How to Keep Members: Tips for Associations, Foundation and Member-Based Organizations

I have the good fortune of working for many associations as a professional speaker, and one common concern that comes up in conversations is: do you have any suggestions of how we can retain our loyal members?

Executive Directors know their members often belong to many associations. Furthermore, some employers are cutting back on covering the membership fees so it’s cutting into professionals’ pocketbooks. And there is only so much discretionary time one can spend networking, learning and reviewing professional standards anyway.

The opportunity is that associations can use these challenges to review how they’re keeping their membership experience vibrant. How can associations foster a sense of connection and community? How can they show appreciation and publicize members’ achievements, leadership, and contributions in their organizations and in the field at large?

Here are a few suggestions that will help you retain existing members and welcome new ones.

How are you adding value?

What do your members most value by belonging to your association? And do you continually offer the top three most value-added programs and supports?

For example, if members need professional development from your association, how are you showing that you respect people’s time, professionalism and high standards by offering exceptional programming? All too often I see associations cobbling together a program with no budget, sometimes with little lead time. Remember, your members pay to belong, so they’ll expect you’ve invested in high-quality educators and speakers. Given they have lots of opportunities to develop (inside their own organization, with other associations, at privately purchased events) are you ensuring your offerings are standing above the rest?

The bottom line is that by being really clear on what your mandate and how value is aligned to what your members most need from you enables you to focus your time and resources on only the most important investments. Just like in our personal lives, if you try to be everything to everybody, it’s going to be really hard with your limited resources to fill that gap.

What are the most important things that you need to do to contribute value to your members?

Share the love.

I’m sure that you have a social media plan. Maybe you’ve got a newsletter or a printed magazine. Whatever your method of communicating and engaging with your community, how are you using it as an opportunity to spotlight the ways you’re adding value to members, how members are better off as a result, and other perks of membership that may be less utilized or understood? Find ways to recognize and share success stories in social media. Even if it’s not you, with your limited resources, creating stories about members. You can start the conversation and encourage the members to share their own successes or those of other members. Not only does it benefit members from hearing about the successes of those they may have never met (shared pride in their profession) it also helps to reinforce the value of your field to those considering a career or affiliation with you.

Do you have recognition activities at your convention? Do you recognize chapters? Do you show the love of your volunteer members of the association? Hopefully, you have multiple ways for people to be recognized and they feel that one day they will be acknowledged. Encourage peers to submit stories for them to be able to share best practices. How can you help them have a vehicle to share it?

Align your Mandate

Do you conduct a membership survey on at least an annual basis, preferably with some interviews of a representative sample of members as part of your process? And do you take what you’ve learned to inform your annual operational plans? Regular feedback ensures your focus remains aligned with what members most need and value in that annual cycle; their needs today could be very different from what they were three years ago.

One final comment. I want to take a pause to say thank you for the work that you do. With your limited resources, stretched capacity, competing priorities, and limited staff (if any) you keep your association going and growing. Let’s keep the love going! Show the love to your fellow EDs and volunteers by sharing this with a huge, “thank-you for what you do,” comment attached.

“There is more hunger for love and appreciation in this world than for bread.”

– Mother Teresa

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President & CEO, Swiftco Inc.

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Director, Marketing and Special Events, Encana Events Centre

"Funny, full of energy and incredibly motivating – all words to use when describing Sarah and her passionate stage presence. We were fortunate to have Sarah join us as a speaker for Spark Women’s Leadership Conferences and her presentations about leveraging greatness hit the core of our objective at SPARK: “A rising tide lifts all boats”. I would not hesitate to recommend Sarah to other organizations that are searching for a well-prepared, well-organized, thoughtful and passionate storyteller."
Shelley VanVeen

Learning & Development Manager, Libro Credit Union

"Sarah brought so much energy and enthusiasm to our International Women’s Day event at Libro! Her message was uplifting, thought-provoking and truly appreciated by our team. Dealing with Sarah was wonderful – she was open, professional and willing to work with us to customize her message to incorporate our culture and connect to our topic and participants. During the session, she was a pro with a powerful message and a fantastic delivery. We had wonderful feedback from all that attended and can’t wait to have Sarah back for another session in the future!"
Sylvia D’Intino

Executive Director, Community Living Hamilton

"THANK YOU so very much for leading the engagement activities today! You’re a constant professional, with an amazing attitude and always seeing the great in everyone. I am grateful for how you have helped us this year to transform our in-person staff recognition events into virtual and on-location events. Our staff feel more inspired, appreciated and motivated after they hear you speak, and I know our amazing in-house team here looks forward to designing engaging appreciation events with your support."
Melissa Chaulk

Manager of Professional Development

Canadian Dental Hygienists Association

"We work hard at CDHA to give our members a wonderful conference experience, so we were thrilled to have received resoundingly positive feedback on Sarah's opening plenary keynote. It was the highest attended of the entire conference for both dates!"
Jamie Campbell

Director, The Center for People in Organizational Development, Sheridan College

"Smart, challenging, innovative, committed, dependable, and reliable, I highly recommend her for all your recognition needs. I have brought Sarah into my last two organizations to help build a culture of recognition and celebration. The focus on appreciation is more important now than ever."

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