Membership Q&A: Don’t Leave Us!

photo of zebras on grassland

What’s the #1 reason a long-standing member would not renew?

As Dr. Theodore Woodward of the University of Maryland School of Medicine taught his med students in the 1940: “When you hear hoofbeats, think of horses not zebras.”

For our purposes, that means start with the obvious: Did that member switch careers or retire?

If so, you may have to chalk this one up to “forces beyond our control,” and let that person go.

If not, however, you potentially have a problem – a big one.

First of all, to quote Sohini Baliga’s and my recent whitepaper, Steal This Idea!:

Let’s say you get a new member who joins on the last day of early-bird registration for your annual conference and picks the “membership + member registration rate” package. Your conference is in Seattle, and he lives in Seattle. At the endof the next year’s renewal cycle, with your next conference coming up in Boston, you notice that he’s lapsed, so you put him back into your lead cultivation cycle.

Let’s say you also have a member who’s been with you for 15 years. She holds your professional certification, has presented at some of your events, is a regular contributor to conversation on your white-label social network platform, and served a three-year term on one of your committees. At the end of next year’s renewal cycle, you notice that she’s lapsed.

What happens next?

Far too often, she goes back into your lead cultivation cycle but otherwise doesn’t receive any sort of special attention.

Those two members are not equally valuable to your association, and treating them as if they are is disrespectful of the investment that the second member has made in your association. With the first member, it’s reasonable to infer that he joined to attend your meeting because it was local and that was all he was looking for from your association. He should go back into your lead cultivation cycle but otherwise probably doesn’t merit additional reinstatement efforts. But that second, long-term, highly involved member has earned the right to more attention. Her departure should trigger alarm at the highest levels of your association and direct, personal outreach to find out why she left and whether the association can do anything to reclaim her. The first member took your association out for coffee and realized you weren’t a match. That happens. The second member has basically served your association divorce papers. You should find out why.

Increasing numbers of my clients are reporting problems retaining mid-career professionals. These are people who are settled in their careers but not yet nearing retirement. They’ve often earned whatever credentials are available for their industry (whether those be undergrad or graduate degrees or certifications or other types of non-degree credentials). They’ve invested a decade or more building their professional network. They may NOT be interested in traditional modes of volunteering, spending years working their way laboriously up the association committee ladder with the goal of putting that “prestige” committee chair or board of directors position on their LinkedIn profile and resume.

And, frankly, a lot of associations are not serving them well.

Assuming it’s not due to outside forces like leaving the industry, members lapse because what you’re charging exceeds the value of what you’re providing.

It’s tempting to rationalize this trend as, “Well, it’s just GenXers, and there were always fewer of them anyway – smaller generation. We’ll just recruit more early-career Millennials to make up for it.”

Two problems with that thinking:

  1. The oldest Millennials are about to turn 35. In other words, they’re rapidly approaching “mid-career.”
  2. They don’t want the same things your Boomer members did at their mid-career stages.

What do those experienced professionals want?

There is no one answer, which is why you need to put in the time and effort NOW to find out what’s going on with them, what their current professional challenges are, and what goals they have yet to accomplish. GenXers are likely to be happy to be your guinea pigs and will give you the space to develop an experimental mind-set and approach, which will position you for success with the larger generations coming behind as they reach career maturity.

Photo by Johann S. on Unsplash