3 Keys to Solving the Member Retention Puzzle

Member Retention
Reading Time: 3 minutes
This article was originally published in Associations NOW as Three Keys to Solving the Member Retention Puzzle.

It’s no secret that member retention is critical. How to achieve it is another story. A membership expert unlocks three clear and evidence-based paths to reaching successful and effective member retention.

Everyone knows member retention is crucial to a healthy membership. You can never increase your membership if you lose more members than you bring in. What is far less obvious are the factors that drive retention. Of the 1,000 things that could affect member retention, which ones matter? Recent research [PDF] by Sequence Consulting into the best practices of leading membership organizations across industries point to three key areas that make the most difference.

Bet Big on First-Year Renewal

The first renewal is worth more than all the others. A lot more. Why? Sequence Consulting research shows [PDF] that each time a member renews, they are even more likely to renew the next time. On average, a new member is 50 percent likely to renew. They will be 80 percent likely to renew the following year, and even more likely to renew after that. And the more times a member renews, the less it costs to keep them.

In other words, the first renewal buys you more than just another year of dues—it alters the membership trajectory for years to come. Investment in retaining new members is the best membership investment you can make. However, this does not mean you should invest in new members at the expense of all others. What it does mean is that if you invest in your new members, you won’t need to invest as much in the others

“Investment in retaining new members is the best membership investment you can make.”

Watch the 90-Day Clock

Research also shows that you have a new member’s attention for 90 days. Their peak interest is in the first weeks after they join when they are excited about the new experience. That interest wanes over the first few months and then drops off quickly. Membership makes a promise. You have 90 days to keep that promise before you lose your chance.

How do you keep your promise? By engaging them in value. Explaining is not the same as engaging. Onboarding is crucial, but the goal should not be to just inform. It should be to incite action. Members get value by proactively doing something with you. That means a class, an event, consuming great content, and more. Members who do not engage with you early on are unlikely to do so at renewal time.

Not All Engagement Is Equal

While everything your organization does matters, not everything matters for renewal. Another insight from the research is that any engagement is good, but some engagement efforts excel at keeping members. How do you know which is which? Your data should tell you.

Look at the activities you track and see which correlate with renewal. You will likely find that a small number of offerings explain a sizable portion of your retention. These are the engagements you want to promote and track as leading indicators of member retention.

In most cases, recurring engagements will be the “stickiest” of all: subscriptions, recertifications, and annual plans. Offerings like this deliver continuous value for as long as the member renews. It is also true that member-to-member experiences, especially those that repeat like most meetings, are also powerful drivers for renewal. Other people are one of the best reasons to belong to as association and keep belonging.

Finally, digging a little deeper will show you that if one engagement is good, more than one is fantastic. Research suggests that members with three or more high-value engagements are often 100 percent likely to renew, suggesting that you should not stop trying after the first engagement. A cardinal rule of all marketing is that your best prospect is the customer who just bought from you.

It is only a slight exaggeration to say that by the time you send your renewal notices, it is already too late to make a difference. Most of the renewal decisions were determined in the first few months of membership. Of course, associations should always focus on delivering high member value, but research suggests that a concerted focus on new member engagement may be your best move for member retention.

4 Top Takeaways on the Membership of the Future

Membership Of The Future
Reading Time: 3 minutes
This article was originally published in Associations NOW as Top Takeaways on How Membership Will Survive the Great Reset.

4 Top Takeaways On the Membership of The Future

Our new report gives you advice from the top leaders of successful associations on the changes to make right now to create a thriving membership of the future.

The events that unfolded over 2020 and 2021 have brought about extraordinary change for organizations in nearly every industry. Associations in particular had to adapt quickly and assess old ways of doing things and determine the best path forward, while keeping up with evolving member expectations. The lessons associations learned in crisis will guide next steps.

Our latest report, “10 Ways to Get Ready for the Membership of the Future Nowdraws on research conducted with senior leaders of successful associations to highlight 12 changes you can make today to best prepare for the membership of the future.

