Under the traditional membership model employed by the majority of non-profit trade and professional groups, membership in the organization offers you benefits, but doesn’t necessarily deliver them directly to the member. That doesn’t refer to third party affinity programs or insurance underwriters – it refers to the fact that the interaction with the organization is typically voluntary and one-sided. The member has to reach out to take advantage of the particular benefit directly, the organization typically doesn’t drive the benefit to the member. As a result, what often happens is that many of the potential benefits of membership are either unknown, or unused, and as a result, there is not sufficient member engagement to really live up to the value proposition that the initial membership offer proposed.
Studies have shown that if a member is actively engaged in the activities of the organization, either through staff or another member, their chances of lasting longer than the initial year as a member skyrocket, rising by over 400%. Given the lifetime value of a member to the organization, it would seem a smart investment to craft an engagement program to reach out and grab those new members, get them involved, give them a sense of mission, of empowerment, and of belonging, that will help retain them for years to come.
Those organizations who do put in the time and effort find they reap fairly substantial rewards at renewal time. Renewal rates above 94% are not uncommon in those organizations we’ve studied, and the members not only rejoin, they go out and recruit as well. That’s a double win for any organization, in an era where time starvation and economic uncertainty make membership a low priority for most professionals. And it doesn’t have to be complicated or automated to show strong returns.
Sometimes a simple welcome phone call, from a prominent member, Board member, or staffer, to introduce themselves, welcome the new member to the organization, ask some questions, including what they expect to get out of their membership. Not only does that keep staff in touch with members on a programmatic basis, but provides a constant source of research data on the value of offered benefits, and their popularity among the membership, in real time. Not a bad bonus for making a few calls a week.
Sometimes the effort can be more formal, such as an invitation to join a committee, or to provide feedback on a new product or service prior to it’s introduction to the general membership. Sometimes it’s a request for support for a cause, lobbying effort or legislative initiative. The key is to do it early, and in a systematic way so that no one falls between the cracks. More elaborate efforts will incorporate timing features, automated systems to reach out to certain sectors on a rotating basis with a specific focus, and other bells and whistles, but those automated systems tend to dilute the impact of the effort, to depersonalize it and distance the group from the new member, the exact opposite effect of what you were seeking. The simplest and most effective is the most honest and direct method, a personal phone call or letter from an known member of prominence, welcoming them to the organization, asking what they need or expect, and helping them take direct advantage of the benefits the group offers.
Engagement can take many forms, and the right form is different for each individual, as different as their real reason for joining. Once such a program is in place in your organization, you’ll be amazed at the increase in retention, engagement, and connectivity of your members. They wanted to be a part of a group for a good, real, reason. Tap into that need, and you’ll have a group of lifetime members who closely affiliate and identify with your mission – they become cheerleaders, and that’s where the gold is!