What’s Your Membership Game Plan?


“Most economists agree, based on recent reports on GDP and unemployment, that we are entering a recession. And many association executives are wondering how this downturn will impact their membership numbers and what to project for the future.

The findings from the 2010 benchmarking report, showing results for this recessionary time, found that the percentage of associations seeing increases in membership counts dropped to a low of 36%. An all-time high of 48% of associations reported an actual decline in their membership counts. Membership renewals were also a challenge. A total of 44% of respondents said that their renewal rate declined for the year. Using these past results as a guide, it is likely that in 2020 many associations will see a dip in their new member counts, renewal rates, and total membership.

~ Tony Rossell, Senior Vice President, Marketing General, Inc.


Although we experienced the Great Recession and the aftermath of consequences in 2010, we have never witnessed the impact of a global pandemic. It has created a time of uncertainty for businesses and member-based organizations that depend on business for sustainability. Even though the future feels uncertain, you and your team need a game plan for membership growth.

Over the last several months, you have been the conduit between business and elected officials, provided timely and accurate information to both members and non-members amidst the chaos, and been the “emergency room” for small businesses. But your organization is a business too and needs sustainable revenue to deploy your mission.


5 Strategies to Include in Your Membership Game Plan

Yes, the future feels uncertain right now in many ways. What is certain as the undeniable truth is that your team has been leading hundreds or even thousands of people through this crisis. What is certain is that there is a need for economic recovery for businesses and residents in your community, and you are committed to help lead these initiatives. And what is certain is that you provide unique value that is worthy of investments.

These 5 strategies should be included in your next game plan:

1. Flip the Script So It’s About Your Members — Sending out membership renewals during this time becomes more strategic and it’s important for members to feel that you’re still there for them. The article How to Craft Member Renewal Messaging Amid COVID-19 Crisis offers good advice from two seasoned association executives, including:

  • Point them to resources you have that are important to what they do. (Great example are the DSM Forward industry and business playbooks provided by the Greater Des Moines Partnership.)
  • Create a Top 10 List of why they should belong with the first 9 stating how the organization can help them and then add the 10th which says “By the way, every dollar you invest goes to supporting business here in ____ (name of the city).

2. Communicate Your Investment in Recovery — The pandemic has had a severe impact to your members and business community, regardless of their size or industry. Ask your loyal members to tell stories of how your organization stepped up and plans to continue to do so to support business. These members can ignite gratitude among their peers for renewals because you led them through turbulence and they have faith in your ongoing guidance.


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3. Send Out Membership Renewals — Don’t assume that it’s a bad time to ask for renewals. Send out renewals with a well-crafted letter that displays Empathy for the current situation, Defines resources (i.e., information, opportunities) to help them navigate options, Reinforces your commitment to helping businesses and the community recover, and Asks for them to take action. You might include a statement that says, “You may have hurt financially by the current crisis. So have we. If you are able, please renew your dues now. We’ll wait if you can’t.” Be willing to offer payment options, is asked. Organizations that are sending out renewals are getting renewals. Manage the exceptions.

4. Reach Out to Prospects That Are Customers — As JP Moery pointed our in the blog Association Membership Plan for 2021, “You’ve delivered extraordinary value during this time. . . Perhaps they never saw much value in your association in the past but now do now.” Now is the time to ask them to join you and other businesses in the community in recovery initiatives. You have demonstrated your strengths, your access to influencers and policymakers, and delivered on your value propositions. Extend the invitation to have a seat at the table to create collective impact and influence future outcomes.

5. Reinforce the Value of Membership — You have been providing support to members and non-members without a differentiation, which was needed over the last several months. It was an outreach of good will provided by your organization. Consider what information online should be for members only and highlight the benefits of being members. (A great example is ASAE which offers great resources to everyone and differentiated value for its members.)


Even amidst uncertainty, your organization will continue to help lead recovery initiatives. You have already done so much and there is a long road ahead. Recognize your value and be confident that others will align with your mission and invest in collective impact.


Cathi Hight helps organizations manage constant change, develop customer-centricity and “work smarter, not harder”. She is an organizational development consultant and President of Hight Performance Group as well as the developer of The Member Retention Kit, A New Approach to Tiered Membership, and the Work Smarter, Not Harder program. Learn more at hightperformance.com.


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