More than three years after the onset of the global pandemic, associations face a new landscape that presents unique challenges to member retention. The relationship dynamics between professionals and associations have been transformed over the past few years. This means associations must adapt to new realities and reassess their membership retention strategies.
This article discusses six retention strategies to help associations build long-lasting relationships with their members in a post-pandemic environment.
The Impact of the Pandemic on Association Membership Dynamics
The Covid-19 pandemic had a significant impact on association membership dynamics. The changes had multiple causes. In the first place, many professionals faced economic uncertainty after being put on leave or after losing their jobs. More than 9.5 million people were on leave across Europe in 2021. Understandably, the priorities of many professionals shifted, and association membership took a secondary place.
Secondly, remote work and virtual events became the norm, which disrupted the networking opportunities provided by face-to-face interactions at association meetings and other events. With this in mind, many professionals questioned the value of association membership, especially given the limited in-person benefits offered during the pandemic.
The result was a widespread decline in membership numbers. According to surveys carried out in 2021, 47% of the associations studied reported declines in member numbers and a similar figure applied to membership renewals. The average membership decline was 9%, which is enough to impact an association’s profitability.
In this scenario, it is clear that associations must adapt to a new post-pandemic reality, demonstrate their relevance, and provide more value than ever. It is still possible to retain members, but that requires understanding the current needs and expectations of professionals in a post-Covid context.
Six Effective Membership Retention Strategies
Since member members‘ preferences have changed, it is time for associations to rethink the strategies used to increase membership retention. The methods discussed below rely on embracing technology, adopting a personalised communication and benefits model, and creating collaborative networks that provide even better value to existing members.
1. Focus on virtual engagement
Although the switch to digital experiences was abrupt three years ago, nowadays, most professionals are familiar with tech-powered environments and use digital tools in their everyday work.
Associations can capitalise on how technology has made inroads into professional settings to keep members engaged with the organisation. For example, digital platforms can be leveraged to offer interactive experiences like webinars, online forums, and virtual conferences. These facilitate knowledge sharing, networking, and professional development, creating valuable connections and fostering a sense of community.
If membership can be renewed online, evaluating the renewal process is helpful to ensure everything runs smoothly, such as technical glitches or an unnecessarily long form that could detract from the member experience.
2. Personalised communications
Personalisation is crucial to increase member engagement, as it makes members feel that they matter as individuals and helps build strong and lasting relationships.
Some practical personalised strategies include tailoring e-mails based on individual interests, addressing the reader by name in newsletters, sending customised event recommendations, and creating a list of resources that target different member profiles. To do this effectively, you must be familiar with audience segmentation and choose the appropriate segmentation criteria.
Personalisation also extends to communication channels with members, which should always respect their preferences.
3. Diversify your marketing strategy
Marketing is typically used for member acquisition purposes, but it also has a place throughout the member lifecycle since engagement and future renewals are not guaranteed once members join. It is a good idea to diversify your marketing strategy to include existing members, for example, by strengthening your social media presence and sharing content targeting current members.
On that note, remember that in marketing, diversification can be horizontal (creating more of the same) or vertical (creating different products or services) – don’t be afraid to experiment to see which technique works best.
4. Member feedback and involvement
Encouraging member feedback regularly and actively involving them in association decision-making processes fosters a sense of ownership and belonging. In turn, this generates a strong sense of community, which is the basis of a loyal member base.
Achieving a deeper involvement can help associations understand and address the current needs of their members. This can be implemented through regular surveys, focus groups, post-event interviews, and even inviting members to advisory panels on a rotating basis.
5. Mentoring programmes
One of the reasons why members leave instead of renewing their memberships is because they no longer suit their professional development goals. The association must offer value at each stage of its members‘ careers for long-term membership.
Here it can be helpful to establish mentorship programmes within associations or between associations and other organisations in the same industry sector. Mentoring can provide guidance, support, and knowledge-sharing opportunities and foster a sense of direction and connection, making membership renewal a natural choice.
6. Diverse membership benefits
Professionals join associations because they expect to benefit from their membership, so make sure you frequently evaluate the range of benefits offered and whether they are relevant to the needs of existing members.
To determine relevance in this context, the key criteria should be something that provides tangible value and that helps members advance their careers and stay relevant in their fields.
In addition to access to journals, job boards and discounted event tickets, consider including access to exclusive industry research, mentorship programmes as mentioned above, comprehensive career development resources, live or recorded masterclasses led by industry experts, discounts on professional certifications, in-house e-learning programmes, and exclusive networking opportunities. In specific industry sectors, offering volunteering opportunities or involvement in relevant community service projects could make sense.
Additional reading: 7 Ways to Retain Association Members
Effective membership retention strategies are essential for long-term success in the ever-evolving post-pandemic landscape. Although Covid-19 created challenges, it also provided an opportunity for associations to innovate and adapt to new realities.
The post-pandemic association landscape calls for a proactive approach to member engagement. This means making room for continuously evaluating and refining strategies rather than settling for generic solutions.
As discussed in this article, associations can improve retention rates and cater to the evolving demands of professionals by embracing technology, putting personalisation at the forefront of their operational model, and helping expand the networks and horizons of their members.
If you need support implementing any of the strategies above, don’t hesitate to contact the Congrex team.