Cracking the Code: The Real Reason Members Don’t Renew

Decoding Member Non-Renewal: Unraveling the Mystery
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The Real Reason Members Don't Renew Membership: They Don't Know What You Do

Membership surveys consistently indicate that the primary reason for non-renewal among members is a perceived lack of value. The common factors cited by members who don’t renew membership often include lack of engagement, value, or return on investment (ROI). This raises the question: “What do they want us to do?” But the real question is: “What do they think we do?”

A prominent medical society, facing challenges in delivering member value like many others, posed this question and received a startling response: Members knew almost nothing about most of the work the association did. Shockingly, only 20% of established physicians were aware of any other offerings from the association besides the journal. Consequently, they failed to grasp the value of their membership because they were unaware of the association’s other valuable resources. As a result, they lacked a compelling reason to renew membership.

Members knew almost nothing about most of the work the association did. Shockingly, only 20% were aware of any other offerings besides the journal.

Members don't need new things to make them renew

The main question was this: “How would their perception change if they were aware?” To explore this, they experimented. They engaged in discussions with doctors about the organization and its impactful contributions. These discussions were titled “Twenty Minutes With Tim” (pseudonym). They believed that spending twenty minutes with any physician would be sufficient to persuade them to become members and renew their membership. We explained everything the organization did to improve the lives of doctors and their patients, most of which they had never heard of before. Subsequently, they asked if these physicians would consider joining or renewing. Almost all of them said they would. 

The key takeaway is that members weren’t asking for anything new or different. They weren’t expressing any dissatisfaction with the organization’s current efforts. Instead, they weren’t aware of all the organization’s great work that served their interests. The real challenge lay not in coming up with new offerings but in effectively showcasing the exceptional offerings they already had. 

You must align with how members perceive value

Not every member gives you twenty minutes. Sometimes, you only have twenty seconds while they quickly scan your email or post. Naturally, you might feel inclined to overwhelm them with a long list of everything you do or desperately try to direct them to your website for more information. But even if you’re already doing these things, chances are you’re still struggling to make an impact. Your current methods aren’t effective because they don’t align with how members perceive value.

Think about those classic diners with extensive menus boasting hundreds of options. Do you read the entire menu? Or do you skip to the dishes you like and ignore the rest? It can be off-putting when you must put in so much effort to find what you want. While your organization is not a diner, you might unintentionally imitate one by bombarding your members with information, hoping they’ll find something they like. So, how can you simplify your offerings when everything you do is genuinely valuable?


members don't renew just for transactions

Twenty Minutes With Tim revealed an important insight: not all members prioritize transactional value, where it’s a give-and-take relationship. Some members are interested in benefits and discounts, while others have different concerns. These individuals focus on improving patient outcomes, challenging insurance companies and pharmaceutical giants, and enhancing their practices. What’s intriguing is that these members aren’t searching for mere deals; they seek an ally.

The organization possesses a wealth of information that aligns with members’ interests. They have achieved remarkable accomplishments and obtained impressive results. When members become aware of these endeavors, they recognize the value and find a compelling reason to renew membership for themselves and their profession and patients. They perceive the organization as an ally worth supporting, thus motivating them to continue their membership.

Associations find themselves wondering, "What do they want us to do?" The real question is, "What do they think we do?"

If you want them to renew membership, tell them what you do for them

In response, the organization rolled out a bold new strategy that made what they learned in Twenty Minutes With Tim into a campaign. It put physicians front and center in the membership brand, and reinforced the things the association did that doctors cared about most. It included “proof points,” real stories of things the association had accomplished for doctors to make the case that membership was for them. In just one year, this innovative membership brand and marketing strategy  tripled the rate at which new members joined the association. (To learn more, read The Power Of Strategy: How AMA Achieved Exponential Member Growth.)

Countless organizations face a similar challenge. Frequently, associations find themselves wondering, “What do they think we do?” It becomes clear that their members really have no idea what their association does and that therein lies the root cause of why members don’t engage and don’t renew membership. 

What do your members think YOU do? The answer could be the real reason members don’t renew.


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