Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Five Steps to Building a Membership Loyalty Program

For decades loyalty programs have been growing in the for profit world as a major component for engaging and retaining customers. 

Those old of us to remember will recall collecting S and H Green Stamps which were one of the very first retail loyalty programs.  Merchants gave out the stamps to customers as incentives to shop at their store.  Once enough stamps were collected, they could be redeemed for desirable products from a catalog. 

Today, a huge percentage of companies have incorporated loyalty programs as a core component in their marketing efforts including airlines offering free tickets, hotels offering free stays, and grocery stores offering discounted gasoline.  Even my local sandwich shop and barber have loyalty programs. 

The goal obviously of a loyalty program is to keep and reward your very best customers and members. 

However, it is rare that I come across an association that has overlaid a loyalty program onto its membership.  Many organizations do not recognize the diversity in their members and treat their best members in very much the same way as everyone else without regard to the value they bring to the organization.  In a diverse membership, a loyalty program helps define who these most valuable members are and encourages behaviors that lead to greater value from those less engaged. 

In order to build a Loyalty Program, here are five recommended steps to follow. 

1.     Determine what behaviors lead members to loyalty and retention by defining “Key Performance Indicators” (KPI).  Basically to start a loyalty program, you first want to evaluate what behavioral variables correlate with (or are predictive of) longevity and purchases by a member (maximum ROI).
2.     Select a method to calculate loyalty. Once the KPI’s that indicate loyalty are identified, a model can be built using an algorithm to calculate the mix of actions that an organization wants to reward and a POINT system devised to encourage the behavior leading to loyalty and retention.
3.     Find the types of rewards that are motivational.  Building the rewards for loyalty will also be important.  Rewards could be in the form of one or more categories:

a.     Member Recognition
b.     Personal Benefits
c.     Professional Benefits 

4.     Capturing and reporting on Reward Points.  The behaviors that are to be rewarded need to be captured and translated into points.  To encourage these activities, point values can be sent to members and available on a rewards website.
5.     Building a communication strategy.  An incentive for encouraging the behavior that an organization desires is only as good as the ability to make members aware of the program and communicate to them the benefits that they can receive.  Once the system is built, consistent promotion of the loyalty program in membership and product marketing materials really helps to encourage participation.

We all know that there are very profitable members and members who contribute far less economically to an organization.  A loyalty program helps incentivize the profitable members to do more and helps lift the less profitable members to higher levels of usage and engagement. 

However, even if deploying a full loyalty program seems like too large of an endeavor, most organizations would benefit by implementing at least the first two steps outlined above.  Defining what behaviors lead to your most profitable members can drive focus and efficiency in your organization.   

Monday, April 14, 2014

Using Membership Marketing Partners to Help with Your Membership Challenges

One of the questions that I find most interesting in our Membership Marketing Benchmarking research is, “What are your organization’s top challenges in growing membership?”
The answers fall into two broad categories.  The first are environmental challenges outside the organization.  These are situations like the economy, competing organizations, market perceptions, and industry consolidation.  The second are institutional challenges inside the organization.  These are challenges like the ability to communicate value, insufficient staff, identifying prospects, lack of marketing expertise, and the lack of a plan or strategy.
The outside challenges often need long-term strategic changes in the organization and can be more difficult to address.  However, the inside challenges many times can be addressed by adding outside partners with specialized expertise for a period of time.
For example, an experienced research firm can help an organization better understand its value proposition and select the marketing messages that best communicate it to members and prospects.  And when peak work times are present, staff can be supplemented through marketing temporary firms or contractors.
When identifying prospective members is the challenge, a list broker can help.  List brokers have numerous tools and contacts available to help find prospects for your marketing efforts and since they receive a commission from the owners of the prospect lists they find for you, their services are effectively free to you as the list buyer.
Finally, there are a number of marketing firms that specialize in membership marketing including my company, Marketing General Incorporated, which often will provide a free consultation to help you define your needs and possible solutions.
If your organization’s membership growth is being held back by issues that can be addressed and solved by adding expertise from partners in the membership marketing community, why not reach out and ask for assistance? 