Crank Up The Content

Speed up your cycle. Are you publishing engaging new content daily? It’s important to deliver content that adds value to your members every day

Reboot your process. If your content and communications process cannot work at that pace and scale, get a new one. Out with the old and in with the new—go digital with content.

Repurpose, repackage, recycle. Reformat long-form reports, huge PDFs, event content, and other resources into more digestible content.

Let your members create it for you. User-generated content can be some of the most meaningful content you can get. Think beyond guest blogs to other formats and channels to give your members the stage. For example, member-hosted forums (online or hybrid) or member-created video and photography.

“Putting a stake in the ground and marking clear organizational boundaries and goals that the entire organization can rally around will change the game.”

Create Member-to-Member Experiences

Do it small but often. Frequent—even weekly—small group, member-driven interactions have proven to be some of the most valuable things associations can do. The Executives Club of Chicago hosts an informal virtual “Coffee and Connect” for members every week.

Present less, discuss more. The most successful presentation formats now keep the presentation time to a minimum and maximize time for genuine discussion. The American Psychological Association has landed on a winning format of 10 minutes of expert presentation with 30 minutes for open discussion.

Create spaces to connect.What many people love most about membership is the impromptu conversations that happen in between scripted content and events. Members will create connections themselves if you create inviting spaces for them. Monthly discussion sessions for groups of like-minded members, private social media channels you provide but that members can create for themselves, and small, in-person local gatherings that build on your annual event themes are all good examples of how this is being done today.

Keep Your Promise

Lead with brand strategy. A brand strategy is not a vision or mission statement, and it is not a logo or tagline. It is a deeply felt promise about who you are, how you show up in the world, and a solid plan for how you will live it.

Stake your claim.Putting a stake in the ground and marking clear organizational boundaries and goals that the entire organization can rally around will change the game. Name your purpose and stick to it, especially when times get tough.

Walk the talk.Your mission statement might only live on your website, but your purpose should shine through in everything you do.

Build Capabilities and the Outcomes Will Follow

Get real. In each of the areas above, do you have what it takes to execute at the highest level? When the next huge disruption comes will you be able to adapt? Be honest about where you have gaps and get serious about necessary investments you should make for the membership of the future.

Prioritize capabilities over outcomes.This sounds like a break from the traditional “goals and metrics” approach to planning (which still has a place). Organizations that had invested in first-class systems and processes before the crisis found themselves innovating in ways they never thought of and achieving outcomes they could not have hoped for

One lesson we have all learned: Expect the unexpected. It will not always be a health crisis, but the pace and scale of disruptive events will only accelerate. The most forward-looking organizations think through all the possible scenarios as their primary strategic planning process. The traditional five-year plan has become a directional “north star.” Proactively anticipating disruptions builds agility and financial stability at the same time. The key to survival in the membership of the future, as we learned the hard way, is agility and responsiveness.

To learn more about exploring the future of membership, read our complete report, 10 Ways to Get Ready for the Membership of the  Future Now.

3 Steps to a Great Nonprofit Brand Strategy

Nonprofit Brand Strategy
Reading Time: 4 minutes

Think Fast: What is Your Nonprofit Brand Strategy?

It is not just a mission or vision. A nonprofit brand strategy is how your organization shows up in the world, and how you want existing and potential members to see and feel about you. It is a promise about who you will be to them, and a promise they expect you to fulfill. 

Far more than a logo or tagline, a great brand strategy is a compass by which you navigate your future. 

Our research has shown that most organizations never think about their brand promise, but high-performing organizations are invested in their brand strategy and intentionally orient to it in every big decision they make. 

In fact, our most recent research report found that 4 out of 5 organizations that came through 2020 the strongest did so by explicitly leaning into their brand promise as the No. 1 yardstick of what they would and would not do. 

So, how can you create your own nonprofit brand strategy?

