Member Retention
Board Portal Best Practices: Member Retention

By Dustin McKissen, September 25, 2018

Retaining members is one of the more challenging tasks any trade association board faces. The principle that obtaining a new customer is far more expensive that retaining an existing one is as true in associations as it is in any other type of organization.


With that in mind, here are a few things your board of directors can do to help improve member retention.


1. Understand how your members are engaging.

It’s important for associations to understand which members are actually engaged, and which aren’t. How do you know which members are engaged? Use your data. How many events has a member attended in the last few years? Who is waiting until the last minute to renew? Is the member making use of his or her benefits?

Once you identify at-risk members, design a program to reengage them. Depending on the size of the organization, one good place to start is a simple phone call asking how your association could better deliver value. It is especially powerful if that call comes from a well-respected fellow member, like a member of the association’s board.


That human-to-human contact is increasingly rare, and as a result increasingly impactful.

2. Be willing to get rid of programs and benefits no one uses, and try something new.


During their first year, association members can be incredibly engaged and gain significant value from the new knowledge and network they get when they join the association. But what if they are receiving essentially the same benefits in year 5? In year 10? There is a good chance they’ve gained most or all the value they’re ever going to get from those benefits. Members recognize that fact before associations do, and the result is less-engaged members.

Associations are also notorious for keeping programs and benefits that hardly get used, often because it seemed like a good idea at the time—or because one influential member or director is an advocate for that particular benefit. Still, having benefits that go unused is the very definition of a lack of member engagement.

End programs that create little-to-no member engagement, even if it causes a little backlash. Doing so is one of the first steps toward creating more-engaged members.

3. Listen to what your members have to say.


Every association thinks it knows what members want. However, the day-to-day world of a board member and a more “typical” association member can be very different. A board of directors is usually composed of the most established, successful people in an industry or profession. Their challenges and opportunities may be significantly different than the challenges and opportunities facing a more “typical” member.

Does that mean that a board can’t come up with innovative ideas to increase member engagement?


But it does mean that boards shouldn’t assume they know what it takes to engage members at different stages of their career. Instead, ask members what they would like to see from their association. What would deliver value and keep them engaged? You can ask that question via surveys, on social media, and in the hallways and happy hours of conferences and events—but wherever and however you do it, make sure you ask the question.


(Side note: The act of asking is itself a form of engagement and shows members that the association leadership cares about delivering value, not just keeping membership revenue up.)


4. Include member retention in your strategic plan.


Above all else, making member retention a priority requires incorporating retention challenges and initiatives in your strategic plan. BoardPaq is the only board portal that includes an innovative SWOT analysis tool within its platform. Boards and association staff leadership can use the SWOT analysis tool to create the strategic retention plan that works for their association.


Member engagement and retention are often treated as two separate topics.


By better understanding which members are engaged, being innovative, being willing to get rid of benefits and programs that aren’t widely used, asking members what they would like to see from their association, and including a member-retention plan within your broader strategic plan will put your association on the right path to improving your member-retention rate.


Interested in learning more about the board portal of choice for cost-conscious trade associations, professional societies, and other membership organizations?


Schedule a demo today!

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Dustin McKissen is the founder of McKissen + Company, an association management and marketing firm. He is a Certified Association Executive and has served as an executive or consultant to a wide variety trade associations, professional societies, and nonprofits.
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