Historical Data Shows Memberships Will Grow Again

Member retention is usually one of the top concerns for all association executives, but 2020 has exacerbated the challenge of renewing memberships.

In a recent report, Marketing General Incorporated’s 12th annual Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report, identifies the top reasons for member non-renewals and highlights some historical information that gives hope to associations.

Although the survey of 972 association executives was conducted in January and February of 2020 – prior to COVID-19 disruptions to business – the report shows that respondents were already cognizant of the threat of a recession to their association. The top threat to the viability of their associations was identified as an economic recession by 66% of association executives.

According to Tony Rossell, senior vice president of MGI, a review of benchmarking data collected during and after the Great Recession of 2008 suggests that although there will be challenges in the near future for associations, membership numbers will rebound.

Data from the 2010 benchmarking report during the Great Recession, which began in 2007 and ended in 2009, shows that only 36% of respondents reported an increase in membership, 48% reported a decline in membership, and 44% reported a decline in renewals. Associations that were able to increase membership during this time found new ways to provide value and reach out to new prospects.

Subsequent benchmarking studies showed that associations reporting increased membership rose from a low of 36% in the 2010 report to nearly 50% and higher in subsequent years.

For this year’s study, economic hardship was identified as the second most frequent reason for non-renewals in the pre-COVID survey responses but may have moved up during pandemic shutdowns and impacts. The top reasons identified in the study (pre-COVID) as reasons for non-renewals were:

  • 43% of associations cite lack of engagement with the organization
  • 29% of associations report budget cuts/economic hardship in the member’s company
  • 28% of associations point to an inability to justify membership costs with any significant ROI
  • 25% of associations believe members left the field, industry, or profession
  • 25% of associations say members forgot to renew
  • 25% of associations respond that members do not see the value of membership

Moving forward, association leaders need to keep these traditional reasons for non-renewals in mind as they plan their strategies to continue moving through the effects of a pandemic, corporate disruptions, and new ways of conducting business.