Updated: Jan 3
Like many organization leaders, you likely spend a significant amount of your time attracting new members. Marketing to new members can quickly become an expensive and time consuming process, which is why it’s so important that your organization retains the members you acquire.
Member retention is essential for organizations of all sizes, industries, and operating styles. From gyms to online communities, ensuring your members stick around will help supply your organization with reliable income, allow you to grow your organization in the future, and help establish a stable community necessary for many basic events and activities.
However, many organizations often get stuck in a loop of recruiting new members just to lose them only a little while later. To help your organization take a more direct approach to improving member retention, this article will explore why membership retention is so important, and then dive into ten practical strategies for organizations of all sizes and types.
Our team at TagFi are experts on community management, engagement, and retention. Having worked with a wide range of membership communities, from associations and organizations to Chambers of Commerce, businesses, and Meetup groups, we understand how to identify and resolve common retention problems across a variety of industries. In this article, we’ll share some of our top solutions for convincing members to stick around for the long-haul that your organization can launch immediately.
Why does member retention matter?
It’s easy to overly focus on recruiting new members and put retaining those members on the backburner. However, high member churn can quickly undo all of your organization's efforts, forcing your team to find new members to replace the ones who left.
Focusing on retention helps you avoid this problem, subsequently making your strategies for recruiting new members even more impactful. Specifically, member retention can provide your organization with benefits essential for your continued success, including:
Greater capacity for growth. If you recruit five new members, and four of them churn, you’ll need to recruit five more new members to grow your organization. This is why membership growth is often just as much about reducing churn as it is about attracting new members. When you retain more members, each new member acquired will actively grow your organization, rather than helping your organization play catch-up.
Increased ROI. As mentioned, recruiting new members is expensive and if a member churns within a month or two of first joining, your organization may not make up the expenses spent recruiting them. By contrast, you have already invested in your current members, allowing your organization instead to allocate revenue from their membership dues to new programs and not recouping the marketing costs of acquisition. Plus, the longer a member is with your organization, the more their value increases as they participate in more activities, make more purchases, and increase their membership tier.
Established community. Long-term members are instrumental for building and maintaining your community. These members will form a core, reliable base you can count on to attend your events, interact with your content, make purchases from your eCommerce store, and welcome new members into the community.
Remember that member retention can also be a sign of your membership program’s overall quality. After all, members who enjoy your program and see value in your content are more likely to renew their memberships year after year, whereas a low retention rate can be a sign to analyze your program to see opportunities for improvement.
10 Member Retention Strategies
While your membership retention may not jump dramatically overnight, there are strategies you can implement right away to get your organization on the right track. To help your organization take active steps to improve your member retention, here are ten strategies that will work for most organizations of all sizes and types:
1. Build a flexible membership model.
Members often leave organizations when they feel like the value of being a member is no longer worth the cost. Sometimes these feelings can be exacerbated by increases in membership dues or personal financial constraints. Other times, a member may feel like they would be happier being a member at a reduced rate with more limited access.
If members commonly cite financial constraints as a reason for leaving your organization, consider implementing a flexible membership model. Flexible membership models can help retain members by providing them with options for how they participate in your organization and keep them in your system until they are ready to resume a higher membership level.
Flexible membership models include systems like:
Tiered membership programs. Tiered membership models are especially popular among organizations looking to improve retention rates. In fact, 43% of associations that changed their membership model in response to challenges from the COVID-19 pandemic, chose this model. This is for good reason—tiered membership programs offer opportunities for members to both increase and limit their engagement, allowing members to drop to a lower tier and stay in your program when they have financial constraints or limited time to engage with your organization. Then, they can move back up to a higher tier when their situation changes.
Pause memberships. Sometimes a member may want to step away from your organization for an extended period of time. This could be due to adjustments in their monthly budget or major life changes that result in limited free time, such as starting a new job. Instead of presenting these members with only the option to end their membership, offer them the ability to pause their membership for a month or two. During this time, they won’t have membership fees but they’ll also have limited access to your organization. Then, when they’re ready to resume their membership, they will continue to be in your system and can easily re-join the programs they were originally a part of.
Payment and renewal grace periods. What is your organization’s policy for payments? If you have late fees or cancel membership immediately after a missed payment, you may be turning away members. Consider creating a grace period for membership renewals and fees to help retain members who experience payment errors, need a bit of extra time to consider their membership, or simply forgot to submit their payment on time.
While flexible memberships can be positive for your members, be conscious about how they are impacting your organization. For example, extending grace periods too far may disrupt your organization’s ability to accurately estimate your monthly revenue. Find a balance that provides your members with options without limiting your organization’s resources.
2. Optimize billing process
Your registration and billing process may feel like the red tape your members have to get through before they can interact with your organization, but in reality, an optimized billing system can go a long way towards helping you retain members.
