7 Ways to Lose Members—Right Now!



Have you ever thought your association’s retention woes may not be so much a question of what you are not doing, but of what you are doing?

We’ve worked with a lot of organizations over the years, and we’ve found that, in almost every case—even now, when associations are focused on membership like never before—when an organization stops growing and starts losing members, it’s “implementing” at least one of these seven ways to lose members—right now!

1. Don’t ask members what they want: Tell them!

You have a membership model in place and you’re not about to change it by letting members tell you what it should look like! Your association has programs, and services and “benefits” it needs to sell, after all. Just because the internet and social media have led people to expect that they can choose services “on demand” is no reason for your association to change it’s time-tested “model” of insisting that members buy a full package of benefits most of them will never use. So, no matter how many members drop out because they don’t see the value of membership: stand firm. Force your members to buy what you want to sell them, not what they want to buy!

2. Talk to your members as if you don’t know who they are.

Every member wants to be treated like an anonymous face in the crowd. So, don’t address them by name, or target your messaging to them based on their needs, interests, or history with your organization. Call them “Dear Member,” or “Dear Renewing Member”—or better yet: “Dear Friend.” Make sure your message is generic, so that it feels like it could be from any organization to any “customer.” And, make sure it covers the full range of everything your association does, every time, rather than the specific things members would be interested in. It’s better if they see a whole lot of generalized, irrelevant information, so that they get frustrated and abandon your communication without finding what they need. That will increase their sense of belonging!

3. Don’t give members personal service: Give them FAQ’s.

Better yet, try not to talk to members at all! Don’t talk to members, one-on-one, or give them a way to contact you in person (like your email address or direct line)! You’re busy! You don’t have time to talk to members! Let them go online and look it up for themselves if they have pesky questions about membership or anything else! That’s why you worked so hard on those FAQ’s! Let them email mail@association.org. “Someone” may get back to them—eventually! It’s not like your members get personal service from every one of your competitors.

4. Make them wait!

Again, you’re busy! And, you have a process in place. It’s not like members need that acknowledgement, receipt, answer, or that membership welcome kit right away! Let them wait a couple of days or weeks (2, 4, 6—whatever works for you!), until they work their way through your process. After all, they signed up for a year’s membership. They’re not going anywhere for at least 12 months. It’s not like first impressions matter!

5. Ask them for more money right away.

Make sure that every time you communicate with your members you are asking them to spend more money. It’s especially effective if you time your member communications program so that the first few messages (non-personalized email only, please!) they get from you are opportunities to spend more. After all, once they’ve had a chance to get oriented, they may decide it’s not worth it. Better to get them before they know anything about your organization! And, don’t send them anything asking for their opinion, or telling them what you’re doing with their dues, or thanking them for their support without asking for money! Get the cash up front!

6. Don’t waste time or money bringing in “peripheral” members!

If new members aren’t willing to “engage” on your association’s terms from day one, who needs them? If they don’t get the “value” you offer instantaneously, forget them! Focus your attention on the “worthy” members who are just like your volunteer leaders (they represent the typical member, right?). Don’t waste one minute on the riff-raff who just give you money every year for membership dues! After all, an “engaged” member is a “real” member. If they aren’t going to “engage,” then better they don’t join at all! You don’t need “mailbox members”—and they’re hard to renew anyway!

7. Focus on “messaging,” not on providing value.

If your members aren’t renewing in record numbers, it must be because you’re not using the right messaging! After all, all of your surveys show that members just aren’t aware enough of all the fabulous benefits you offer! It can’t be that most of your association’s benefits are not relevant to your members. It must be that the “message” isn’t worded the right way to make them see how valuable your antiquated membership model is to them! If you can just find the right words, they’ll see the value where they never did before! Remember, your job is to sell them what you already have, not connect them with benefits that actually meet their needs!

No joke

Although we’ve taken a teasing tone here, we know that finding new ways to acquire and retain members in today’s economy and competitive climate is no joke. We also know that uncovering and implementing every tactic you can find to wring every possible increase out of your current acquisition, renewal, and retention programs is an essential first step to stabilizing membership and laying the groundwork for future growth.

And, we know that staff reductions mean association staff are juggling multiple and sometimes discordant responsibilities. The ongoing need for organizations to “do more with less” makes it imperative for staff to get some things off their plates just to keep the association operating.

We just don’t think it should be your members.

We firmly believe that associations can grow and prosper—but only if they truly put their members at the center of their mission and focus on serving member needs first. Relieving the burden on staff should not mean pushing members away through depersonalized, automated processes that transfer the burden of finding value onto the member.

This post was first published in December 2012 on The Demand Perspective Blog. A version of it was published in Associations Now in May 2011.