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Ten Creative and Easy Ways to Retain Your Members (They'll Love You for It!)

Ten Creative and Easy Ways to Retain Your Members (They'll Love You for It!)

We know that recognition is one of the best ways you can retain your best employees and members 1. It makes sense. When people feel valued, they feel a sense of belonging and community, one of the core reasons individuals join and stay with associations even when they do not need to 2 3 4. And yet, to what extent are you consistently, authentically, and meaningfully recognizing the people you need to retain most in your association? Do your most valued members feel they matter -- that they would be missed if they decided to leave?

What's a busy association to do? Whether you're lucky enough to have staff or you're largely volunteer-run, your recognition and retention efforts must be easy and affordable to be sustainable. Let's look at the ten easiest ways you can recognize your members by automating processes while also giving in to the human touch.


1) Stay on High Alert

Follow all your members on LinkedIn and Twitter (follow them as soon as they join.) Set your notifications to flag you when they write a new post, get a new job, or share other exciting, professional news. Share their work, post a quick kudos, and share with the LinkedIn world you're proud to have them as a member of your association.


2) Award What is Most Valued

As an association, what do you most value? Creativity, social responsibility, teaching, innovation, recruitment? Do you have awards for all the things you want to see more of and retain the members who have it in spades? The psychological theory of reciprocity makes it more difficult to not give back in return; it stands to reason that someone who has been given an honour is less likely to leave your association than someone who feels like a number.


3) Develop with a Plan

Part of the value you can uniquely bring to your members is offering them relevant, meaningful professional development in the means they most need to receive it. Why not book a year in advance all your speakers and experts? Not only will it save you time, it will also give your members plenty of heads up about the topics being covered and on what dates. Many chapters of the Human Resources Professionals Association of Ontario share their topics and speakers almost a year in advance and upload them to a province-wide system so you can see what's happening in every chapter every month. Why not use the same registration or ticket system in the same venue(s) to save time (and make your bookkeeper happy while you're at it!)


4) Get Inspired

At your next conference, ask people to share their favourite quotes or key learnings. Set a challenge to collect at least 365 (can you see where this is going?) Transcribe the list and send one out to your membership list every day. It keeps your association top of mind to members, and you may just find someone replying one day, "This was exactly what I needed today ... thank-you." If your members write their name on their quotes, it can be a source of pride to see your quote shared.


5) Leverage Your Experts

Retaining experienced members at the peak of their career or even end of career is challenging for most associations. They have so much knowledge and history to contribute -- are you leveraging it? Can you harness their talents in working groups, in expert forums, on panels, in requests for media comment, on reviewing guidelines? When people feel valued, they feel connected. The Registered Nurses of Ontario does this well every time best practice guidelines need to be created and reviewed; seeing your name in print is visible evidence how valued and needed you are by the association, even if you no longer practice at the bedside.


6) Sponsors Who Solve Problems

What is a problem your members have? How can you find a sponsor partner that can help solve that problem? For example, as a new speaker, you may not have a speaker website. The Canadian Association of Professional Speakers partners with eSpeakers so that every member has a basic profile in eSpeakers, a searchable database of thousands of speaking professionals. It not only is a recruitment tool, it is also a retention tool when speakers get business from the site.


7) Thanks for the Memories

Once a year at least (but preferably at regular intervals), set aside a chunk of time to write a hand-written note to thank your members for being part of your association. Maybe it's by milestone that triggers it, or you write them in bulk on an annual basis. Mention a success they've had (if you've been practicing #1 it will be easy) to personalize it.


8) Welcome Complaining

As an association, you are going to get complaints. Do you see this as a gift? Are you looking for your members' greatness (their unique gifts, strengths, and talents) underneath the complaint? Do you say "thank you" for bringing an issue to your attention and while you're at it, acknowledge the greatness you have noticed in that member? "Cleary, you have great attention to detail, essential for an accountant! Glad you brought that problem to our attention. We could use that skill on this committee." Many Canadians aren't comfortable complaining, so not only have you reduced their stress, you've valued their opinions and them as a human being.


9) Shout Outs

Have a place on your website where members can submit success stories; media mentions, projects completed, degrees earned, businesses started. Make it an easy approval system (a WordPress site will likely have a plug-in option, for example) so you can publish these successes in real time. Inspirational for current members, prospective members, and sponsors alike!


10) Act Out

Do you do member surveys? So often membership doesn't hear the results or doesn't make the connection between actions you've taken and the fact they sparked that change. Be transparent about it, even if you need to remind your membership about an issue brought up years before; it can take time to make change but, hey, own it when you do!


Next Steps

Some of the ideas shared here we may not traditionally think of as "recognition" strategies, but anytime you show individuals you're listening, you care about their ideas and expertise, and want to keep them, they're more likely to feel a sense of connection, remain engaged, and speak positively of the association. It's the little things, spread across many people, that can make a huge difference in retention. Why not make recognition a core strategic focus for membership engagement for a year, trying some of the recognition strategies? See how it impacts retention, volunteerism, satisfaction scores, and recruitment.

What have you got to lose?



Sarah McVanel, MSc, PCC, CHRL, CSODP speaks for a wide range of associations and organizations nationally about how to leverage the exponential power of recognition to retain top talent and fuel healthy cultures. She is a Certified Senior Organizational Development Professional (CSODP), Professional Certified Coach (PCC), Certified Human Resources Leader (CHRL), and member of the Canadian Association of Professional Speakers (CAPS). She has a BA in Psychology, Masters in Family Relations and Diplomas in Human Resources and Healthcare Administration. She has over 17 years' experience including at a senior leadership level in healthcare and now owns a boutique consulting firm, "Greatness Magnified." She is an author of peer-reviewed journals, articles, two books, "Forever Recognize Others' Greatness: Solution Focused Strategies for Satisfied Staff, High Performing Teams and Healthy Bottom Lines" (2015) and "The FROG Effect: Tools and Strategies to Forever Recognize Others' Greatness" (2016) and the recognition membership portal "The FROG Portal". Visit her at www.greatnessmagnified.com and download free resources to recognize and retain your members today!



1. McVanel, S. & Zalter-Minden, B. (2015). Forever Recognize Others' Greatness: Solution-Focused Strategies for Satisfied Staff, High Performing Teams & Healthy Bottom Lines. Toronto, ON: BPS Publishing.

2. http://blog.memberclicks.com/bid/334846/5-Surprising-Reasons-Millennials-Join-and-Stay-with-Your-Association Retrieved November 15, 2017.

3. http://blog.cccctech.com/top-10-reasons-to-join-a-professional-organization/ Retrieved November 16, 2017

4. http://virtualmgmt.com/10-reasons-why-associations-fail/ Retrieved November 16, 2017



In addition to Sarah's suggestions, an important aspect of member retention is continuing to deliver value. In his book, Creating Value for Members: A Strategic Guide for Associations, Donald Belfall addresses this issue from a number of directions. A broad range of suggestions and strategies are discussed, so don't miss out.



Sarah Mcvanel, Membership Retention


Membership, Guest Contributor



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