To routinely collect membership dues, your organization should aim to create a recurring billing process that is easy to complete and helps facilitate membership renewals. Here are a few strategies that can improve your billing process:
Use automatic billing. Many subscription services from essential utilities to your Netflix account encourage their members to enroll in automatic billing. Doing so removes the possibility that a member may simply forget to submit their payment on time while also cutting down on repetitive data re-entry.
Bill on a monthly cycle. Most organizations have an annual or monthly subscription cycle. While both can work fine depending on the organization and its members, a monthly dues system can help retain your members more effectively. An annual billing system will naturally have larger payment installments, which can make members wary about continuing a service. For example, would you rather pay $15 a month or make a payment each January for $180? While it’s the same amount of money annually, the smaller recurring fees can feel like less of a commitment and will fit more easily into your members’ monthly budgets.
Check with members about failed payments. Sometimes a member will stop participating in an organization not out of a lack of interest but due to a failed payment. If your system detects a failed payment, get in touch with the member to ensure the issue gets resolved.
Paying membership dues is unlikely to be your members’ favorite part of joining your organization, so aim to create a billing process that is as straightforward and unobtrusive as possible. Additionally, consider how you can make the billing process simple for member upgrades. Many organizations leverage one-click upgrading tools to help their members change membership tiers in a matter of minutes.
3. Create long-term benefits.
Has your organization ever created a sign-up perk for new members? Benefits like free trials and discounts can be effective for boosting new memberships in a short period of time, but it’s not uncommon for these members to churn as soon as their benefits expire.
While there is still a time and place for short-term benefits for new members, you should also create rewards for staying with your organization long-term. This can help persuade members to stay with your organization and also prevent long-time members from feeling neglected whenever new members get showered in perks.
For example, your organization might offer members loyalty rewards based on how long they’ve been with your organization. For a year of membership, you might provide members with a gift card to one of your sponsors or provide them with a discount for one of your programs. Choose long-term benefits that will appeal to your members to show you care about their interests and encourage them to stick around until their next milestone and the one after that and so on.
4. Create an onboarding program.
Joining a new organization can be overwhelming, especially if they have a lot of content accumulated for members to explore. How well you orient your new members when they first join can directly impact whether they choose to renew their memberships.
You can improve your new member retention by creating an onboarding program designed to welcome members to your organization, help them find the content and activities they’re most interested in, and provide resources to get additional help as needed.
Many organizations onboard new members through a welcome series of emails. Decide how you will time these messages in order to get new members onboarded relatively quickly but without flooding their inbox over the course of a few days. During the onboarding process, ask members questions to better tailor their experience to their unique interests.
5. Personalize communication.
Few members want to engage with organizations that address them as “valued member” nor ones that don’t appear to have any content that matches their interests. You can ensure your organization never runs into either of these problems by personalizing your communication strategies.
Specifically, you can tailor your messages to each member with the following two personalization strategies:
Personalization. Personalization includes adding details relevant to an individual supporter, such as their name and references to their engagement history. For example, when promoting a new event to supporters who attended your last event, you might open with a thank you for their previous participation.
Segmentation. Segmentation involves dividing your members into groups based on shared characteristics, allowing you to make email templates and series tailored to groups with shared interests. For example, you might group members based on how long they’ve been with your organization to avoid blasting long-term members with introductory emails.
You can combine these strategies to tailor messages to each member’s interests as closely as possible. For example, you might segment your supporters based on the last few pieces of content they interacted with to avoid promoting an activity they already participated in to them and instead directing them to new content.
6. Build an Engaged Community.
Members stay with organizations for all sorts of reasons, but one of the top incentives is a vibrant, engaged community. In communities where members communicate freely with one another and are empowered to create and share their own content, your organization will have infinite ways for members to participate. There will always be an activity to engage in or conversation to join, no matter how long a member has been with your organization.
Here are a few strategies for building an engaged community:
Host community events. Events provide opportunities for members to connect with one another while also enjoying your organization's content. At in-person events, members who live nearby can form connections with one another, while those who live remotely or prefer to participate from home can bond during virtual and hybrid events.
Provide members with communication channels. How will your members connect with one another? Provide your members with both private and public communication tools, so they can hold open discussions with your entire community or set up private groups with just a few members working on a single project together.
Encourage members’ projects. User created content has many benefits, such as giving members the ability to generate their own value, which can take some of the pressure off of your team to make new content on a routine basis. Encourage your members’ content and provide them with the resources they need to launch their projects.
An engaged community can influence current members to stay and also attract new members. Many members join organizations specifically because of networking opportunities with the member base, so be sure to give them plenty of opportunities to connect with one another through your organization.
7. Conduct Exit Interviews.
Sometimes the best way to learn how you can improve member retention is by asking members who you did not retain what you could have done to prevent their lapse. Whenever a member chooses not to renew their membership, send them a quick exit interview survey with questions that can help you understand their reasons for leaving your organization.
