Part of planning the strategy for the new year is looking back at the past year. What worked well and got the most engagement from the campaigns that you ran? Which bills were important to members? What bills passed or didn't? How did your legislators vote on those bills?
In the past few years, leading nonprofit organizations have had an epiphany.They used to treat member retention and fundraising strategies as distinctly different disciplines (often developed and executed by different staff members). Now, they have come to recognize that focusing on, and dedicating resources to, an altogether different metric—member engagement—drives both retention and fundraising to whole new levels.
The reason for this is easy to grasp, yet most organizations are stuck in the "same way we've always done it mentality." If that's the case with your organization, please consider the following:
1. The old way of doing things is less effective.
According to the Forbes Group:
"With the advent of more difficult economic times and the maturing of the more skeptical baby boomer population, it has become increasingly difficult to maintain the membership growth upon which the health of associations depend. The traditional, comfortable ways that associations have been run in recent decades are becoming less effective in ensuring steady, long-term membership growth. In the past, membership growth was produced by employing sales tactics, such as slogans, contests, giveaways and razzle-dazzle. The membership prospect of today and tomorrow requires a more sophisticated appeal."(Source: Membership Drives Need Sophisticated Appeal, Forbes Group, 2014)
If you aren't growing your membership, there are fewer members to retain. And you are asking more and more of that dwindling number. More frequent appeals certainly don't help. You need to change your fundraising strategy.
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.
Source: 2013 Membership Marketing Benchmark Report. Marketing General Incorporated. www.marketinggeneral.com
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.
When the legislature is away for recess, are you using the break in the action to your advantage? Here are 5 tips for making the lull in the legislative action work to your organization’s advantage to drive member engagement.
1. Meet with your representatives.
Chances are, your legislators have come back to their districts during the break. Can you book meetings with them to go over your member’s concerns and clarify where you stand on issues likely to be debated in the next session? Are there opportunities to inform your members and the press about your meetings to show that your organization is active and on the case?
Why a Tiered Membership Program Could be Your Organization's Best Move for Membership Retention and Fundraising
What Are The Top 3 Reasons Why Members Join Your Association?
According to top association executives in the 2013 Membership Marketing Benchmark Report, the top 3 reasons why people join and participate in their groups and associations are:
If you have read the 60 page 2013 Membership Marketing Benchmark Report you likely gained some new insight into the state of membership organizations as a whole. But there are two thoughts that stay with me from it.
Will Your Member Organization Learn From AARPs Member Retention Disaster?
The real member engagement problem with many membership organization groups is that they just want the individual members to help promote a C-level position, whether its the majority of the membership's position or not. Why do the members support groups who do nothing to educate, inform or provide a sustainable voice to ALL their members? Can organizations like AARP really say they have fulfilled their mandate of educating their members because they spend millions on all sorts of media and advertising? Despite all that media spend, were they really talking to their members or just at them?
How to identify and overcome the challenges in your grassroots membership campaigns.
Like a new lawn in the spring, the success of your grassroots advocacy program or campaign depends on your ability to review the success of your efforts and determine what is working and what is not as quickly as possible. Where are the spots that need attention before it becomes an obstacle like crab grass that spreads and is hard to control?
Pop Quiz: which is more difficult, recruiting members or retaining them?
Most people in development would probably say recruiting, but few would deny that member retention is just as critical to the health of your organization. Here are a few ideas on how to keep those hard-won supporters.