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Membership Retention vs. Renewal: Why Retention Should Reign

Professional associations sometimes struggle to parse the difference between “membership retention” and “membership renewal.” So let’s start by defining our terms:

  • Retention rate is the percentage of current members who choose to rejoin for another term before their term expires. For example, someone whose membership ends on November 15 but re-ups for another annual membership before November 15 would count toward the association’s retention rate. The higher your retention rate, the better.

  • Renewal rate is the percentage of members who choose to rejoin for another term after their membership has lapsed. For example, someone who was a member last year but who rejoins after letting their membership expire would count toward your renewal rate.

A high renewal rate isn’t necessarily proof of success. Yes, it could mean that you’re convincing former members to rejoin your association at a good pace, but it could also indicate that your member engagement and overall retention efforts are lacking—i.e., if you didn’t let members lapse in the first place, you wouldn’t need to persuade them to renew.

3 Reasons Member Retention Matters

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1. Membership is Why You Exist

If all of your members revoked their membership tomorrow, what would your association even be for?

Yes, associations do many things—e.g., advocating for their industry’s needs, training, public relations, etc. But all efforts of a professional association are in service of their members. Without them, you could close up shop and move on. So it likely goes without saying that you should invest heavily in attracting as many qualified members as possible and keeping them in your community.

2. More Attracts More

The more members you have, the more new members you’re likely to attract. This is for two reasons. One, each of your members has a professional network all their own, which they can convince to join your association. Two, a large membership is proof to potential new members that you have something to offer them.

3. Retention is Cheaper Than Renewal

Keeping someone’s membership is less resource-intensive than finding new and/or former members and convincing them to join. Think of all the resources it takes to promote your organization through all of your channels (e.g. your website, email, social media, etc.).

What Is a Membership Retention Strategy?

Membership retention is just one part of your association’s communications plan. (If you don’t have a communications plan, create that first. Here’s a communications plan template to help get started.)

In the membership retention section of your association’s communications plan, write down:

  • a measurable membership retention goal,
  • a membership retention objective, and
  • a list of tactics you’ll execute in order to meet your goal.
Don’t overplan. No need to get deeply detailed. But you do need to put, on paper, a number you’re pursuing.

For instance, you may write something like:

  • Goal: To retain 75% of members whose membership is scheduled to expire in 2021.
  • Objective: Have membership retention in our association recognized as critical, a priority.
    • Tactic #1:
      • Create an automated membership retention email campaign that emphasizes the advantages of membership.
    • Tactic #2:
      • Offer an extra ‘free’ month after membership expiration.
    • Tactic #3:
      • Create a six-week onboarding guide for new members.

Don’t overplan. No need to get deeply detailed. But you do need to put, on paper, a number you’re pursuing. Use the last few years’ retention rates as benchmarks. If you don’t have the data, find a membership marketing benchmarking report to compare against.

We also encourage our clients to create two membership retention goals: (1) the main goal, and (2) a stretch goal. Stretch goals are bigger-than-probably numbers you pursue. If you hit them, awesome. If you don’t, no biggie, they were stretch goals anyway. But they give you something to aim for if you pass your first goal.

Stay tuned for our follow-up, “6 Tactics for Increasing Your Association’s Membership Retention Rate,” coming soon!

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