Growing Your Association Membership

The 2021 Membership Marketing Report by Marketing General Incorporated shows that 47% of associations reported declines in total membership, with the median percentage drop at 9%. Member renewal rates have also declined with 45% of associations reporting decreases compared to 2020’s figure of 24% reporting renewal declines.

There is no one-size-fits-all marketing campaign for association membership, but there are seven key areas to address when planning a campaign, according to Mighty Citizen. These areas form the foundation for the marketing campaign:

  1. Goal: Why are we doing this? There should be only one primary goal.
  2. Audiences: Who are we trying to reach with this campaign?
  3. Strategies: What will we do to reach the goal and audience?
  4. Metrics: How will we know we have succeeded?
  5. Risk: What risks are associated with our objectives, both internal and external?
  6. Timeframe: How long is the campaign expected to last?
  7. Opportunities: What new ideas haven’t been tried in the past?

When considering how the association will reach out to potential new or renewing members, keep these stats from Marketing General’s report in mind:

  • Word-of-mouth recommendations and email remain the most effective channels for new member acquisition (57% and 50%, respectively).
  • The percentage of associations choosing word-of-mouth has dropped precipitously in 2021 (57% vs. 67% in 2020) and the percentage of associations choosing email has continued to decline (50% vs. 52% in 2020 and 62% in 2019).
  • Association-sponsored events/meetings maintains its position as the third most effective method for recruiting new members, but also shows declines compared to the previous research (40% vs. 46% in 2020).
  • Fewer associations report that direct mail is a productive channel for sourcing new members than in the previous research (13% vs. 18% in 2020).
  • Associations with renewal rates at or above 80% are significantly more likely to consider word-of-mouth marketing, personal sales calls, and member referrals as effective vehicles for new member acquisition.
  • Associations with renewal rates under 80% tend to significantly favor using email, chapters, and paid online digital advertising for new member recruitment.

When planning a membership campaign, be sure to evaluate previous campaigns to see what worked well and review feedback from members regarding effectiveness of various forms of communication. It is risky to plan an email-heavy campaign if members have already told you they don’t open emails from the association due to volume.

Include key stakeholders in planning the campaign – staff, volunteer leadership – and get buy-in at the beginning. Their involvement in initial decision-making and approval will increase the number of champions available to reach out and add to the success of the campaign.