Encourage Innovation, Preach Benefits and Pick Up Phone, Report Urges

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Are we encouraging innovation enough?

Asked if their organization currently has a process in place for innovation and new ideas, 42% said a flat-out no and another 35% said no, but we are working on developing a process. Only 23% said yes, we have a specified process. "Organizations reporting increases in one-year and five-year membership numbers are significantly more likely to indicate they already have a specified process in place to support innovation and new ideas."

That came from a respondent in Marketing General's 2019 Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report. The audience they surveyed is mostly from associations, but I think there are enough similarities in their mission to give the responses validity for the SIPA audience. Here is some analysis of their findings:

Are you marketing your benefits to your members? Said one respondent: "We keep hearing 'I didn't know you did that,' regardless of how strongly we believe we do a good job of marketing our association's key benefits." I remember an early magazine lesson I received: when you do a redesign, tell your readers. Similarly, preach your benefits; that includes picking out articles in your publications to promote. We assume far too much. Let your readers know!

Pick up the phone. A majority (56%) of trade associations say that phone calls have generated the most reinstated lapsed members. Almost every association includes at least one phone call and one mailing as part of their renewal efforts. Said one respondent: "When our expiring members were coming to the end of their grace period, the member services team phoned each member (more than 200) to remind them to renew—this included overseas phone calls. We found that people renewed immediately."

Are we creating enough networking opportunities? When asked the top three reasons members join their organizations, networking was a resounding winner at 60%. Next was learning best practices (32%), accessing specialized or current information (26%) and attending conferences/trade shows (23%). Accessing industry thought leaders was also mentioned frequently.

Is our sign-up process simple? "Simplify your membership options and sign up process," one respondent urged. "Adding complexity can overwhelm prospects and make it harder for them to engage.

Are you getting new subscribers/members to your events? "Our research shows that if we can get a new member to an event (education or networking) in the first 90 days, they are more likely to renew their membership," said one respondent. "We have been working with our chapters to get them to invite new members to events."

How is your data looking? "Data issues" seem to be one of the most common refrains for what keeps people up at night. Said one respondent: "We use four different systems to manage our data. Our data practices, until 2 years ago, have been abysmal. They are improving but we are not able to look at any given member and have an entire picture of their membership and engagement with our organization."

Does our onboarding make them feel special? Some of the onboarding methods mentioned by respondents include: a membership card or certificate; a mailed welcome kit; opportunity to create a membership profile; members-only website sections; special online communities; in-person new-member receptions; invitation to volunteer (these can be valuable these days); hand-written thank-you notes; and a welcome phone call. One respondent delivers a new member onboarding meeting via Zoom internationally 1-2 times monthly, and follows up with video of the meeting to registered participants. "We increased new member retention by 5% year over year."

Should we offer a grace period after a subscription/membership runs out? The majority (44%) offer a 2-3 month grace period, while 20% offer one month, and 12% offer 4-6 months. Almost 20% offer no grace period at all. Just over one-third starts renewal efforts three months before expiration. But said one respondent: "Start the renewal reminders EARLIER (we pushed ours back to 4 months out) and extend them two months after. If our members don't renew before they expire, it takes them about 3 to 4 months to finally get around to renewing—we added a 'this is your last issue' magazine envelope as well and have seen a nice uptick with that."

15 months for 12 anyone? "We ran a 'Cyber Week' deal the last week in November and secured 4% of our total new membership for the year in that week alone. The deal was 15 months of membership for the price of 12. The campaign was sent to all non-members in our database and increased awareness of our organization and the benefits and resources that we offer."

You can download the complete report here.

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Ronn Levine began his career as a reporter for The Washington Post and has won numerous writing and publications awards since. Most recently, he spent 12 years at the Newspaper Association of America covering a variety of topics before joining SIPA in 2009 and SIIA in 2013 as editorial director…