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Members with Benefits: Giving it Your All

Members with Benefits: Giving it Your All

Association Member Benefits Beyond the Price Tag

It is the same old story you have heard a dozen times before.


"It's not you, it's me."

"We've been together a long time, so we'll still stay in touch."

"No, there isn't anyone else. I just feel you and I have gone as far as we can together."


When your organization loses a member, you always ask "is there something I should have done differently? Is there something I did wrong? Did I give all that I could?"


"Is it my fault?"


Are you honest enough with yourself to truly examine whether you offered all the best possible member benefits you could to retain that member? Or are you going to lie to yourself and blame the member for just not trying hard enough to stay together?

Member retention is an unavoidable aspect of any not-for-profit organization that operates around a membership model. It is just as important as obtaining new members. In some ways, it is even more important because pursuing retention forces you to identify what your organization is doing to appeal to members once they have seen what you offer.


Membership Retention Factors You Cannot Control

Let us start off by admitting that, yes, sometimes there are things that you cannot control when it comes to members leaving your organization. The following are just some of these factors:


  • Personnel Changes: When people leave an association or change jobs, it is possible they do not brief their replacement about processes and benefits of the membership they carried with your organization. (In fact, CSAE has encountered situations where people have left a position and not even told their replacement they inherited the membership. We do not discover the change until the membership lapses and we follow-up to find out why.) The replacement does not renew because they have no experience with your organization and see no value in paying for something they have not used so far and thus see no reason for getting.
  • Lack of Funds: Typically, not-for-profits struggle with funding -- they need to get the most out of every dollar. Such organizations are always struggling with decisions over what to sacrifice for the greater good. Memberships in other organizations are often the first thing on the chopping block when belts are tightened (especially if that tightening also does away with the role that held the membership.)
  • Organization Changes: Not-for-profits and businesses undergo changes. Some may shift their focus, change their names and roles, or merge with other businesses or organizations. When significant changes occur, the organization has to examine its processes and priorities, and external memberships may get cut as a result. In the case of mergers, it could be the case that both original organizations had memberships and now only need the one in their post-merger operations.


That being said, let us now look at what organizations can do to mitigate these factors:


  • Proactive Updates: Periodically reach out to your membership to remind them to update their information to keep it current. In the case of a looming personnel change, provide options for people to provide the contact information for their inbound replacement. When this is not possible, at least get information on when the handover occurs so you can track down the new personnel on your own.
  • A Bit of Altruism Goes a Long Way: If a member is having financial difficulties during the current year, consider the long game of retaining them anyway. This is especially true of anyone who has been a member in good standing for a long time. Provide a year's free membership to see if they can come out the other end in good shape and pick up a paid membership the following year. Look beyond the immediate loss of funds and think about keeping that door open to future possibilities (especially if you can still sell them access to member-only products and services during that complimentary year.)
  • Change within the Organization: When dramatic changes (e.g., a merger) within a member's organization reduce your membership, look at ways to adjust your approach. Give them a call and talk to them about the benefits of having more than one member in your organization. Consider giving them a reduced rate for having multiple members, or let them retain the second membership for a year at no cost, affording you that time to show how multiple memberships will benefit them.


Membership Retention Factors Within Your Control

Of course, there are also proactive steps organizations can (and should) take to retain members. After all, despite the previous reasons given for dropping their membership, the foremost answer to "why are you dumping us?" remains "you're just not giving me what I need."

As with any relationship, that which exists between an organization and its members needs to be maintained and strengthened from the outset and across its lifespan. If you wait until there are warning signs that things are coming to an end, it is likely too late to fix things and stay together.

If you want to keep your membership happy and paying their dues, you have to put a lot of consideration into what they are getting out of the relationship. You need to always be thinking about new ways to deliver value and benefits to members, with and without a price tag attached. Your membership should never become little more than a gateway to get discounts on other products and services your organization provides.