It is not just a mission or vision. A nonprofit brand strategy is how your organization shows up in the world, and how you want existing and potential members to see and feel about you. It is a promise about who you will be to them, and a promise they expect you to fulfill. 

Far more than a logo or tagline, a great brand strategy is a compass by which you navigate your future. 

Our research has shown that most organizations never think about their brand promise, but high-performing organizations are invested in their brand strategy and intentionally orient to it in every big decision they make. 

In fact, our most recent research report found that 4 out of 5 organizations that came through 2020 the strongest did so by explicitly leaning into their brand promise as the No. 1 yardstick of what they would and would not do. 

So, how can you create your own nonprofit brand strategy?

Step 1: Build a Pyramid

When building your brand strategy from the ground up, think about it taking the shape of a pyramid, with a line drawn in the middle from top to bottom. 

On one side of the pyramid, you have the rational aspects — the “thinking” reasons a member would join. That is, your value exchange of benefits. Most organizations stop there with a list of what members get for their dues; that’s important, but it is only half of your brand story.

On the other side of the pyramid, you have the emotional aspects of your strategy — the “feeling” reasons members are drawn to you and want to belong. These are harder to think about but they are actually the first reasons members are drawn to you. It is why they even consider the benefits you offer. People want to belong, to connect, to have a sense of identity, to feel influential. How does your organization feel for potential members? How does it feel to belong?  

The way the rational and emotional converge at the peak of the pyramid is your brand promise. It should boil down to one clear, compelling umbrella statement that ties everything you do together. 

For example, Subaru tells us that “Love is what makes a Subaru a Subaru.” Everything they say and do shows they don’t only care about making you love your Subaru, they care about supporting you in loving your family and community, as well. Subaru owners know that and they feel that. As a result, Subaru has some of the most loyal customers in the world. 

Great association brands have that power, too.

Step 2: Show, Don't Tell

Think about your brand promise and ask yourself, why should members believe you? 

What do you do every day that “pays off” on that promise? Our research shows that for more than 80% of associations, the overwhelming majority of members don’t really know what the organization does. But when they do learn about it, their feelings are far more positive and they are much more likely to belong.

Think about your “proof points” – strong, simple examples of how you deliver on your promise to your members. The most powerful proof you have is the great work you do. Most organizations underuse it. Tell stories about how you make a difference. Don’t just tell them who you are, show them.

Let’s go back to our Subaru example. Subaru shares not just their safety awards but stories of how their cars have protected real people. They show you examples of people doing what they love because their Subaru made it possible. They show you that love really does make a Subaru a Subaru. 

Highlighting your proof points makes your brand tangible and relatable. It helps your members “get” you and makes them feel drawn to know more.

Step 3: Live It

How do you put your promise and your proof points to work? 

Sure, you show it on your website but it goes much further than that. Your brand is not just about how you talk. It is about the things you choose to do. A great brand lives its strategy. Their people feel it and believe it and put it to work every day as they serve their members. This becomes crystal clear in times of crisis when tough choices must be made. The strongest organizations ask themselves out loud “what is the best way to keep our brand promise?” 

Before the crisis, the American Medical Association rebuilt their nonprofit brand strategy around the promise to be: “The Physician’s Powerful Ally in Health Care.”  They have 20 clear and compelling proof points of how they do that in their work fighting the opioid crisis, reducing hypertension, advocating for physician confidentiality and fair reimbursements, and much more. They make sure physicians hear them and give them reasons every day to believe them. Their renewed brand focus has led to a massive shift in physicians’ perceptions of AMA — and their strongest member growth ever.

The power of a strong nonprofit brand strategy is just one of the success lessons in our most recent research. You can read more about nonprofit brand strategy and other lessons in our full report.

This article originally appeared Sidecar as 3 Steps to a Great Nonprofit Brand Strategy

The 4 Most Important Questions to Up Your Content Game Now

Association Content
Reading Time: 3 minutes

How Can You Up Your Association Content Game? Four Big Questions to Ask Now

The online content your nonprofit creates tells a story. It highlights the importance of your work and accomplishments. Done well, it can further your mission by attracting new members and inspiring constituents to action.

