How to Continuously Evolve to Attract and Retain Members

How to Continuously Evolve to Attract and Retain Members

Membership is a central concern for every association. Growing your membership base, retaining members, and ensuring your members are engaged in your association’s functions and activities should all be key parts of your strategic plan. Even associations with a large and diverse membership need to be consistently evolving and planning to offer value to their members and to ensure they stand out from the crowd. We consider the main things to focus on when thinking about your membership.


Demonstrating and delivering value in membership


Every association relies on its membership base, and members are the reason for an association’s existence. All associations should exist with the primary aim of delivering value to their members in a variety of ways, ranging from industry insight, to networking opportunities, to government advocacy. But it’s important that your organisation knows how to convey and demonstrate this value, and that members feel that they are benefitting from the money they invest in a membership.  


An important first step is identifying your association’s value internally. Ask questions such as:

  • Are members engaged with our association – do they attend events, use services, and respond to surveys and other requests for information?
  • Are members given opportunities to develop professionally – through networking, guest speakers, conferences, courses and more?
  • Are members being advocated for – does your association lobby government, form special interest groups, and influence policy?
  • Is your offering up to date and relevant – have you made improvements and changes to ensure you continue to deliver value?


This exercise will help to clarify what you are doing well, and where there might be areas for improvement. Once you have clearly identified your membership’s value, you can begin to demonstrate this to members and potential members via channels such as your association newsletter, phone calls, social media, conferences, events, and more. Be clear and consistent in your messaging and always keep your overarching association vision in mind. 


Differentiating your organisation within a crowded market


Unless you are in a very niche industry, it is unlikely that you are going to be the only association operating within your sector. Differentiating yourself from other associations in the same space can be challenging, especially when it feels like everyone is doing similar things. However, it is important that you create a point of difference so that you can stand out in the crowd and attract more members. 


A good place to start is to scan your operating environment and see what others are doing. This will give you a clearer idea of where you stand in comparison with your competition. Compare their strengths and weaknesses with your own, so you can identify the areas where you might have an advantage. 


Next, focus on what your association does really well. Maybe you run the best industry conference or have access to the best experts in the field for professional development sessions. Maybe you have the greatest range of services? Whatever your strength is, focus on it and present yourself to the market as the leaders in that space.


Finally, always keep growing and developing as an organisation. An association that becomes stagnant will fail to keep up in a dynamic environment. In your strategic planning sessions, look forward to the future and create some challenging but realistic goals for growth. 


Improving member engagement and participation


A large membership base is obviously highly beneficial to an association, but the ideal scenario is a group of members who actively engage with your organisation. Member engagement is important for three main reasons:

  • member retention – engaged members are more likely to continue their membership, as they will believe they are getting good value for money 
  • community-building – the more members who participate in association events, the better the sense of a community and opportunities for networking
  • increased revenue – aside from membership fees, associations can generate revenue through additional expenses such as conferences, courses and more.


If you are noticing a drop in engagement or are struggling to get members to participate in the things you are offering, there are a number of strategies you can try. 


Improve communications

When people are bombarded with too many emails, they tend to switch off. Instead, aim for targeted and customised content. You can achieve this by segmenting your members by different interest areas, asking them for their preferred contact method, and keeping records of past conversations.


Offer a range of events

Not all events will be relevant to all members, so offering a variety will entice people to attend the events that suit them. You can also make events easier to participate in by providing options such as in-person, hybrid and online events, and offer different times of day.


The importance of onboarding and offboarding members


When new members join your association, your goal should be to deliver value from the outset. Engage immediately and ensure that your new member is aware of your offering, has the opportunity to get involved, and knows what to expect from their membership. Developing a welcome packet is a good way to combine the relevant information with joining instructions, such as how to access your online portal. 


If a member does decide to discontinue their relationship with your association, don’t simply let them go without comment. Offboarding is important to keep the door open for members to return. Provide a respectful farewell which includes a thank you for their membership and participation, and a wish for their success.