5 Proven Ways to Increase Member Retention


This will help your team reflect on whether your membership communication and membership site is offering the best user experience.

Your association’s member retention rate is the key performance indicator of how well your association is meeting the needs of its members.

People join an association because they see a promise that the association can help them reach their goals. When a member renews, it is a badge of merit for the association that has delivered on that promise.

A high member retention rate is a key indicator that your association is serving its members well.

Member Retention and Scaling

An association cannot scale when its member churn rate is high. Even if your overall membership dues income remains stable from year to year, a high member churn is a red flag that you are turning off your members.

Very few associations have an endless pool of potential members to draw from. Given the limited capacity of potential members in your field, when 30% or more of your members are breaking ties with you annually, you may come to a point where your membership stability will be challenged.

For your association to grow, we have to seek ways to increase our member retention and keep our existing members happy and engaged. Only by having our existing members renew can we see an uptick in membership numbers and dues payments.

The Cost of Member Churn
It costs ten times as much to attract a new member as it does to hold on to an existing member.

With this in mind, associations would do well to reserve their limited resources by keeping their existing members happy and motivated to continue a long-term relationship with your association.

Your existing members trust your association to deliver value to your membership. Associations that honor this responsibility have the best retention rates.

Here are our 5 Proven Ways to Increase Member Retention

Offer Value that Exceeds the Cost of Membership.

The surest way to increase your member retention rate your members year after year is to deliver valuable member benefits. Unless your association is appealing to your members’ sense of charity, the perceived and practical value of membership must exceed the cost of membership.

When your association’s member resources benefit the member personally and professionally, they won’t be determined by the cost of membership renewal, whatever it may be.

Here are two ways to make membership a no-brainer:

The Essential Membership
Just like our groceries and the gas we put in the car, we pay the bill because it’s essential. It’s part of life. The value we get from food and personal transportation is worth the cost.

Make your membership essential by offering member benefits that are of tremendous value to the members. Have member benefits that help them get the most out of their careers. Share information, resources, and reports that they can’t get anywhere else. Create benefits that are high-value to members. This would help increase your member retention rate.

The Might-As-Well Membership
When members get perks and discounts from their membership that are equal to or greater than the cost of membership, they are much more likely to renew their membership. Even if they don’t rally behind our mission or use all your resources, the money saved through membership makes the membership worth it.

For instance, let’s say your association organizes a conference that costs $350 for non-members and $250 for members to attend. If membership is $100, for the individual who wants to attend the conference, becoming a member pays for itself. The member gets access to the conference and all the other members benefits for the same price. 

Access to Opportunities
Another similar strategy is to offer members opportunities rather than discounts. For example, let’s say your association offers early access to limited spots to members for opportunities, such as training, workshops, or funding. Once members have had first pick, the remaining spots may be open to the public.

To learn more about creating a membership that is self-evident for your members, watch our podcast It’s Not About Price, It’s About Value: Making Membership the Obvious Choice, with special guest Aviva Rotenberg, the Executive Director of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police Association.

Build Relationships Over Transactions

Building relationships is an important way to increase member retention. As an association of members, the members want to feel like a person. The members want to feel that their participation is valuable and makes a difference. When associations make the members feel cared for, magic happens. On the flip side, when associations create a communication rhythm that focuses on transactions, the member feels like a number — or worse, a teller machine. 

Internally-Focused Metrics vs. Member-Focused Metrics
The association’s relationship with the members needs to extend beyond financial transactions. An association’s communication with members needs to be about more than attending the AGM, upselling them with products, requests for donations, and renewal notices. These “engagement” items — only too often used as key performance indicators by associations for member engagement — focus on what the association wants members to do. Let’s focus on relationships and focus on what the members want to do as members.

Learn more about creating a member-centric focus from our The Path to Sustainable Membership Growth podcast episode.

Staying Connected with Large a Membership
Building a relationship with your members sounds endearing, but for most resource-strapped associations, it also sounds unattainable. For very large associations with tens of thousands of members and a heavy flow of new members, this may seem impossible. Let’s rise to the challenge!

Let’s explore the tools and systems your association can put in place that allow existing members and new members to feel seen, heard, welcomed, and important. These are, after all, human needs. In a busy world where people often don’t have a voice or an advocate, be a champion for your members!

Create multiple communication tracks for your various types of members. Learn more about the minimum number of member segments we recommend you create in our blog: Membership Communication Plan: Your Guide to Connecting with Your Members.

Create Time for Relationship
Create opportunities to connect with your members. Have welcome meetings for new members (in person or virtual — as long as you have them!). Have focus groups with long-time members and new members separately to hear their perspectives. Host feedback sessions, brainstorming workshops, and opportunities for members to contribute to improving the services they access from your association.

Giving your members a voice, and having their suggestions acted upon is an empowering experience for members. They feel valued and see that their ideas make a difference. They are helping build the association’s world!

