Problems with Association Membership

Written by Amanda Kaiser on April 29, 2019

This year I joined three associations and let two memberships lapse. Since I specialize in member engagement I paid special attention to each association’s onboarding and renewal messaging. One association sent a welcome email from the executive director inviting me to reply with questions. I did have questions so I wrote back but never received an answer. The other two associations did not send any welcome, orientation, or onboarding messaging. I tried calling one and left a message but did not receive a return call. Overall, these three associations were extremely passive which echos the experience most new members have. Many associations are not doing enough to connect new members to the value and experience they have just purchased.

While three associations offered little to no onboarding communications, the two associations whose membership I was letting lapse were feisty! I received a handful of emails from each leading up to the renewal date. Then another handful of emails after my membership lapsed. The emails ranged in tone from almost tearful, to sterile, to nearly threatening. The emails sometimes came from the VP of membership, or the board president, or the CEO. Most were lengthy outlining all the benefits I was about to forfeit with a plea to recognize all the good work the association is doing. I received mailed letters from both; most of them looked like invoices. I also received a call from one who had hired a telemarking firm to make the calls so the lukewarm call did not persuade me to renew.

When it comes to communications meant to engage members, associations have it backward. Most associations tend to have very well thought out renewal campaigns. Messaging is carefully constructed to lure members back. A multitude of channels and a high frequency of touches ensures that every member gets the message and has the chance to change their mind. But here’s the thing, members say that usually, renewal notices do not change minds. Renewal notices are reminders. This messaging reminds a member who wants to renew that it is time to renew. Members who wish to lapse are usually irritated or even angered by renewal notices. For those that did not get much value out of their membership, there is nothing like a steady stream of renewal notices to make the blood boil.

I am not advocating that associations get rid of their renewal programs. Renewal programs serve an important purpose, to remind engaged members to renew.

What I am advocating for is that associations put just as much effort, if not more effort, into creating their onboarding programs. Use that short window of opportunity with new members to ensure they engage. Welcome them. Set the tone. Get them primed for the association’s culture. Help them feel at home and excited about what is to come. Reaffirm they made the right decision in joining. Focus your energy on the one part of the member journey where you can change minds.

Are you ready to create a new member onboarding program? Get your research-backed step-by-step guide here, compliments of Dynamic Benchmarking and me.

Editor’s note: This article was first published on Amanda Kaiser’s blog “Smooth the Path”

Amanda will be speaking in the “Power of A is the Power to Problem Solve” session during SURGE Co-Creation, an interactive virtual summit hosted by on May 1st-3rd. Click here to register.