Friday, April 11, 2014

What can be Done to Increase Renewal Rates?

Only 30% of associations participating in the 2014 Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report said that they have increased renewal rates over the past year. And 27% of associations report that their renewal rates had declined.  Individual associations in particular saw average rates drop from 79% to 76%.

So with this discouraging news, what should associations do?  How can an association move from flat or declining renewals to better renewals? 

One solution is to learn from the behaviors of what the associations are doing that have seen an increase in retention.  And the great news about data is that we can look at the reported activities of respondents to the research to see correlations with groups that are seeing increased renewals.  These correlations do not necessarily mean that any single activity will automatically change outcomes.  However, when you see certain actions correspond with better renewals for some associations, it makes sense to investigate how these options might be used in your association and develop and test the solution and then implement what works.
From our research, here are four categories of actions an association might take that correlate with increasing renewal rates.

1.      Increased Member Usage – In many cases, when there was an increase reported in the attendance or purchasing of an association’s products and services there was also an increase in renewal rates over the baseline of 30%.  For example, 41% of the associations that reported an increase in attendance at professional development meetings saw an increase in renewal rates.   Similarly, 43% who reported an increase in book and directory purchases saw and increase in renewals and 37% who reported an increase in annual conference attendance saw an increase in renewals.

2.      Increased Membership Marketing Budgets – In most cases, when there was an increase reported in membership marketing budgets, there was also an increase in renewal rates over the 30% baseline.  For example, 50% of the associations that reported an increase in spending on renewals saw an increase in renewal rates.  Similarly, 44% who reported an increase in recruitment spending and 39% who reported an increase in on-boarding and engagement spending saw an increase in renewals.

3.      Increase Payment Options – Providing additional ways for members to pay also can help increase renewals.  For example, 44% of associations offering multi-year renewal options saw an increase in renewal rates along with 43% of associations offering and early bird renewal discount, and 41% of associations offering an automatic credit card renewal option.  Again, these are against a 30% baseline of associations reporting an increase in renewal rates. 

4.      Increase Renewal Activity – The tactical steps an organization takes to try to increase renewal rates also has an impact on the outcomes.  For example, 71% of associations that extend a grace period two months or more to allow members to renew have renewal rates over 80% compared to 50% of associations that limit the grace period.  Also, 69% of associations that include phone contacts as part of their renewal efforts have renewal rates over 80% compared to 44% of associations who do not use phone efforts.  And 66% of associations that use direct mail as part of their renewal efforts have renewal rates over 80% compared to 45% of associations who do not use direct mail. 
These findings are just a highlight from the results of our benchmarking research.  A full, printed report is scheduled to be distributed to survey participants in June. 

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Association Membership Growth Surges

The theme for the 2014 Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report is the continued positive growth in association total membership numbers.
A total of 894 associations participated in the research this year and altogether 53% of them reported growth in their overall membership numbers.  While 15% said that their membership stayed the same, 28% saw a decline, and 4% were unsure if their membership grew or declined.  A full 24% of associations saw total membership growth of 6% or higher.  While only 8% of associations saw total membership declines of 6% or more.

Interestingly, the growth again this year did not come from increased renewal rates, but from higher levels of new member recruitment.  Overall, 59% of all respondents said that their new member input had grown.  But of those associations showing an increase in total membership, 70% said that their new member input had increased.  While only 17% of those associations showing a decrease in total membership said that their new member input had increased. 
The same was not true with renewals.  Only 30% of all respondents reported an increase their renewal rate this year (down from 35% last year).  In fact, the mean renewal rate reported this year fell from 79% to 76% for individual membership associations and from 87% to 85% for trade associations.  It did increase from 76% to 80% for hybrid associations (those that offer both individual and organizational membership).
Still maintaining strong renewal rates obviously assists with growth.  Of those associations that report an increase in overall membership, 56% of them had renewal rates of 80% or better.  Conversely, of those associations that reported a decline in overall membership only 26% had renewal rates of 80% or better.
This is the sixth consecutive year that this membership marketing benchmarking research has been conducted.  A full, printed report is scheduled to be distributed to survey participants in June. 