Celebrate Member Success
Celebrating members is one sure way to increase member retention. Since associations provide resources, services, and opportunities to their members to benefit them professionally and personally, it falls naturally for the association to celebrate the achievements of their members!  When members have professional success, the association can become a part of celebrating it.

For more ideas on how to create a member-centric culture at your association that celebrates the success of members, read our blog: 5 Proven Ways to Increase Membership Engagement.

Create a Community 
It is easy for a withdrawn member to pull the plug on renewing their membership when their relationship with the association and the other members is cold. When a member feels like a respected and contributing part of the community, with friends, peers, and mentors, they will want to renew to stay part of the club that embraces them.

Know Your Members & Speak to Them

Having an in-depth understanding of your membership is an important way to increase your member retention and the overall success of your association. The goals of your members have to align with the mission of the association. When the direction of an association’s staff falls outside of the areas that impact their members, there is a disconnect that everyone can feel.

Take the time to understand your membership. Surveys have their place, but nothing replaces face-to-face interactions. If in-person is not possible, virtual meet-ups count can still do the job!

Find Commonalities in Your Members
One strategy is to just look at your member database. Study it and look for themes. Are the members mostly women or men? Are they mostly of a certain age? Do they reside mostly in a particular location? Are they primarily at a certain stage in their careers? Do they tend to use certain member benefits while neglecting others? Use the information you have about your members to tailor your communication and website material for your members.

Create a Member Avatar
Once you have all your data points about your “average” member, create a member avatar profile. You can have more than one, but one is best. The more focused you can be, the better. The more you can conceptualize the commonalities of your members, the better you can create content and resources that appeal to them.

Show You Understand Your Members
When your association understands who its members are and the language and messaging are geared toward them, they can feel it. They will feel like they have come to the right place. They will feel confident that you understand their needs and can help them reach their goals.

A Membership Site for Your Members
The membership site you create should take all of the above into consideration. The language used throughout your membership site and public-facing marketing website should have a tone and specificity that is catered to your member avatar. Your membership site should communicate to your members that this is the right community for them and that you have the resources to help them professionally and personally. 

Solve Real-World Problems

Your association aims to provide useful member benefits and relevant information for your niche industry. These benefits may already be online, or you may be reading this because you want to get them on a membership site!

When it comes to the benefits you offer members, it’s important to take stock of the real-world problems your members have. We have to put the horse before the cart and understand what our members’ problems are so that we can offer solutions through the member benefits you offer.

A Formal Member Needs Assessment
Membership managers probably have a good sense of what our members’ problems are. If your association’s staffing or membership has gone through changes, it may be time for a formal needs discovery.

A detailed exploration of your membership’s needs, goals, and struggles is essential. It helps you understand your membership better. This understanding enables you to create meaningful communication and relationships. It also allows you to offer benefits that will keep members returning year after year.

Connect Benefits with Needs
Once you understand their needs, make sure your member benefits align with those needs. When our association’s resources solve the ongoing problems members have, you position the association to be a valuable long-term resource.

When our members know they can rely on the association to be responsive and create content that is helpful to their current struggles, they will trust you and show their approval by renewing.

Easy-to-Use Benefits
Keep in mind the importance of making it super easy to access your member benefits. When browsing or participating in member benefits becomes unenjoyable (either it’s confusing, time-consuming, or clunky) members will lose faith and disengage. When we turn off our members, it is hard to win them over again.

Check out our Member Portal Roadmap Workshop to see how we can help make sure the user Journey On Your Member Portal facilitates easy engagement!

Member Content vs Public Content

Many associations aim to serve both the public and their members. However, in their efforts to provide valuable resources to the public, they often overshare high-quality resources meant exclusively for members.

Public education and engagement are not only admirable but essential. While this is true, associations have to be deliberate in delineating which of their content and resources is appropriate for the public and which is best reserved for members.

The Value of Members-Only Content
Members-only content should be kept behind a gated membership site (also called a member portal or a member hub). Your public-facing website should have a high-profile place where members log in. Having content and benefits reserved only for members created value in your membership. Making everything available to the public undercuts the value of your membership and is often the culprit for undercutting renewal rates.

Creating Members-Only Content 
Determining which content is appropriate for the public versus the membership goes back to the exercise of understanding who your members are. When we know what they are looking for and what their problems are, we create content and resources for them.

Tech for Success
To keep both your public audience and your members happy, an association needs two separate websites. The first is a public-facing website with content for the public and marketing messaging for prospective members. The second is the membership site for members with member-specific content with member-specific messaging. For more about this topic, read our blog The Top 5 Member Management Tools for Associations.

Ramp Up Member Retention with a Webinar!
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Farhad Khan, CEO

A tech entrepreneur specialized in creating membership websites for professional associations to increase member engagement. My background is as an engineer for Nortel and Ericsson. I started my own tech company in 2009 to help associations and nonprofits solve their challenges with my digital technology skills.