Now that the pandemic has moved so much of our lives online, your association content strategy is more important than ever. And your audience expects more than ever: a static website, monthly newsletter, and occasional Facebook post are not enough..

Sequence Consulting recently conducted a survey of national and Chicago-area associations to find out how the pandemic had changed their members’ expectations for online content. What we found almost certainly applies to most nonprofits, regardless of size and mission: the demand for timely and useful information is increasing and will likely remain high in a post-pandemic world. To decide if your nonprofit needs to level up its content strategy, ask yourself the following four questions:

1. Do You Publish New Association Content Often?

If not, you need to! In the past year, organizations that prided themselves on highly-produced, in-depth publications learned that this content style no longer worked for their members.

Todd Unger, chief experience officer of the American Medical Association, said that members were now asking for more frequent contact, and cared less about the production value of content than its timeliness. “‘We want to see you more and hear from you more,’” members told the AMA.

All nonprofits should make new online content a priority, but the frequency depends on your goals. If your mission. like the AMA’s, includes being an up-to-date source of relevant news, then you should publish new association content daily. Advocacy organizations which aim to inspire members to immediate action on important issues should produce content daily, even if just through a social media post or a tweet. Even the smallest nonprofits shouldn’t neglect to communicate weekly if they want to be remembered. Fortunately, frequent communication has never been easier, and you no longer need to spend time and resources on perfectly polished content—members and contributors prefer content that meets their immediate needs.

2. Are You Taking Full Advantage of Technology?

Thanks to the unprecedented use of web conferencing platforms like Zoom, you now have the opportunity to secure higher-caliber speakers for digital events. Speakers and members can attend from anywhere, providing opportunities that would be impossible with in-person events. Whether virtual or in-person, there is significant value in live events. Margaret Mueller, CEO of the Executives Club of Chicago, finds that having high-quality speakers interact with members live allows “the connection to become more raw and real.”

These events don’t need to be elaborate to be effective. One of the hallmarks of The Executives’ Club’s new content strategy is Coffee and Connect, where members can log on at the same time a few mornings a week to get advice from an expert in residence about the issues their business is currently facing.

Ask yourself what information would be most engaging to your constituents, and what experts they would most like to hear from. Find a way to deliver that information to them quickly, in a live format. 

3. Are You Publishing Your Events As Association Content?

When the pandemic hit, many nonprofits had to quickly abandon traditional event formats and go digital with their conferences, trainings, and fundraising events. One benefit: any online event, large or small, can be recorded and repackaged as content. Quick highlights from a longer video can be excerpted and shared via social media, email, and your website. Key points can be summarized in a blog post or a great quote shared with a tweet. The recorded event itself can be made available online. By taking your event content, repackaging it, and distributing it online to those who couldn’t attend live, you can provide significant value. Again, video doesn’t need to be highly produced to be engaging and effective.

4. Are You Highlighting Constituent Stories?

Ultimately, people want to be part of organizations making a difference. Members of professional associations want to read stories about colleagues who have excelled while simultaneously making an impact. Supporters of any nonprofit would value hearing from staff and those they impact talk about challenges and victories.

Some highly successful associations have already adopted this approach. For example, the AMA publishes a short-form digital magazine that focuses on members who are moving medicine forward. Some of the American Bar Association’s most popular content consists of members telling stories about other members. The Executive’s Club of Chicago shares members’ stories online through short video segments.

There are many ways to incorporate personal stories into your association content strategy. Find the strategies that work best for your nonprofit. You will see engagement, membership, and revenue grow when you do.

For more information on how top associations are using lessons learned during the pandemic to transform content marketing for associations, read our complete research report, Ten Ways to Get Ready for the Future of Membership Now.

This article was originally published by the Association of Consultants to Nonprofits