It’s no secret that associations are only as good as their members. At the end of the day, associations exist to create and support a community with a shared mission. Members are the heart of an association, so it’s crucial to an association’s wellbeing to find new members, and keep their current members engaged and interested, in order to continue to grow membership and work towards accomplishing the association’s mission.
Successful member recruitment and retention isn’t just a game of whack-a-mole where associations cast a wide net and blindly hope for potential members to show interest. It’s important to think about these things strategically, and it can be helpful to think about it from the perspective of a for-profit company. While, of course, associations are not-for-profit, there are deep parallels between a business attracting and retaining customers and an association attracting and retaining members, so we find it useful to borrow a marketing framework of the “customer journey” to help associations understand what their members need, and how to provide it for them.
In short, the member journey is how a member goes from an interested lead to an engaged and satisfied member of your organization. Having a deep understanding of your member base will help you provide the best experience possible and deliver exactly what your members need in order to stick around and continue to contribute to the association. Ultimately, what you want to uncover are the reasons qualified people do not become members, the reasons people do become members, and the reasons people do or do not stick around and contribute to your association’s goal.
Typically, member journeys are created with two resources: member personas and member data. Member personas are the archetypes of your current members that you can use to better understand your membership base. With member personas, you can find similar people to recruit, and help with member retention. When you understand your members, you can provide the experiences and benefits that they’re looking for and make it easier to retain them in the long run.
How to get started with a member journey
Not all member journeys are the same and there’s no one way to craft them. The process can be as simple or as complex as you want it to be, as long as you walk away from the exercise with a good understanding of your members and what they want and document your learnings. Having a document that everyone in your association can refer to will help everyone stay aligned as they work on initiatives around recruitment all the way to retention.
Gather key data
Building a membership journey is rooted in data that you already have. Make sure you can find as much information as possible about your current members, your recruitment process, and member satisfaction. This is a chance to pull in as many stakeholders as possible and cast a wide net — the more information you have at the beginning, the better the end result will be.
Dig into questions like:
Are members tending to “drop out” of the organization at a certain point?
Are they dropping out before becoming members at a specific point in the recruiting or onboarding process?
Are they asking for specific things from the organization?
Are there certain pieces of feedback you’re hearing over and over again?
Are there any common touch points between your organization and potential members?
Do you have a way to collect member feedback? Can you implement one?
Where did your current members come from?
What triggers someone’s desire to join your association or look for a group like yours?
Create your member personas
The next step is to take a critical look at what you know about your current members. Think about how your members joined your association, what traits they share, and where you could find more people like them. Who are your “rockstar” members, and what are some of their defining traits that will help you find more people like them? It also helps to consider potential members who you think would be ideal for your association.
Ask questions like:
Which members are most engaged?
Which members help us reach our goals?
What are the defining characteristics of the ideal members?
Where do we find more people like this, online and offline?
What are these ideal members’ goals? Why do they join associations like ours?
As you ask yourself these questions and attempt to identify the most valuable members, you will probably find that there are a few different archetypes that most members fit into. You may have one type of member who joins associations for networking and community purposes; another type of member whose goals and values align with the organization’s mission and thus joins forces in order to better accomplish those goals; and a third type of member who is looking to have a deeper understanding of their field and is looking for resources. By sorting people into different groups based on what they are trying to achieve, you’ve found your member personas. Build these out by documenting each persona’s common traits, habits, goals, and where they can be found.
Establish the steps to membership
In this step, you’ll want to determine what steps a person goes through before joining your association. This includes how they hear about your association, what touchpoints and communication they have with you during the process, and how they engage with your association after becoming a member.
Identifying these steps will help determine where potential members are in their journey and create strategies that help move them further along their journey to membership and satisfaction. This is also an opportunity to identify where recruits and members drop off in your member journey so you can work to prevent retention issues. Considering who does not ultimately become a member or who leaves your membership can be just as important for crafting the right member journey.
Important questions for this stage include:
How do people find you?
How do people get in touch with you?
What happens after the initial touchpoint?
What questions do potential members have for you?
What pushes them from prospect to member?
At what point do prospects drop off and decide not to become a member?
How do you serve members aft?
Define member persona paths
The last step is to make sure that you take your learnings from the beginning stages and integrate them. When you have your member personas, you want to understand how they complete the steps to membership. Maybe every member comes to you in the same way regardless of their archetype, or maybe the path is different for each archetype. See how you can combine your findings to create member journeys for each persona if necessary, or just look at how all of the pieces of the member journey puzzle fit together.
You can ask questions like:
What do members within each persona have in common?
How does a certain persona find your association?
What pain points do personas have?
Do all personas go through the same steps to membership?
Once you have established your member journeys, you need to implement your new knowledge effectively. Find opportunities to address common drop off points for potential members or improve your offerings for current members to keep them engaged. No matter what you do with your member journey, making sure to act on what you’ve learned is the most important step. Fombers feeling a lack of engagement from the association? It might be worth reconsidering how and when you communicate with them to make sure they feel involved. Or, are members saying there aren’t enough opportunities to meet and talk with fellow members? Maybe it’s time to consider a member-only social network or forum.
No matter how big or small your adjustments are, they can have a big impact. Make sure to keep an accurate record of what changes you’re making, when you’re making them, and gather some key data around those changes. This will help you learn what kinds of things resonate with your members, so you can focus on those areas, instead of wasting time on lower impact changes and initiatives.
If you’re interested in taking the next step with the association experts, get in touch with us today to discuss how we can help you grow your membership base and keep your current members happy, engaged, and active.