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

100 Super Marketing Tips

Do you need some fresh ideas on how to improve your marketing?   Then take a look at a new booklet just published by Marketing General Incorporated, 100 Super Marketing Hints.  It is a free download.
You will find some great ideas ranging from email marketing improvements, to print production costs savings, to digital advertising enhancements.  Here are some of the hints.
·        In email marketing, use snippet text, not only will it show in the preview pane and above the fold views when images are turned off, it will appear in the initial inbox view.
·        Keep mail pieces under 11 1/2” x 6 1/8” to qualify for letter-sized postage rates.
·        Custom envelopes can be expensive and take weeks to manufacture; using a standard size or die could save up to 30%.
·        When conducting online, quantitative research, save space in your survey by embedding demographic data that is already in your database. 
·        When running campaigns in Google Adwords, select your keywords with care; Quality Score can have a huge impact on your campaign.
Starting out every promotion with the question, “what can I do better?” is the way to keep learning and to improve your results.  So I hope you find these fresh ideas of help.   You can get your copy of the booklet using this link. 

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Renew Your Renewal Program

As the final installment of my three membership resolutions for 2014, let’s focus on the critical area of keeping your current members by improving your renewal efforts.
Even small improvements in the renewal rates for an organization can have a dramatic impact on the overall membership.  For example, going from the average individual association renewal rate of 79% to an 85% rate, increases the average tenure of your membership from 4.76 years to 6.66 years.  That’s a 40% jump in tenure for a 7.5% lift in renewal rates.
Here are some adjustments you can make in your renewal program that will pay immediate dividends.
1. Increase the Frequency of Contact -- Research shows that associations with better-than-average renewal rates have between seven and 15 renewal contacts in their system.  However, you can measure the impact of increased touches on your own.  Simply add one additional mailed notice to your current program and divide the cost of this additional step by the number of renewing members.  It will almost certainly be less expensive renewing that last members than acquiring a brand new member.
2. Start Renewals Earlier -- When the renewal series begins also has an impact on renewal rates. The most effective series starts more than three months before expiration.  To avoid the inevitable member complaints of why the early renewals are being sent, try making including an "early bird" special offer to reward those who respond early.  Like it or not, there is a lot more competition for our members’ attention, so giving them an early warning of their dues payment coming up makes a difference.
3. Offer Members Payment Options – If your members pay their dues out of their own pocket, making automatic credit card renewal plans and installment options available can dramatically improve renewal rates.  One association reports increasing on-time renewal rates using an installment option from 55% renewal for non-participants to 82% for participants.
4. Use the Information in Your Database – The “finger prints” of your members’ behavior is captured in the form of data throughout your organization.  Properly analyzed this data can tell you who is likely to renewal and who is at risk.  For almost any group, usage of the website, opening emails, and product and service purchases are a positive predictor of renewal.  None usage by a member may require an intervention even before the renewal program begins to help communicate the value of membership.
5. Use Personalization Print Technology – The question some will ask at this point is how do I pay for these additional renewal strategies?  One solution is to move to a template renewal notice and use personalized laser printing to vary and customize your message.  This should result in much lower direct mail production costs.  Just like the laser printer in your office, you can print copy, graphics, and member specific information on a blank renewal form each month.  This variable printing allows for savings through postage presorts, less inventory storage, and the complexity of having your lettershop insert different renewal notices into different envelopes.
It is my observation that for many membership organizations renewal programs can fall into a rut.  The same program is run year after year.  Even worse, some programs continue to decrease the frequency of mailings to save costs and rely more on email and then they are surprised when renewal rates falter.
That is why it is important to take time each year to re-evaluate your renewal communications and the results that they are producing and evaluate changes that can help you pop your numbers.  Sometimes simple adjustments can produce highly profitable results. 

