Member Retention 101: How To Make Your Members Stick


Improving member retention is a combination of factors that need to work together in tandem to optimize retention. There is even data that shows that it costs five to 25 times more on average to attract and bring on a new member than to retain one year to year. These kinds of numbers would make anyone think harder about their current retention rate!

Knowing this, we’ll take a deep dive into how to create an organization that will bring new members in and keeps them active for many years, and how a membership management software can change the game. 

Here’s what we’ll cover:

Let's go! 

No time to read this article now? Download it for later.


Optimize the Membership Lifecycle 

Believe it or not, many organizations don’t have an actual grasp on why their members joined in the first place or even why they’ve chosen to stay. Knowledge is power as they say, and ultimately, you need to know as many details about your members as possible. A key piece of that is understanding why they actually joined in the first place.

There are a couple of ways that you can gather this information. 

  • Ask them. From the initial member application, you can ask why they decided to join your organization.

  • Send an email survey. You can survey all of your current members asking about why they are members and what they like about the organization.

Take a Deeper Look at Your Onboarding Process

After you’ve conducted a survey and know why your members are joining, you should take a look at your onboarding processes. Onboarding is the process of introducing new members to your community, the membership benefits, and how they can easily connect with others.

Are you making it more difficult than it has to be to join by only accepting cash payments for membership? Is your website confusing and hard to navigate? These are the types of questions you need to look at seriously in order to evaluate your onboarding process.

A quick way to improve the onboarding process is to look at your process through the eyes of someone who is brand new to your organization. If they knew nothing about your organization and its membership program how easy would it be for them to join? Would they be able to understand the exact benefits of your membership? How easy would it be for them to connect with other members or find out what upcoming events will take place?

The goal is to find gaps in your onboarding process and fill them in. Joining the membership program should be a breeze for new members, and the onboarding process should be a fun, informative way for members to learn the culture, values, and features of your program.

Additionally, sending out a welcome packet email to deliver all of the new member materials is one of the top ways to create a memorable experience to welcome new members

Your association can automate this process and increase your retention rates by utilizing membership management software. This type of software doesn’t have to be overly complicated. What others have discovered is that membership management software allows for the ability to streamline membership experience, track payments, track attendance, and engage new and existing members.

By being able to engage existing members, you can focus on their needs and help them connect in a meaningful way within your organization. Sounds pretty great, right?

Blog_Images-articles_Anthony-perplexedAnthony is ready to try new types of onboarding!

Reward Desired Behaviors

Next up, you need to start rewarding desired behaviors. Desired behaviors are the types of actions a member takes that you’ve always dreamed of. For example, a member posts a rave review about your organization on their social media or a member refers your membership to a family member.

This can look different to each organization, and even each member in the organization depending on how they engage. For example, if you have a member post about the organization on social media, you can give them a discount on tickets to an event or merchandise. Even if it’s just 10%, your member will be grateful that you even noticed them and took the time to reward them for spreading the word. Doesn’t cost much, but means the world to them!

By rewarding members, you show that you appreciate them and their commitment to your organization. Members who feel valued, heard, and appreciated are more likely to stay active and engaged compared to members who feel disconnected and not valued.

Ask Your Members What They Like

It’s very common for members to change their perception of an organization over time. When a member first joins they’re in the process of discovering and learning about the culture and values of an organization. Next, they move into a phase of development as they fully utilize the membership program. Lastly, they come to a place where they decide (whether intentionally or not) if they’ll be an ambassador who talks to others about the perks of joining.

Knowing that members will change their perception based on how long they’ve been a member is one reason why an annual survey is a great tool to utilize. Plus, there are plenty of free options such as Springly or Google Forms that will help save you money while you’re making headway in your retention goals. 

On these surveys, you can also include questions about how your members like to be communicated with and other important aspects of the member experience. 

This makes each member feel valued, and on top of that, when they see you utilize the changes and advice they suggest, they will actually feel like they are part of the decision-making process. Who wouldn’t want that?

Once you get the results of the survey, have a meeting with the task force team if there is more than one of you, and talk about what the members said. Then, plan to do more of what they like. Post the content they like. Send communication out the preferred way. Remind them of the great benefits that you are providing them. The return of investment on a free survey is invaluable, so use them.

Catch Member Disengagement Early

So what happens when you start to see a member disengage? First, you need to watch for disengagement and catch it early. If a member goes from posting about your organization, going to events, and engaging in your emails to radio silence, you need to find out why.

Giving your member a call is a great opportunity to talk about how they’re doing and what they’re liking will give you insight into why they’re all of a sudden disappearing. It could be that they’re no longer interested in your kind of work. It could also be that they have something going on in their personal lives and simply need a break. 

Sadly, and we know you may not want to hear this, but maybe it is an issue with the way your organization manages memberships that doesn't quite fit (i.e. sending too many emails). Thankfully, those are generally quick solutions that are easy and cost-effective to manage. 

When discussing with your members, do your best to be open to constructive criticism. Remember that no one is perfect, and healthy feedback is a gift to make your organization better.

