top priority in your organization. It’s not about blasting your members with content that may or may not be relevant to them. It’s about finding out who they really are, what they want, and providing it to them at the right time.   
  • Embrace engagement technology tools: Using tech tools like online community and marketing automation can help you get members involved. These tools are made for engagement:
    • Marketing automation: When members join your association and you invite them to join your online community, they start pumping out behavior-based data through their online community interactions. With this data, direct your communications to them precisely based on their web behavior and online community data using marketing automation. 
    • Online community: Online community tools are meant to help you engage your members, by giving them a specialized space for connecting with both you and other members. Discussion threads, resource libraries, gamification rules, automation rules – these are just a few of the built-in tools at your service to get members interested and draw them into participation.  

With these types of powerful data-driven tools at your fingertips, you’re now sending members highly relevant content that inspires them to engage (since you’re targeting them based on what they were already interested in).  

Reasons #2 & #3: Unable to Justify Costs with Significant ROI & Lack of Value  

These reasons are combined, since they’ve got similar root causes and solutions. Between 20 and 30 percent of members aren’t renewing because they don’t see value in paying for your organization. Don’t let this ruffle your feathers – I’m sure your association offers amazing value. The problem may simply be miscommunication.  

Providing value to members entails a few key communication needs 

  1. You know what value members expect from joining your organization.  
  2. You communicate where and when they can get what they want. 
  3. You make what they want easily accessible.  

How to fix it: Cover the common bases 

Of course, there are a few buckets of “association membership value” you can generally expect members want, such as professional development, networking, or certification in the industry. From that perspective, here are a few practical ways to provide more value to your members, using engagement tech: 

  • Match each need with a tool:
    • You know you have a network of amazing members that want to connect and mentoring each other. Give them a way to connect from anywhere in the world by developing a mentorship program through your online community.
    • If you have an excellent webinar series going on, give members an event calendar in your community where they can immediately see all the learning opportunities that are available.
    • If you offer incredible advocacy power, connect with them through your community so they understand you’re accessible.  

How to fix it: Meet individual needs 

But how can you know what members want, specifically, without undertaking a significant project where you ask each one individually and start catering to their unique requests 

  • Look to the data: With marketing automation, your goal of providing members with relevant value is no longer based on guess-work or intense research. Your content is based on real, active data points that inform how you engage with them.
    • For example, if a member engages with your emails and visits pages on your website about your annual event, your marketing automation system can continue to nurture this interest by providing them with more information on the event. You act on the cues they provide and share the content they want.  

Don’t let your members leave your association without a clear understanding of the value you offer. Make sure you’re communicating the value you have and the value they want 

Reason #4: Budget Cuts/Economic Hardship of Company/Left the Field, Industry, or Profession  

Of the five retention issues, this one will probably be the toughest for you to solve, since these reasons for not renewing are external. That being said, the best way to prepare for these kinds of retention issues is to make your association membership so valuable that dropping it is out of the question, even in a tough financial time. 

How to fix it: Make member success your top goal 

One of your top goals to address leaving the field should be to provide members with the resources they need to succeed in the industry.  

  • Make joining your association equivalent to becoming the best in the field, so members are empowered for success in the long-term.
    • Again, look to engagement tools to help you with this task. Online community has built-in networking tools, mentoring opportunities, learning management systems, access to experts, etc. and members can build the network they need to be empowered and well-connected in the field.  

Bonus: You could try restructuring your dues or creating special dues offers to encourage members to retain their value. Again, this isn’t going to be the strongest approach, since if members don’t see value, a lower price won’t be extremely convincing. Marketing General’s report provides a helpful analysis on successful strategies for association due discounts, so refer to the report for those strategies.  

The best defense against this retention issue is going to be your engagement and value offense.  

Reason #5: Forgot to Renew 

No, no, no. You should not let members forget that renewal is coming up! This is due to a lack of action on the part of the association (unless the member dropped off the face of the earth and stopped checking their email for three months). Your members should decide not to renew for a good reason, not because you allowed them to forget 

How to fix it: Notify members about renewal  

  • Put renewal on auto-pilot: Maybe your staff is too busy to notify each member about their renewal expiration, but if that’s the case, get yourself an engagement tool like marketing automation. You can set all your renewal campaigns on annual autopilot.
    • Automated campaigns take care of your repetitive tasks like renewal reminder emails, and they’re more efficient, too. Your staff will save time that they can use to reach out to members and make those personal calls that make a difference for key members. (Learn how to create this campaign.)   

These automated email campaigns will build on your engagement and value strategy well. You’re not only providing value to members, you’re letting them know when they’re about to miss out.  

Retention Is in Your Hands  

Members deciding not to renew isn’t a problem you’ll ever solve once and for all, and retention isn’t something you can keep at 100 percent. But you can take control of the problem by addressing the top reasons members don’t renew.  

Engaging your members, communicating your value, providing tools for member success, and reminding your members about renewal are just some of the ways you can affect your retention rate for the better. 

Want to learn more about the impact of Marketing Automation for Associations? Download our eBook below! 

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