Friday, January 10, 2014

Participate in the 2014 Membership Marketing Benchmarking Survey

We have just launched the questionnaire for the 2014 Membership Marketing Benchmarking Survey and I want to invite blog readers who work for a membership organization to participate.

Last year nearly 700 membership organizations took part in this research. Our hope is to increase the quantity of participants in this the 6th year of the report in order to provide analysis with even finer segmentation than in the past.

If you are on our survey list, you would have already received an email with a personal link to connect you to the survey. Please use the link provided in the email to respond. However, if you have not received an email requesting you to participate, you can still be a part of the research by using this link.

To thank you for your participation in this best practices research project, we will send you a printed copy of the full, final report.

Please take a moment now to participate in this important research.  You can participate using this survey link

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Part Two: Three Membership Marketing Resolutions for the New Year

This is the second of three recommended membership marketing resolutions that I wanted to share at the start of the New Year.  In this resolution, I want to encourage you to experiment with digital advertising as a means to spread your message much more broadly and allow prospects to initiate a relationship with your organization.
Digital advertising -- from Search Engine Marketing (SEM), to social media advertising, to banner ads and many other options -- continues to grow at a very rapid pace.  In the US it is estimated that digital advertising, “will account for 21.8% of all ad spend ($109.7 billion), up from 19% the year before.”
However, very few membership organizations are tapping into this channel.  The most recent Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report highlighted that only 14% of associations use search engine ads and only 12% use paid banner ads on other websites to create and build awareness of their association.   There is a great deal of usage of association sponsored social media sites, but in a sense this digital presence is preaching to the choir instead of targeting brand new prospects. 

Digital advertising offers some terrific benefits to marketers.
·        Flexibility – With SEM and social media ads, you can adjust and allocate funds on a daily basis.  It is not like a print advertisement where once an ad runs there is not opportunity for adjustments.
·        Coverage – Digital advertising gives you access to every corner of the world where there is an internet connection.  Reaching this broadly with traditional media like direct mail can be prohibitively expensive.
·        Targeting – Digital advertising allows for pinpoint targeting by a person’s interests, job, geographic location, and behavior.  You are able to place the right opportunity in front of the right person. 
·        Measurement -- Response to digital advertising can be measured down to the penny.  You can know impressions, clicks, and with some effort the ultimate amount of purchases. 
·        Speed – You can literally have a digital advertising program up and running and producing response in a day.  However, you will want to take the time to put in place a relationship building response path to get the maximum value out of your media spend. 
There are many options to explore with digital ads, but here are some real life options that are working for membership organizations right now.

Social Media Advertising
Ads in LinkedIn or Facebook can be targeted by interests, likes, groups, skills, professions, and more.  Ads can be a direct membership offer that takes a prospect directly to a membership join site. Facebook allows for tracking directly from the click on the ad to your website’s “Thank You” page to verify the purchase.   Or you can offer free content to encourage a prospect to start a relationship with your organization like the sample below. 

Search Engine Marketing (SEM)
Both search and content ads can place your membership in front of prospects who are searching for answers.   An ideal offering for these ads is some free content produced by your organization in exchange for their contact information and an opt-in to continue communications.  This sample offers a free whitepaper on an important solution specifically provided to members of this association.

Google Remarketing
Many organizations have done their due diligence on Search Engine Optimization, but once a visitor leaves their site, they have no means to continue the interaction.  Google Remarketing can be used to continue to present a specific product or offer to the visitor on other pages once they have left your website. Here is an ad that appeared in the Washington Post following a visit to my company’s website. 

Another benefit of digital advertising is that you can start small and gradually build your program.  So it is something that you can experiment with over the course of this year. 
In my next post, I will look at one more resolutions that you may want to consider in this year.  And if you find posts of help, you may want to participate in a webinar on these resolutions that I will be doing for the ASAE Membership Section Council on Wednesday, January 29th.  Registration for the webinar is free, but a site registration with ASAE is required.  You can sign up for the webinar using this link.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Three Membership Marketing Resolutions for the New Year: Part One

In this and several upcoming posts, I want to share three resolutions you may want to consider for your membership marketing program in the New Year.  The first resolution is to re-focus your efforts on planning, testing, and tracking.