Pro Tip: A great tactic to engage a member who was highly active, but is now less engaged, is to see if they would be willing to take on responsibility within your organization. Sometimes members want to feel like they have skin in the game. Give them some responsibility and watch them re-engage. 

If this is starting to feel a little overwhelming, that’s okay. This is a lot of information to take in. But, keep your eye on the prize. Retention allows your membership community to grow deep roots with members who are excited to be part of your organization. You’ve got this! 

Create a Communication Plan and Stick to It

Alright, back to the action. Let’s talk about consistent communication. Members do not like to be overcommunicated with or under communicated with. Imagine them as Goldilocks. Remember that fairy tale? She wanted her porridge to be just the right temperature.

Your members are similar in the sense that they each want to be communicated at just the right frequency. Not too much, but not too little either. It might seem daunting to try and please everyone, but there are ways to create the best experience possible without too much of a headache.

First, build out a membership communication plan. Sit down and pre-plan your content for the next month. This includes emails, blogs, social media posts, and any other touches you’ll have with your members. The better you plan, the easier your life will be. Utilizing a content calendar will help you stay organized.

A content calendar provides the big picture of how your organization will communicate with its members. It will help you define the right amount of communication to your members as we talked about earlier.

Next, put your communication plan into action and see the results for yourself. Your members will love that you’re consistent without being overwhelming and that you’re utilizing what they want to see.

An example of a communication plan in action could be an email newsletter that goes out twice a month. The newsletter can be your way of consistently communicating with your members sharing upcoming events, new benefits, or highlighting new members. Over time members will expect this newsletter to tether them to the organization with up-to-date news and more.

Whether it’s a newsletter or other medium, take the time to craft it to perfection. Invest time in making it not only look good but sound good too. Write in a tone that matches the culture of your community. It’s ok to be funny and include jokes if that is the rapport you have built with them. Your members shouldn’t be surprised by the attitude and tone of the newsletter, it should make sense to your community.

There are numerous ways to communicate to members in this day and age, but it’s best to choose one way and do it well before adding another. Instead of trying to be a master at Facebook, a weekly newsletter, and Twitter, start with one and become an expert before adding another communication method.

By utilizing a communication plan you can consistently interact with your members in a way that’s manageable for you and not overbearing for them.

Allow for Flexibility

Another way to increase membership and retention is to evaluate your membership options and allow for flexibility in payment and types of memberships. By allowing for more flexibility and payment customization for your members, you’re going to convince them that you care more about them and less about collecting their money. 


For example, maybe you offer a discount for renewal time after a member’s first year to entice them to stick around. You can also reward long-time members as a way of saying thank you for the support. Maybe for their fifth year, you offer a 20% discount. Most will be grateful and will rejoin right away. This is also a great way to sway undecided leads.

Tiered System

Beyond offering annual discounts, look at creating a tiered membership system if you don’t have one already. Having three tiers is always a good start and you want to keep your options as simple as possible. It’s up to you what you want each membership tier to include, but make sure that the benefits of your higher levels make sense for the price. Make sure to allow your members to upgrade or lower their tier at any time.

Pause Membership

Try offering an option to pause their membership any month. Then, if money is tighter some months, they can take a break and come back when they’re ready. While you may worry about your member ghosting you, more often than not members are willing to come back once any extenuating circumstances change.

Multiple Payments

Last, allow your members to pay their dues in multiple smaller payments. A one-time big price tag can be intimidating to some, and you don’t want to scare anyone off. Yes, there will be others who like to just knock out an annual membership in one payment, but you need to provide both options. This level of flexibility will help bring on more members as well as retain the ones you have.

Flexibility within your payment options can be a great retention strategy for your membership community and show that you truly care about your members. Every member is unique, and not only in personality, but also financially. By creating various membership payment options you allow people to continue to be members with a payment plan that works for them.


Zero In on Membership Engagement

In this section, we’ll discuss what it means to get your current members truly engaged. No one ever wants to leave an organization that they find value in. Take the extra step and go the extra mile to make your members feel like they belong to a community.  

Set Criteria

In order to really zero in on your membership engagement, you need to set up some criteria for how you’re going to evaluate "engagement." This can look different for different organizations, so decide what’s best for you.

You can do a points system where more important events are worth a higher number of points. In the marketing world, this is called "scoring." 

Scoring can be used to not only gauge membership engagement but also used to track winning leads, members who are super fans, and find like-minded organizations to partner with. Often times scoring can be tracked within your membership database.

That could look something like this:

  1. Opening an email – 1 point

  2. Attending an event – 10 points

  3. Buying merchandise – 5 points

  4. Commenting or posting on social media – 3 points  

Then you can use this to see which members are the most involved. This is also a great way to incorporate a rewards system. Maybe at 100 points, you can offer 10% off of merchandise or a free ticket to an event. People will be more engaged when they are rewarded for their efforts.

Pro Tip: Scoring is an incredible system as long as it’s done automatically or within small doses. Many businesses with over 200 members will find it challenging to manage this without a full-time membership manager. With this said, there is software available to help effectively and efficiently manage a scoring system.

member-retention-customer-serviceTrish is doing a quick mental score calculation!

