Membership Q&A: What’s the Most Effective Renewal Cycle?

Calendar open to January page

When is the best time of the year to begin renewal communications to members? How many notices should we send? Should we send paper or electronic notices? What should we send WITH the notices?

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but there is no one right answer to these questions. There are some good guidelines, which we’ll go over in a minute, but really, you have to test different options and, more importantly, PAY ATTENTION to what happens. Yes, that means you have to track what you do and the responses it generates and compare that against doing it a different way to see which works better: how many notices, of what type, sent to whom, with what messaging, and on what schedule.

Sorry not sorry.

When should we start renewal communications?

Three months out, give or take.

What I mean by that is if, for instance, you know that businesses in your industry all have a lengthy payment process that takes longer than three months, or there’s a common busy season, or they all close their books at a certain time of year that doesn’t align with your membership year, you might need to adjust that (and if that last is the case, think seriously about moving your membership year to align with their budget cycle).

How many notices should we send?

Generally, if you’re still getting enough of a response to justify the resources you’ve invested (both direct costs and staff time), keep soliciting people. However, at some point, you need to consider those members lapsed, not just “late,” and change your messaging from “please renew” to more of an acquisition-style message.

When do you make that switch? Probably about three months after lapsing, but again, you need to understand your audience. If three months after lapsing is your members’ busy season, or a time of year when everyone in your profession seems to go on vacation, adjust accordingly. For instance, if your renewal date is July 1, don’t change your messaging from renewal to reacquisition until after Labor Day at the earliest, because there’s a good chance a big chunk of your audience was on vacation before that.

And make sure you give people time to respond. For electronic notices, you can keep your response window pretty short. Most people are going to respond to your email within a week, max, and if they haven’t responded by then, they aren’t going to.

Mail is different. You need to allow 3-4 weeks for a mailed notice to arrive, be read, be responded to, and for the check that member mailed back to you to be received and processed.

My favorite schedule? Send an email. A week later, generate your mail list. Three weeks later, it’s time for the next email (or other electronic) notice. Etc. Speaking of…

Should we send paper or electronic notices?


I’m not being snarky. You need to send notices through multiple platforms. It’s tempting to send only electronic notices – they’re fast, they’re cheap, they’re less labor-intensive – but don’t do it. What if you’re sending to an email address that person no longer uses? What if your notices are getting caught in spam filters? What if that member unsubscribed to your email updates?

I have a client that had switched entirely to emailed renewals. Their renewal rate was running around 66-67%. Not great. We reinstated some mailed notices (a more formal print notice with cover letter from the president, and later in the series, a fun, colorful postcard featuring a member photo and testimonial), and their renewal rate is now running around 85%. The mailed notices are, of course, not the ONLY reason for that improvement, but they definitely contributed.

Last week, I taught ASAE’s Association Management Week Membership Development class, and one of the participants, who works for an association with lots of student members, mentioned that her association is doing an increasing amount of communications via text. Talk with your members where THEY want you to.

What should we send WITH the notices?

This is one where you REALLY want to test to see what motivates your members. Do they like a contest with prizes? Are they CEOs who want a summation of all the member benefits their employees used during the year? Do they respond to FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out), so you should talk about what’s upcoming next year that they’ll miss if they don’t renew? Are testimonials from other members persuasive? What about some sort of reward that’s available only for doing what you want them to: renewing immediately, off the first notice? Are they all business, or do they like messaging that’s a little more casual, fun, or clever? Would they like a little gift?

The only way to know is to test. AND TRACK WHAT HAPPENS.

Photo by Maddi Bazzocco on Unsplash