Membership 101: Exit Surveys

sign that reads "we hear you"

Sometimes, despite your best efforts to understand your members’ most pressing problems and most important goals, and provide solutions for them, members lapse.

What happens next?

You should try to find out why they left.

One approach membership pros often take to discover their reasons for leaving is to ask membership committee members to make calls to lapsed members.

Raise your hand if that works well for you.


The reason that approach often fails is that it’s too scary. Most volunteers are going to resist calling lapsed members, because while it’s possible that the lapsed member just forgot to renew, she might be actively upset about something. Your volunteer doesn’t want to – and isn’t equipped to – handle that. So what happens in reality is that you ask/assign committee members to make those calls, and oddly, they never seem to get around to it.

Another potential approach is to task your membership team with making those calls. They are equipped to deal with potentially angry members – at least in theory – but again, this is not a fun task, so it tends to continually get bumped to the bottom of the priority list. Even if your team does make those calls, some lapsed members will have a hard time being honest about what’s really bothering them on the phone with another human being. While some people enjoy being squeaky wheels, most of us have a hard time being critical.

The solution is an exit survey.

A caveat: an exit survey is not a scientifically valid instrument that will provide statistically significant P values. You’re not sending it to a representative random sample from a large enough population, and you aren’t going to get enough responses.

So why do one?

  • Exit surveys provide one last notice to members who may not have realized they’ve lapsed.
  • If someone left for cause, it gives him one last chance to tell you why and you one last chance to fix his problem.
  • Exit surveys provide clues to potential emerging problems with your member value proposition (MVP).

The best exit surveys are simple, asking one question only: “Why did you leave?”

The first option should always be: “I didn’t mean to lapse – I’d like to renew.”

You follow that with the common reasons you know people lapse.

Never offer: “Dues were too expensive.” Rephrase that as: “Value was too low” (which is what “dues were too expensive” really means).

The final option should be an open comment box. That is where you will get clues about emerging problems with your MVP, so make sure you review what lapsing members write in regularly.

To encourage responses, you will want to offer a small prize to everyone or a drawing for a larger prize for completing the survey. You always offer the option of submitting the survey anonymously, but allow people to share contact information if they want follow up about their responses and in order to get their prize or be entered into the prize drawing.

How often do you send it?

That depends on your rate of lapsing. Realize that you’re not going to get a lot of responses – maybe 5-10% of your group. That means out of 100 lapsed members, you might get five completed surveys. That might mean that, even if you do anniversary date renewals, you only send your exit survey once a year. Even if you do calendar renewals, if you’re a trade association with relatively few, large members, you might not even send it that often. Use your judgement.

Remember that however many responses you get, they’re anecdotes. And the plural of “anecdote” is not “data.” Those anecdotes are clues guiding you to areas where you need to do more research.

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash