Effectively Managing the Membership Lifecycle: A Quick Guide

June 5, 2024
Three people's hands at a desk with papers and a laptop exploring the membership lifecycle.
As an association leader, you’re likely always looking for the freshest, most creative ways to engage your members. After all, research shows that associations that are considered innovative tend to have better donor retention rates than those considered less innovative.

Using technology like AI and learning management systems can help your association stay on top of trends and make your offerings more unique. Additionally, tailoring your communications and engagement strategies to each member will make them feel understood, valued, and more likely to actively participate.

We’ll explore how you can use the membership lifecycle to give your members personalized experiences throughout their member journeys. To get started, let’s break down each phase of the cycle.

The Membership Lifecycle

The membership lifecycle illustrates all of the phases a member passes through during their time with your association, from acquisition to membership renewal. Fonteva’s guide to member engagement breaks down the process into five stages:

  1. Awareness: Prospective new members hear about your association for the first time during this initial stage. Share about what makes your association unique or innovative, and work to build brand awareness.
  2. Recruitment: This stage is when new members agree to join your association. You’ll need to make an appealing offer to prospects by highlighting the benefits of membership.
  3. Engagement: Once prospects join your association, you need to work to keep them engaged and interested in your products, programs, and offerings. In other words, give them reasons to continue paying their membership dues.
  4. Renewal: The renewal period occurs when an individual’s membership is close to expiring. Renewals are critical to your association’s success. Renewing existing members is much more cost-effective than acquiring new ones, and it shows that members value your offerings and benefits.
  5. Reinstatement: This phase only exists for former members who allowed their membership to lapse (i.e., did not renew). During this stage, you must re-engage past members and motivate them to return to your organization through special offers, effective marketing, or upgrading your technology and benefits.

Understanding the membership lifecycle gives you more context about what your members are thinking, feeling, and motivated by.

Engage Members at Every Phase

Make sure to start by segmenting members based on where they fall in the lifecycle. For example, you might create segments for members who have been enrolled less than one year, those who have renewed at least once, and former members who could be re-engaged.

Next, we’ll cover the ways you can use your knowledge of the membership lifecycle and the power of your association management software to engage members in each of the following stages.

New Members

These are members who recently graduated from the recruitment stage and have not had to decide on renewing their membership yet. This time period is critical. You’ll need to build a positive first impression by showing new members that you can deliver on promises made during recruitment. It’s also important to instill confidence in these members by helping them learn the ropes.

To do so, engage these new members with strategies like:

  • Holding onboarding sessions. Schedule virtual welcome meetings for new members in which your staff helps them learn about the organization. Give them a tour of your membership directory, learning management system, and resource library. This is a good time to answer any questions they have or help them solve technical issues like not being able to set up their member portal account.
  • Creating an ambassadorship program. These programs give new members access to at least one trusted person they can turn to with questions about the association. For example, early in their membership, they may turn to this individual with questions about how to interact on the discussion forum. Over time, they can ask this individual for career advice, too.
  • Sharing welcome materials. Create materials like brochures, blog posts, presentations, and videos that welcome new members. These materials should be informative and affirm that they made the right decision by becoming a member. Include information about all of the benefits you offer (and how to take advantage of them), list meeting schedules, share annual events you organize, and detail additional ways members can get involved.

The main goal during this stage is to make new members feel at home and spread awareness of all of the benefits and opportunities your association has to offer.

Current Members

These members fall within the engagement phase. Unlike new members, current members have chosen to renew their memberships at least once. Focus on keeping these members engaged to prevent indifference or complacency. They might be looking for higher-level career development opportunities and ways to increase their engagement.

To ensure multi-year members are still seeing benefits from their membership, target them with opportunities like:

  • Learning about advanced topics. Have some members completed all of the online courses and certifications your association offers? Consider revisiting your course library to add more advanced options. Ask members what topics they’d like to explore—maybe some of your most experienced professionals would even be interested in designing or leading the course.
  • Organizing specialized committees. Some members may appreciate being able to run side projects or initiatives within your association. This added responsibility makes them feel needed by and involved in the organization. For example, a fireworks association may designate a committee of members to monitor and update the organization about changes in regulations and codes concerning explosives.
  • Holding a leadership role. Long-term members may be looking to play a more active and influential role in the association. Based on how much time and effort the member will be able to devote to the role, you could offer them any position from a seat on the board of directors to simply leading monthly meetings.                                            

Remember to continue delivering effective, targeted marketing campaigns to this member segment to enhance retention rates. After all, these members are still at risk of lapsing come their renewal period. As Allegiance Group explains, establishing multiple touchpoints through digital marketing is essential to keeping your organization at the top of your audience’s minds.

Former Members

These individuals fall within the reinstatement stage, meaning that they have declined to renew their membership at some point in the past. The methods your association uses to re-engage them will depend on why they allowed their membership to lapse in the first place. Some of the most common reasons include:

  • Forgetting to renew. This problem can be remedied if you catch it quickly enough, which is why it’s so important to keep your CRM up-to-date. Set up automated messages that are triggered when a membership expires, letting the member know you’re sorry to see them go. Include a link to renew in case the member simply forgot.
  • Perceived lack of value. These members feel that the dues they pay outweigh the benefits of the membership. To prevent this issue, make sure you are consistently reminding members of your unique membership benefits and inviting them to events and networking opportunities. While it may not be easy to re-engage these former members, you can make efforts to by sharing about new benefits or improvements on social media, your website, or in marketing emails.
  • Financial issues. Some members may not have the finances to continue paying for a membership. If you’re able to set up a payment plan or offer a discount, let the member know. If not, make sure they know you are looking forward to the day they can return as a member.

It can be difficult to ascertain why members leave, but this knowledge is the key to retaining your existing members. To get an idea of how your association can make meaningful improvements, add a form to your membership cancellation page that asks members why they won’t be returning.

To keep up with other associations, your organization needs to use innovative, personalized member engagement strategies. Tailoring these strategies to a member’s place in the membership lifecycle is a great starting point. This way, you’ll deliver the exact benefits that members are looking for, motivating them to renew their membership for years to come.

About the Author

Erin Lemons, Senior Director of Marketing at Fonteva 
Erin Lemons joins Togetherwork Association Solutions with over 15 years serving as a marketing director, event producer, and project manager creating robust marketing campaigns and initiatives that focus on the growing and ever-changing technology needs of the association industry. She leads the marketing teams and strategy at Fonteva and Protech.

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