The basics of membership marketing are to create a plan, try new approaches, and track the results and your important membership data points.  Some groups do this very well, so this may be a simplistic resolution for you.  However, all membership organizations could do this better. 

When it comes to planning some groups simply do not have a documented plan in place to recruit and retain members.  And if you do not know where you are going, it is highly unlikely you will achieve very much. 

Other organizations suffer from the paralysis of analysis.  They over think their plans.  I remember the advice one executive director gave to a new membership staff person.  He said spend your first year getting to know the organization, your second year creating a plan, and your third year implementing the plan.

My preference would be to follow a “ready, fire, aim” strategy.  Put together a plan that makes sense to you and your team: include some new initiatives, read the responses from your promotions and then adapt your plan based on what works best. 

Here is an easy to use marketing template to put together a membership recruitment plan for your organization.   As you can see below, the template helps you to identify the main components that go into a plan including the marketing channels that you will use, the value proposition you will communicate, and your special offers, messages, and the frequency of contact for each market segment that you want to reach.

One of the biggest weaknesses in the practice of membership marketing is the lack of testing.  In the 2013 Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report only 16% of associations reported doing A/B tests in their marketing efforts.  Yet the results from a test can easily double or triple results.  Lack of testing means many programs are sub-optimizing their potential returns.  Marketing tests can be done on the special offers, graphics, messages, and the lists that you use in an effort. 

In the example below of testing lists, the response rates varied between 16 different lists used from 3.46% to 0.33%.  But if some of these higher responding lists had not been tried and the responses were not monitored, the organization might have continued to reach out to the lower responding prospects and never known about the best responding segments. 

Finally, tracking the key statistics related to your membership is essential.  I am sometimes surprised when I meet with an organization and they are not sure about how many new members join each month, or what their renewal rate is for new and longer term members, or even where their total membership count currently stands.  

Ideally, all of these numbers can be maintained on a simple dashboard that helps monitor this data.  Here is a sample of what a dashboard might look like. 

By regularly tracking your vital membership numbers, you will identify problems early on while there is time to make a change.  For example, if you see your “Conversion Rate” (new members’ renewal rate) declining for several months, you can do a quick survey to determine if there is a problem with your content or your product fulfillment.  If you see your overall renewal rate increasing, you can congratulate yourself of the successful changes you made to your renewal process.  Using a dashboard to track your membership allows you to continuously keep your finger on the pulse of your membership.

Laying a foundation for your membership program that includes creating a plan that can be quickly deployed and adapted, testing new opportunities that can offer big jumps in response, and tracking the ongoing health of your membership to allow for interventions is a very good start to the year for any membership organization. 

In subsequent posts, I will look at two other resolutions that you may want to consider in this year.  And if you find this series helpful, you are invited to participate in a webinar on these resolutions that I will be doing for the ASAE Membership Section Council on Wednesday, January 29th.  Registration for the webinar is free, but a site registration with ASAE is required.  You can sign up for the webinar using this link

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The Preeminence of Mission for Membership Associations

It is very easy in life to replace the end with the means.  This happens when we focus our attention on best business practices, individual leaders, or our own projects as the goal instead of the mission of the organization that we serve.

That’s why a recent presentation by Mark J. Golden, FASAE, CAE, at the Association Chief Executives (ACE) Symposium this month serves as an important reminder for membership professionals. 

He made the point that “Membership is a means to an end, not an end in and of itself. It is a feature of our volunteer--‐based ecosystem, not an actual benefit. We have membership because it is a way to marshal the economic and intellectual capital necessary to achieve the mission.”

Putting mission first with membership says that our efforts to recruit, engage, and retain members should have the overarching goal of helping our organization achieve the mission for which it was founded.  Ideally excellence in any business practice whether it is marketing, publishing, customer service or technology supports the mission.  But when this excellence becomes the goal in and of itself, it can actually deter mission. 

