Membership Strategies for Today’s Business Environment

by Wes Sovis

Current circumstances present associations with challenges galore, but perhaps none so unique as recruiting and renewing members. With members financially challenged,  working from home, furloughed, not able to attend in-person events, etc., membership professionals needed to get creative in presenting a value proposition to members to keep them in the fold. We reached out to some of our members to hear how they’ve gotten creative with their membership strategies: 

@Royce Humm, MBA,  Executive Director, Michigan Association of Retired School Personnel (MARSP)

We have been focusing on storytelling. Telling stories about the work of the organization as well as individuals. Stories can be very compelling and perhaps more powerful than a hard sales pitch. We have also refined our value proposition and present them as facts or opportunities. Sometimes a specific call-to-action is necessary, but sometimes just telling the story of members or of the organization and inviting others to join in on the mission can be pretty effective.

@Angela Kanazeh, CMP, CTA, Director of Membership, Michigan Dental Association

Our members (dentists) were out of work in the spring, which directly impacted our renewals. During the spring,  while they weren’t working, I personally contacted each member who was on a payment plan with an outstanding balance and offered deferred payment options. A team of staff and volunteer leaders also made phone calls in the fall to members who didn’t renew. We framed them as check-in calls. Members were appreciative, many shared their stories from the year and we found ways to support them.

We weren’t sure how 2020 would end; based on the response of new and long-term members it’s clear our association is relevant, adds value to the industry, and supports dentists. We are harnessing this momentum and anticipate a strong, if not better, 2021.

@Scott Graham, Executive Director, Michigan Brewers Guild

We created a quarterly payment option for dues to reduce the amount due at renewal time. This helped some members to renew.

@Bob Thomas, IOM, CAE, CMP, Chief Operating Officer, Michigan Chamber of Commerce

[Since] March 2020, the Michigan Chamber focused on helping businesses, both members and non-members, navigate the looming crisis. Providing resources in an emergency allowed the Chamber to prove to many businesses what it could do when they needed an advocate most and to have a follow-up conversation when the dust settled. In some cases, we’re still waiting for the dust to settle but we also have a reason to keep in contact as businesses work their way through a new environment. 

What’s been working for the Michigan Chamber: 

  • Focusing on target market members that are the best fits with the Chamber’s priorities 
  • Offering easy access to proven resources that offer immediate value and ROI, particularly in a crisis • Working with investors on tailored benefit solutions rather than a laundry list of features 

Some ways we’ve updated renewing or recruiting members over the past year: 

  • Starting the relationship conversation by asking how their business is doing and identifying their biggest pain points 
  • Connecting members to a solution they can take advantage of right away 
  • Partnering with other organizations for referrals and testimonials about how the Chamber has been an advocate 

One thing is clear; it’s been anything but “business as usual” for associations for the last eleven months. But it’s easy to see that association executives representing every industry are going to the mat for their members, refining their business models, and experimenting with new ways to deliver value when it’s needed most. 

What has your association changed in order to keep your members engaged, informed, and seeing value for membership during the pandemic? We’d love to share your ideas with other professionals in future blog posts and in Update. Drop us a line with your ideas.​​​​

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