I Want a Divorce – Why Members Leave Us


As a Human Development major, I had some interesting courses in college and although I wasn’t sure how I would use my Bachelor of Science degree as my career path developed, I have applied some surprising insights along the way.

In my Marriage Development course, we explored divorce rate patterns based on length of marriage and other factors such as age, gender, education, etc. At the time, I was 20 years old and marriage was the furthest thing on my mind. It wasn’t until I worked in a membership-based organization did I realize the uncanny parallels between divorce rate patterns and member attrition!

Divorce Patterns Haven’t Changed Much in 150 Years
There have been numerous studies on divorce rates, what causes them and the factors they have in common. Some folks think that divorces happen more readily today than before. The reality is that patterns haven’t changed very much over time, according to a recent article Marriage Length Unchanged with Online Divorce.

Hight Performance Group | Length of Marriages over Centuries

Study after study identified the average length of marriage to be about 8 years and that these three critical timelines are when divorces predominantly take place:

  • The Three-Year Glitch — 25% of marriages end around the 3rd year because their initial expectations were not met, conflicting values and the reluctance to work through the differences.
  • The Seven-Year Itch — 50% of marriages ended before the 7th year which created an urban myth that has some truth behind it. Rough patches in the marriage, boredom and the absence of romance are the cited reasons.
  • The Twelve Year Ache — represents the 75th percentile of divorce occurrence that happens between the 11th and 13th year of marriage. Couples often cite that they have “grown apart” or “fallen out of love” with their spouses. They find themselves on separate paths and after a decade together decide that it’s time to walk away.

(If you’re intrigued by specific factors underlying these outcomes, you can explore additional statistics featured in these articles.)

Membership “Divorce” Patterns
I know it seems that correlating divorce patterns with member attrition seems ironic, but you may realize that there are similar timelines where most “drops” seem to occur. Here’s how I would define these pivotal churn points:

  • Hope Not Realized — 40% - 60% of our new members drop before their 3rd renewal because what they thought would happen didn’t. Failure to access benefits, engage in a meaningful way and feeling “courted” after the sale are often the reasons why new members check out early.
  • Disenchantment — Just when you think that members are “out of the woods” because they have renewed for five years, you encounter non-renewals with members who have been with you for six or eight years.  Commonly cited reasons include “We haven’t done much with the organization” or “We just haven’t seen the value lately.” Perhaps the real reason is because we stopped paying attention to them and have taken them for granted.
  • Going Down Separate Paths — It doesn’t happen as often, yet it’s really shocking when a longtime member, even those who are higher investors, drop their membership. Oftentimes, the reason is “corporate decision,” change in leadership, or “We’ve decided to pursue different initiatives.” These unexpected drops create chaos, reactiveness and questions like “Where did things go astray?”

Hight Performance Group | How Effective Is Your Member Retention?

Strategies to Employ for Developing Lifetime Members
Proactive approaches along the member life cycle could help you to identify early warning signs and strengthen your relationships with members. Consider these and discuss other possible strategies with your team:

  • Develop early engagement — of 1st and 2nd year members by understanding their expectations and helping them to develop engagement plans. Check in periodically and provide support as needed. Leverage other volunteers who can serve as mentors or resources for new members.
  • Bring back the romance — with members who have been with you for 6 – 9 years by reaching out to them and learning “what’s new” or to ask them serve a special purpose (e.g., lead a committee, mentor a new member, be a judge for an awards event). Help them celebrate their successes and feel like you are courting them once again. As Marshall Fields once said, “People remember those who remember them.”
  • Check for alignment — don’t take your long-term or highest investors for granted and create a strategic outreach plan to meet with to decision makers twice a year. Learn about their corporate initiatives, share updates on your strategic goals and discuss how you could work together to achieve mutual interests. Perhaps there are other emerging leaders in the organization that could be engaged. Taking the time to conduct this outreach will provide insights, renew relationships and alleviate possible surprises that were avoidable.

Who knows, maybe if everyone applied relationship strategies, there would be less staff turnover, fewer divorces and more partnerships developed. Please feel free to provide your feedback or reach out for a phone conversation. Let’s make it a date!
Hight Performance Group | Improve your member retention with a solid step-by-step process

Cathi Hight helps organizations manage constant change, deliver benefits that members value and effectively communicate the value of membership. She serves as the SVP of Growth Strategy and Investor Relations for the Greater Austin Chamber and is the President of Hight Performance Group. Cathi is the developer of The Member Retention Kit and A New Approach to Tiered Membership. Learn more at www.hightperformance.com.