And this principle applies to for profit organizations as well as non-profits.  John Coleman, coauthor of the book, Passion & Purpose: Stories from the Best and Brightest Young Business Leaders, shared this on the HBR Blog:  “A great culture starts with a vision or mission statement. These simple turns of phrase guide a company’s values and provide it with purpose. That purpose, in turn, orients every decision employees make. When they are deeply authentic and prominently displayed, good vision statements can even help orient customers, suppliers, and other stakeholders.”

But as we come to the end of the year, it might be helpful to step back and apply these thoughts on mission to our own lives.  Putting mission first can also empower our own personal effectiveness and fulfillment in life.  I know that it is easy for me to get off track and off mission and to let competing everyday demands take me away from what is important.

The late Stephen Covey maintained that “personal mission statements based on correct principles are like a personal constitution, the basis for making major, life-directing decisions, the basis for making daily decisions in the midst of the circumstances and emotions that affect our lives.”

So my wish for you as we come to the end of this year is not only success in achieving the mission of your organization, but that you will remember your personal mission and enjoy the year ahead in fulfilling your purpose.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

2013 Membership Marketing Observations

At the end of the year, many bloggers present their trends for the year.  I am not going to be so bold, but I will share some observations of what I have seen and discussed with dozens of membership professionals over the past 12 months.
Let me combine these thoughts into five observations.

1.     Growth of Online Marketing: More and more marketing dollars are moving toward various forms of online advertising. The money is clearly coming out of print advertising and other channels.  Membership organizations are using Google Search and Content, Facebook and LinkedIn ads, Google Remarketing, and web ads to initiate a dialogue with a prospective member by gaining an email opt-in request to start and relationship with the organization.  These digital marketing methods are being adopted because they are track able, scalable, measurable and global.

2.     Squeezed Marketing Budgets: During this past year, I have seen some rather large associations cut budgets for membership recruitment.  At the same time, I have interacted with a number of moderate to small organizations who report surprisingly inadequate budgets to accomplish their membership goals. Money for marketing appears to be scarcer, so cost justification and marketing smarter are understandably more important than ever. 

3.     Growth of Data Analytics: Perhaps out of a need to market smarter, data analytics has taken a much more prominent position in membership marketing.  Good analytics can tell you who the best candidates are to recruit, who are most likely to renew, and what strategy will produce the best membership ROI.  The ability to track and analyze is more important than ever. 

4.     Senior Association Staff Transitions:  Over the past year, I have spoken with more senior association staff members that are either out of work or looking for new career opportunities.  Perhaps it is because of the tight budgets noted earlier or because they were remaining in a position until the economy began to improve.  Whatever the reason, there are some very talented association staff that are looking to move into new positions. 

5.     Average to Above Average Growth in Membership Counts: The combination of innovative new strategies like online marketing and data analytics and budget cuts has resulted in most organizations experiencing only average to above average outcomes in membership marketing.  The groups with above average growth have often also used aggressive pricing strategies to bring in new members.   But most organizations it appears have seen single digit growth or slight declines in their membership numbers this past year.
As I write this, I realize that in many ways, membership organizations reflect the economy as a whole with slow growth, a move to web and digital communications, and a sluggish job market.   In January, we will be launching our next Membership Marketing Benchmarking Survey.  So it will be interesting to see if my small sampling of observations from this past year is accurate across a much broader audience.

What have you observed in your 2013 membership marketing experiences?  Please feel free to share your thoughts. 