These exit interviews might include questions such as:
What were your primary reasons for discontinuing your membership? A question like this can be short answer or multiple choice, including reasons such as “financial constraints,” “leaving the industry,” “lack of engaging content,” or any other reason you might want to check for. If you choose to make this multiple choice, add an “other” option where responders can provide answers you might not have anticipated.
Is there anything you would have liked to see more or less of during your membership? You should regularly check in with all of your members to ensure that your current content aligns with your members’ interests. Exit interviews are a prime opportunity to collect this information, which can be used to help improve your content for your continuing members.
Why did you initially sign up for a membership? Check in with members who are leaving to learn why they initially joined your organization and if the experience you provided matched their expectations. In some cases, you might identify a misalignment between what members thought they would get out of their memberships and what your membership program ended up being. In these cases, it can be beneficial to reassess your marketing materials for consistency in messaging.
Keep your exit interviews short and to the point. While current members may be more motivated to fill out long surveys to improve their personal experiences with your organization, members who are leaving may be less inclined to spend more time than necessary.
Additionally, in some cases, asking to conduct an exit interview might actually catch members who didn’t mean to leave your organization. In these lucky instances, you can quickly bring them back to your organization.
8. Identify At-Risk Members
Sometimes members seem to leave with no warning, while in other cases there are clear signs that a member may lapse. You can only spot these signs by reviewing your data and identifying trends in lapsed members’ behavior. Here are a few factors to check when determining if a member is at risk:
Engagement rate. Has a member attended your past few events, interacted with new content, or otherwise participated in any of your structured activities? If they haven’t done so for a few months, this may be a sign that they are considering ending their membership. For these members, consider looking at the last content they engaged with and send them messages promoting new, similar activities.
Payment history. Members who are regularly late paying their dues, frequently use up your organization’s grace period, or have repeated failed payments are all at risk of lapsing. In some cases, these members may lapse entirely by accident. Try reaching out to these members about potential auto-pay solutions.
Lack of communication. If a member has gone quiet and no longer responds to your emails, comments in your forums, or answers direct messages, they might be interested in leaving your community. In some cases, the member may just be shy and prefer to participate in content quietly, but if their engagement rate is also low, consider reaching out to have a quick chat about their membership and what you can do to help retain them.
If you identify that a member is at risk of leaving your organization, do not wait to take action. Immediately reorient your communication strategy to focus on retaining them. In most cases, this will include halting emails asking them to upgrade their membership and instead personalizing content to reflect their unique interests or even arranging a one-on-one chat to personally reconnect with them.
9. Create Effective Help Channels
While your members will be able to self-direct and navigate your content themselves in most situations, there may be times where they need additional help. Be sure that your organization has effective, easy-to-access help channels that members can take advantage of whenever they need. If members feel like your team is too distant or uninterested in resolving community problems, they may consider ending their memberships.
To help your members and save your team members time, consider creating a set of self-service tools to help members handle common and uncomplicated problems. This might include basic directions for how to complete tasks on your website or answers to frequently asked questions. Additionally, you can also create a troubleshooting forum thread where members can answer each other’s questions and your community administrators can jump into help occasionally.
For more complicated questions, ensure that your members have a way to get in touch with your team. This could be a designated email address or phone number or even a specific team member whose role includes handling community questions.
10. Use Membership Management Software
Many of the strategies discussed here focus on creating an optimized membership experience that accounts for each member’s unique preferences. Of course, keeping track of all of your incoming data and knowing how to use it to adjust your strategy can rarely be done without the proper tools.
To manage every aspect of your organization, including member retention, consider investing in membership management software. Membership management software is designed to help you track each of your members and some robust solutions (like TagFi) offer additional features that can create a better, more comprehensive member experience.
Look for membership management software with the following features:
Reports and analytics
Some solutions can even equip nonprofits with new websites, marketplaces, and even social network platforms. Choose a solution that is scalable that can help you retain all of your members, whether you have a community of 20 or 20,000.
Member retention is essential for your organization’s continuous growth and financial stability. Persuade your members to stay with your community by improving their experience, automating key processes, and using tools that help you collect the data you need and put it to use.
A variety of factors can influence whether you retain or lose a member. This can often include external factors such as your members’ individual financial situations and career choices, but there are also many internal factors you can optimize to encourage members to stick around long-term.
Specifically, you can retain more members by improving your approach to member engagement. Here are a few articles covering just this topic that can help you refine your strategy:
Building a Member Engagement Strategy that Actually Works. Engaged members are retained members. Improve your engagement strategy with these practical tips.
What is a User Community and How Can Your Org Build One? User communities can be one of your organization’s most valuable assets for retaining your members. Learn what a user community is and how you can form one with these tips.
Building a Community: 8 Community Engagement Strategies. When your organization has a community of members around it, you can count on more members sticking around long-term. Discover how to forge a community with this guide.