Membership 101: Reinstatement

Two boys making "yuck" faces - image by Austin Pacheco from Unsplash

Hopefully, your exit survey recaptured a number of your members who lapsed due to inattention.

What about the ones who lapsed for cause? Is it worth trying to get them back?

Yes, with some conditions.

First, you need to segment your lapsed members into those who left for reasons that are under your control versus those who left for reasons that are NOT under your control. That second group would be situations like people who’ve retired (or, let’s be honest here, died), people who’ve left the industry or profession, companies that went out of business or were acquired – basically, people or organizations who’ve removed themselves, or whose circumstances have removed them, from the pool of potential members.

Reasons that would be under your control include things like:

  • Your association’s programs, products, or services didn’t live up to that member’s expectations
  • Your association is missing programs, products, or services that member wants you to offer
  • That member had a problem with your association that wasn’t resolved to her satisfaction
  • Your association took a position (possibly, but not necessarily, advocacy-related) that member disagreed with

In other words, she had problems that she should reasonably be able to expect you to help her solve or goals that she should reasonably be able to expect you to help her achieve, and you didn’t.

This is why it’s important, when members lapse, so find out why. In a broad sense, if you discover that a significant number of your lapsed members are, for instance, dissatisfied with your research journal, that’s a good indicator that you need to make some changes to it.

In the more narrow sense, when a member has left for cause, you shouldn’t just bombard her with pitches for something she already decided she didn’t want (membership in your association as it stood when she left). Assuming you have changed what she didn’t like – fixed the program she had a problem with, added the product she was looking for, made a second attempt to resolve her problem, adjusted your position on the issue she disagreed with – you need to tell her about that.

It’s also possible that she just misunderstood – “I joined to find a job and your career center wasn’t useful to me because you don’t offer a job agent” when you do, in fact, offer a job agent – and it’s OK to work to correct that misperception, but be careful how you do it. It’s not a terse email pointing out: “It’s RIGHT THERE, dummy!” It flows more like: She responded to your exit survey with that reason and said it was OK to follow up with her. So you do, by the method she preferred, and offer something like: “Thanks for responding to our exit survey. I see you let your membership lapse because you were dissatisfied with our career center. Can we set up a time where I can walk you through what’s there and how it works to see if we can resolve this for you?” Resolve the problem, be polite, and DON’T IMMEDIATELY PITCH “So you’re going to rejoin now, right?”. ┬áBut do put her back in your recruitment campaign group, once her problem is resolved.

One last point on both your exit survey and reinstatement processes: Pay attention to your data. Sometimes you “lose” people because you literally lose contact with them. They may be students who graduated, moved to a new city, and are no longer using their .edu email address. They may have changed jobs, and if all you had was work address and email, they’ve vanished for all intents and purposes. There’s no perfect fix for this other than detective work. Some things you can add to your initial data collection that can at least help include getting more than one (address, phone number, email) and linking social profiles, particularly LinkedIn.

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