A recently released annual benchmarking report conducted by consulting firm Marketing General Incorporated reveals some interesting trends in how organizations are attracting, retaining and engaging their memberships. The survey reflects data submitted by 695 individual membership and trade associations. The findings in the report include many nuggets that you may find invaluable in creating your organization’s membership marketing tactics and strategies for 2014 and beyond.
One particularly interesting trend is that while it is still a top three reason for joining a membership or trade organization, advocacy has dropped to tied for third along with “learning best practices in their profession”.
Here is how the top 5 reasons for joining have tracked over the five years the survey has been conducted.
2013 Membership Marketing Benchmark Report
. Marketing General Incorporated.
Why the drop in advocacy as a reason to join? One clue may be found in looking at the top three reasons cited for members that do not renew. They are:
1. Budget cuts/economic hardship of the company (18%).
2. Lack of engagement with the organization (15%).
3. Unable to justify membership costs with any significant ROI (11%).
All three of the concerns can be mitigated by communicating the value of your organization to your members and following through with actions and programs that prove your claims. In fact, because your membership is basing their annual decision to renew or not based on their perceived value of what your organization is providing, it is essential for you to do it.
Which brings us to the question of why advocacy is losing some of its luster as a reason to join an organization or retain membership. If we look at the other four top reasons to join an organization, we see that they are relatively easy for members to attach value to. It’s not hard to see if networking opportunities are bringing new clients or prospects, or if access to specialized information, learning best practices and acquiring new skills are enhancing one’s career or making a member organization stronger. The hard one for most people to attach immediate value to is advocacy.
There’s a reason for this. Most organizations tend to communicate about their advocacy efforts in two ways:
High level communications
Frequently used in membership solicitation and often reduced to a bullet or a few lines of copy — “We’re your industry advocate”, “We represent our industry at public hearings”, etc.
Overly granular communications
What seems obvious to you may not be to your membership. The fact that your organization is working to ensure a piece of legislation passes (or is defeated) is certainly an act of advocacy. But your members may not see it that way unless you explicitly position your action as advocacy (e.g., “Our recent appearance on capital hill to help ensure the legislation passed (or was defeated) is another example of [your organization’s name here] advocacy in action”).
If you want your organization to be credited for your advocacy efforts by existing and potential members, you need to make communicating about it a priority. Highlight your efforts in e-mails, press releases and social media. Consider creating a campaign around the value your organization offers to members. And definitely include your advocacy efforts in your membership renewal outreach. (According to the 2013 Membership Marketing Benchmark Report, individual member associations using 7 or more contacts in their renewal series are more likely to report overall membership renewal rates at 80% or higher.) Including advocacy as one of the greatest strengths of your organization and one that yields a payback for your membership can only help keep your renewal rates high.