Preventing Membership Churn: Advice From an HR Professional

Member Churn February 24, 2020 By: Jennifer Loftus

Membership turnover, like staff turnover, is a critical issue for associations. Providing opportunities for members to engage and discover new value can incentivize them to stay.

Recruiting and retaining members is a lot like recruiting and retaining staff: Success depends on strengthening your culture to prioritize engagement.

Staff turnover is a major issue for organizations of all kinds. A 2019 Gallup report estimates that voluntary turnover costs U.S. businesses roughly a trillion dollars each year. But turnover isn’t just an issue for employers: Many associations are grappling with membership churn, including the challenge of retaining first-year members.

As a human resources consultant, it’s my job to help employers ensure that people feel engaged at work. Some of the same tactics that I use for staff retention can be applied to address membership retention as well. For example:

Ask members why they left. Conducting an online survey with lapsed members will help you better understand their reasons for not renewing. Consider this a member exit interview.

Target young members. One trend that’s disrupting both membership and talent acquisition is the rate at which baby boomers are retiring from the workforce. Developing strategies to attract younger members will be crucial moving forward.

Define member value. Both employees and members frequently leave because they no longer see value in an organization. I believe this is the biggest cause of staff and member turnover, and unlike demographic change, it’s completely avoidable.

To remain relevant to members, your association must provide value in several forms—and, more important, keep them aware of and engaged with those valuable services, networks, and opportunities. A disengaged member is more likely to opt out of a renewal or, worse, simply forget about you altogether.

A disengaged member is more likely to opt out of a renewal or, worse, simply forget about you altogether.

Prevent Turnover

When members have plenty of opportunities to engage with you and derive value from that engagement, they’re incentivized to stay. To remain front-of-mind with them, be on the lookout for new engagement opportunities that you can offer—whether that’s a new type of event, certification, or way to connect online with other members. Just make sure these opportunities provide value; otherwise, the service, benefit, or experience will likely go unused and ignored.

As important as offering new engagement opportunities is ensuring that members know about them and where to find them. The best way to strengthen your communications strategy is to clearly define the member life cycle, and then communicate early and often. Start by leveraging the member data you already have, and use those insights to better target or customize your messaging to particular member segments. 

Paying close attention to data in your association management system can help you identify members at risk of lapsing. Look for low-engagement signals such as low event attendance or infrequent member-portal logins. Then, segment those members and target them with personalized communications and plenty of attention.

Jennifer Loftus

Jennifer Loftus is a founding partner and national director of Astron Solutions in New York City.