Let's look at some benefits and value you can offer your members without hitting them with additional costs:


  • Promotion Opportunities: If appropriate to the nature of your organization and its members, experiment with promotional / exposure opportunities within your organization's content channels (e.g., website, newsletters, blog posts, social media.) Some ways to do so include newsletter ads, on-site banners, and retweeting their promotional content. The tricky part about this benefit is giving everyone equal attention, especially if some members are more actively involved in the route you go (e.g., social media) than others.
  • Contests: Periodically hold contests for members. Don't just give things away at random, though; you need some manner of participation. Doing so not only keeps your membership interested, but provides the means to tie the entire process back into your organization's goals. You can create blog writing contests, for example, with the topic necessarily being relevant to your organization. You can also broaden your audience by focusing the contest on ways your members have to help the community (even if only the segment your association is concerned with) to participate. Your members win something as the obvious benefit, but the process actively involves them with your organization, too.
  • Recognition: Like anyone, your members want to know that they are appreciated -- they want to feel like they are more than just an annual dues payment. Some form of official recognition can help with this. It could be as relatively simple as a mention in your organization's newsletter of something significant a member has achieved, or as organized and official as a system of annual honours and awards.
  • Access to Information: If your organization has access to a particular kind of valuable information, consider sharing it freely with your membership, even if only in part. If you normally charge for the information, even limited free access to this information is a worthwhile benefit.
  • Education: Does your organization represent a particular field of expertise that develops skills and experience? If so, share that with your members through education programs. You can do so freely or, if you choose to monetize such programs, make them exclusive to members. If appropriate, you may want to consider some form of certification program related to what your organization does. Aside from the benefit of the knowledge that comes from such a program, there is also the value of what the right kind of certificate can mean on someone's CV to consider.
  • Seek Feedback: People like feeling that their opinions are being listened to. If you poll your membership about possible changes to your organization, they are more likely to find value in sticking around and participating. They will feel like they can make a difference that benefits other members, as well.
  • Referrals: Offer a discount on annual dues (or something else of value) to existing members who refer new members to your organization.
  • Loyalty Programs: Present a process to your members by which they can obtain products and/or services in exchange for how they otherwise interact with your community. For example, someone who attends two of your webinars within a single year could earn a third free. If you hold an annual conference, consider ways that members can earn free registrations.
  • Networking: It is common for members to sign up with an association for the opportunity to be around their peers, be it in terms of profession or otherwise. The more innovative your organization is with the means it provides for members to easily access the opinions and expertise of other members, the more value that membership will hold for them. Today, this is often done through select social media channels and the like, but don't toss away older methods (e.g., a mailing list) out of hand -- some members may still consider them a benefit.


No single benefit previously mentioned (or anything else you may come up with) is likely to keep your membership satisfied entirely on its own. This is why, as with any relationship, effective membership retention is an ongoing process that requires constant attention, thoughtfulness, and consideration.

The moment you start taking your members for granted and stop thinking about what your organization needs to do to keep them happy is the moment they begin to slip away. So, stop taking your membership for granted and start giving them the attention they need and deserve. If you do not, they will break up with you and walk out that door without so much as a "so long, and thanks for all the fish."





A lot of experimentation and questioning is required to find new ways to keep members happy, and the CSAE BoardREADY Card Deck can keep organizations on the right track during this process.

When discussing how to better retain and bring value to your membership, keep in mind that no matter what your other goals may be, your ultimate endgame must always be retaining that membership's trust. Nothing you otherwise offer them will be good enough if they do not trust you. And to the end of retaining their trust while expanding on the value you offer, your association must delve into its membership's needs and wants.

Ask staff, volunteers, and members what they expect from the organization and use the answers as the first stepping stones to providing new value the membership will appreciate (and the organization can afford.) Your staff and volunteers need to be able to see the situation from the membership's perspective and realize their own position within the organization could be creating bias moving forward.

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Leadership, Governance, Membership, Troubleshooting


Governance / Leadership, Communications



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