Perfect the Art of Great Customer Service

If there is one thing people remember, it’s bad customer service experiences. We’ve all witnessed it, and if we’ve ever been a customer service representative in any capacity, we’ve probably all given poor service. But, ultimately, your customer service is what’s going to set your organization apart.

By offering customers excellent service, you’re also promoting your members to be engaged, thus helping in retention. Imagine that you belong to an organization, and it takes two or three days for anyone to get back to you. It is unlikely that you’re going to continue with the membership as you don’t feel valued.

Quick responses may be difficult for your organization to provide, but by adding a "Frequently Asked Questions" or "FAQ" page on your site you can help eliminate some back and forth. If you notice you’re getting a question a handful of times, it’s time to add it to the "FAQ" page.

Build and Engage a Community

Is there anything better than that special feeling of belonging when you find a community that has the same values and interests as you? Okay, the feeling of going on a Hawaiian vacation might be better. But belonging to a community feels great too! If you want to retain members, make them feel special, heard, understood, and valued.

Every member of your organization should have a platform to voice their opinions and thoughts on the work you’re doing. The more connected your members are with each other and with you, the more your organization will retain members and the less likely they are to leave it.

There are a couple of ways to do this. You can encourage participation on social media platforms like Instagram or Facebook. Members can comment, share posts, and invite friends and family to events. 

Other helpful platforms to get people engaged on are WhatsApp and Slack. These are popular online social tools that are simple to use and inexpensive to manage. The beauty of these tools is that they allow your community to come together online in a more exclusive private manner. Members can interact with one another on a regular basis and build a relationship with one another from the comfort of their own home.

It can seem like a lot of work to constantly be coming up with new prompts for your members to discuss. 

Automation can quickly handle smaller tasks that normally would take a person time to do. Even something as tiny as posting on social media can take up time that would be better dedicated to engaging your community rather than building it. Automating processes like sending an email campaign or posting on social media can free you up to focus on what really matters.


Harness the Power of Brand Ambassadors

Brand ambassadors, or influencers, are highly sought after these days. They can change the game when it comes to both adding new members, retaining your current members, and providing (nearly) free advertising. You can go about adding brand ambassadors in several different ways. 

  • Find your most passionate members. You can do this through your scoring system that we talked about above, and by asking them to become ambassadors.

  • Offer discounts. Offer a discount to your members for a certain number of posts or how many new members they bring into your organization.

  • Use a professional. Look for someone who is an influencer in the community and see if they’d be willing to join your organization, possibly for free, in exchange for them to post about the group and link the signup sheet on their social media platforms. The trick here is finding the right person that is passionate about your mission and is a pro within their arena.

Pro Tip: While influencers are excellent at what they do, don’t put your reputation at risk if you are not 100% sure they fit the values of your organization. It is always better to choose a smaller influencer who fits rather than someone with thousands of followers who couldn’t care less about your hard work.

The best option is probably to use a combination of the two. 

Then, you can add a referral bonus to your points system. For every referral a member gets, it can be 15 points, or whatever you decide, and that goes toward prizes, merchandise, or event tickets. 

Remember, the whole point is to create a community that really enjoys being together and is filled with people that cannot wait to talk about your organization with others.


In Short

While all of this seems like it could be a significant amount of work, remember that the cost of bringing on a new member is 5 to 25 times more expensive than retaining a new one. There are plenty of quick and cost-effective ways to improve your member experience. Sending out surveys, allowing their voices to be heard, and maintaining an open line of communication in the community all help members stay engaged.

Remember to track metrics and data, and learn how to measure your success so you can replicate it as you focus on membership retention.

Member retention should be a priority not only for the internal aspects of your organization but also externally. If you’re a local organization, you don’t want the reputation to be that you bring on new members who never renew their membership. That wouldn’t go over well. If you have a high retention rate of members, brag on it! Use these statistics to bring in new members who want to be a part of your amazing community.

Improving member retention is like a work of art, it takes time, dedication, and patience but in the end, has a beautiful outcome. By focusing in on interactions, ambassadorship, and optimizing your membership cycle, you have all of the tools you need to become the membership Rembrandt of your organization!

Enjoyed the article? Download it to keep or share with others!



👫 Why is member retention important?

Retaining your existing members is a cost-effective solution to sustaining your organization long into the future. Data suggests it costs five to 25 times more on average to attract and onboard a new member than to retain an existing one. High retention rates also speak volumes to the quality of your membership program, helping sway prospective members who might be sitting on the fence. Find out more. 

🔐 How do you retain members?

To retain members, you should first focus on optimizing your membership lifecycle. This includes acting on member feedback, revisiting your onboarding process, offering additional benefits, and much more. Once this is done, you are able to zero in on your membership engagement by tracking data, being proactive with member concerns, and focusing on ambassadorship. Find out more.

💲 What are some cost-effective ways to retain members?

Firstly, you can send out surveys for free in order to gather member feedback. Secondly, you can empower your members with a voice on social media, the comments section of your blog, or even by hosting a discussion event. Lastly, devise and stick to a communication plan so your members are kept engaged. Find out more. 


The Holy Grail of Nonprofit Tips ✨
Get all of the information you need to efficiently manage your nonprofit with our monthly newsletter.