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Membership Marketing Focused on Lapsed Members

In a recent piece, Jeffrey Cufaude wrote about a little experiment he conducted.  On purpose, he let his membership expire with three professional associations to see what would happen.  What he found was that “1 out of 3 slightly acted in a manner consistent with organizations that profess to be about ‘community.’  But since then?  Crickets.  Silence.  Nada.”
Fortunately, discontinuing communications are not how all membership organizations operate.  The 2013 Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report highlights that 32% of associations “continue indefinitely to contact lapsed members.”
Here is why staying in touch with former members is so important.  Every relationship personal and professional can have problems.  But in most cases, it is best to try to fix the problem rather than starting a wholly new relationship.
The same is true with membership.  A member may be dissatisfied or lose touch with the organization.  But in almost every case, organizations that I have worked with have found a former member more likely to re-join the organization compared to a totally new prospective member.  This is why membership reinstatement is a significant component of the membership lifecycle.  All members will someday leave, but many will come back if asked.
So when you look to get former members to come back, here are some things to keep in mind.
1.      Learn.  There is an old proverb that says, “Look where you tripped and not where you fell.”  Former members can be your most valuable resource to identify problems and impediments in your membership program.  Ask them why they did not continue and drill down beyond the standard answer of it was too expensive.  Then use the information to keep more members and win back those who have left.

2.      Acknowledge.  Address a former member as someone you know had a previous relationship with your organization.  One association does a great job of this by instead of asking the former member to “please join” they send out a greeting card that says, “We miss you.”  The card includes a personalized message to the former member.

3.      Keep trying.  Perhaps the most important message about reaching out to lapsed members is, do not give up on re-establishing a relationship.  Many associations are sitting on a relational and financial goldmine of former members that they have failed to re-engage.  They just need to replace the chirping of crickets with an ongoing effort to restore the relationship.
There are many marketing tools available for following up with former members.  Since an association has a previously established business relationship with lapsed members, it is appropriate to use both email and telemarketing in outreach efforts.  Some organizations also use staff and board calls to encourage a member to return.  But whatever the mechanism that works best, try contacting your former members and replace silence with a request to return. 

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Developing a Successful Student Membership Strategy

According to the 2013 Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report, 52% of associations offer a Student membership category.  At 71%, Student membership is offered most frequently by individual membership associations.
When you take a look at existing programs, students are typically offered a somewhat downsized membership package ranging from one year free to a dues payment of between $25 and $50. Many Student programs are presented very nicely and highlight the economic benefits and advantages that are available through membership. 
Here are some examples:
·        Association for Computing Machinery makes five levels of Student membership available starting at $19.

·        Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics makes free Student membership available with some conditions, but Student members receive the periodical in an electronic format.

·        American Counseling Association has a Student membership that parallels their New Professional membership at a $94 dues rate and includes professional liability insurance.

However, in speaking with membership professionals, it is not always clear that there is a defined strategy for what a Student membership is attempting to accomplish.  Here are some important questions to consider in building a Student membership strategy.

1.      How do you identify eligible students for membership?  If you build it, they will not come.  And unlike established professionals or firms in a field who can often be identified in marketing and licensure lists, finding accurate contact information for students is much more challenging.  So a strategy needs to include building a channel to reach students through schools, referrals from professors, online ads, or a chapter structure. 

2.      How do you deliver value to these members?  There are many conversations today about the different needs of each generation.  The needs of students will vary from your typical member. So spend some time defining what will be of value to a student and how they want to communicate.  One dental association, for example, uses a free booklet titled, “Keys to a Successful Career in Dentistry” to encourage acceptance of a free membership and to demonstrate relevance to potential student members.   

3.      How do you stay connected to students once they join? When you calculate retention rates by membership category almost every group will find students have the lowest renewal rate.  Often the chief challenge is not that students do not value the membership, but that the association loses touch with them as they graduate and relocate.  Therefore, it is critical to capture permanent mailing address, phone, and email information from students.  Requesting an opt-in for texting is also of value.

4.      How do you justify the economics of servicing students? Perhaps the most important part of a Student membership strategy is building a sustainable economic model.  Do students ultimately convert to a regular member who is engaged with the association?  One way to determine this is to track the pathway of students to full membership or do a computer match of previous Student members and your current membership database.  A smart strategy will evaluate whether the economic commitment of acquiring, serving, and in many cases subsidizing students ultimately leads to a committed member. 
In the long run, today’s students are the future of any organization.  Developing a strategy on how to reach them, serve them, retain them and building a foundation that makes economic sense is time well spent for any membership organization focused on a sustainable future.