199 Ideas: Membership Recruitment and Retention


Last week ASAE and the Center for Association Leadership released their newest book, 199 Ideas: Membership Recruitment and Retention.

You will find it a very practical resource that membership professionals should keep handy and use as a checklist for the basics of membership marketing.

As the title suggests, 199 Ideas, is presented in a readable format as tips by topic area: Recruitment Basics, Where to Find New Members, How to Get Prospects to Join, and Retention Basics.

Here is a sampling of some of the tips:

  1. “Tracking is everything. Want to really know what works for recruiting new members? Remember that all of your applications should be coded so that you can track where [they came from] (page 14).”

  2. “New members can be found in lots of places, but the easiest sources are people who already know your association (former members, nonmembers who have attended you convention or purchased your services) or know your members (page 15).”

  3. “By far, it [direct mail} is the most effective and fastest way to grow your membership, if numbers are what you’re after. Direct mail can be costly overall, but after you’ve been at it for a while (testing and analyzing, that is) you’ll be able to pick lists like a pro and you’ll learn which copy and offers will work and which won’t. This form of marketing allows you to pinpoint success – or failure -- with real numbers and thereby lets you control how much it costs you to get a member (page 19).”

  4. “Every membership professional who engages in direct marketing must understand two things: 1.) that every mailing is an opportunity to test new ideas; and 2.) never ‘roll out’ . . . until you’re satisfied that the test works (page 22).”

  5. “It’s important to have a well thought out renewal campaign with multiple touch points. You should consider a blended approach in your communications that includes email, direct mail, telephone calls, and web based tools )page 63).”[1]

As useful as the book is, I would take issue with a couple of the points made in 199 Ideas.

First, I think that recruitment basics chapter overemphasizes research and analysis. If all the research that was recommended in the book was done then there would not be time to actually do the recommended marketing. Often a better approach is to attempt some marketing efforts early on and let the market speak to you through the responses you get. Yes, research is good, but I also believe in the “just do it” approach to marketing.

Secondly, setting the expectation that your “response is usually somewhere between 2 and 5 percent (page 22)” for direct mail acquisition is unrealistic. Of course we would all love to mail 100,000 pieces of mail for $70,000 in cost to sell our membership at $200 in dues and get back $1,000,000 (5 percent return), but don’t promise that to anyone if you want to keep your job!

The book was developed by the Membership Section Council of ASAE and the Center. Key contributors to the book were Linda Brady of the International Society for Pharmaceutical Engineering, Tip Tucker Kendall from the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association, Michael C. McGough (a former colleague of mine) from the National Investment Relations Institute, and Miriam Miller from the United Fresh Produce Association.

By the way, the book also includes a "Share My Tip" form where you can contribute your thoughts for the next version of the book.


[1] 199 Ideas: Membership Recruitment and Retention, by ASAE & The Center's Membership Section Council, 2009, 88 pages.

We Don't Know What We Don't Know

BusinessWeek had a very encouraging article this month on Why It's Smart To Be Optimistic.

One quote in the piece jumped out at me from the inventor Thomas Edison who said, “We don't know a millionth of 1% about anything."[1]

Human nature seems to say that we know it all. But the wise course may be to humbly put ourselves in the place of being a learner.

As the old proverb says, “Whoever trusts in his own mind is a fool, but he who walks in wisdom will be delivered.”

[1] BusinessWeek, The Case for Optimism, August 13, 2009

Membership Marketing Benchmarking Final Report Now Available


We just publicly released the Membership Marketing Benchmarking Final Report for you to download. Only a registration on the site is required to get a copy.

I wanted to thank those who participated in our formal presentation of the report Monday, at the ASAE Annual Convention.

Please feel free to share the report with others in your organization. Post your comments here on this site and please let me know if you have any questions. I look forward to your thoughts and feedback. Here is the link.

This has been one of the more interesting projects that I have worked on in a long time. I hope you find it a help in your membership marketing efforts.

Monthly Installment Dues Billing: A Case Study


Everyone wants to increase their membership recruitment results and renewal rates and here is one tip to do just that – monthly installment billing of dues.

If you think about it, our society has moved to a month by month financial focus. Your cell phone, internet, car payment, and service contracts are paid each month. In fact, our likelihood to purchase these products would be greatly diminished if we were required to pay for the year in advance. We are also more likely to continue the services when the payments are automatically debited from our credit card or bank account.

However, most membership organizations do not offer the opportunity to pay monthly. A member is typically required to pay the full dues up front.

Over the past several years, we experimented with making monthly installment billing available to members. I wanted to share with you today a case study from one organization that has tried this program.

Let me start out by admitting that putting this type of program in place is an administrative challenge. Credit cards expire and have transaction fees. In the case of electronic funds transfers (EFT), bank accounts open and close. So this type of change will require staff time and programming time. The higher the dues payment, the more beneficial this type of program will be.

For my case study group, the idea to test installment billing was first raised as a method to increase response rates on membership acquisition mailings. Research showed that the $225 price tag for dues was an impediment for members to join.

So we built a head to head acquisition test for this organization. The control offer with the $225 price went to 37,640 prospects and the same package offering the additional option of an automatic credit card payment of $18.75 a month went to 37,623 prospects. The results were impressive. The control package generated 436 new members for a 1.16% response rate. However, the test package with the installment option produced 657 members fro a 1.75% response rate.

Clearly many prospects were more willing to join if they had the option to pay monthly.

The next question was how will members who select the monthly installment renew compared to members who pay up front. Our latest data reports on members who renewed on time. The on time renewal rate for members NOT on the installment plan is 55.7%. However, the on time renewal rate for members participating in the installment plan is 82.0%. The non-installment member rate will probably rise to 70% when late renewal payments are included. But even when late payments are included, a potential twelve point lift in renewals is a major improvement.

The bottom line for this organization is that making an installment dues option available to members has caused an increase in the work load for staff, but it has helped produce more new members, more revenue and a better renewal rate. It may be something that more membership organizations should test.

Let’s Connect at ASAE 09

I would enjoy meeting you if you will be attending the ASAE Annual Meeting in Toronto next week.

Here are some ways that we can connect.

First, my firm, Marketing General, Inc., will release the final report of our 2009 Membership Marketing Benchmarking Survey. If you would like a printed copy of the report, please stop by our booth – number 113 -- in the exhibit hall and ask for me. (Click here to read a summary of the Top Five Findings of that study).

Secondly, on Monday August 17, from 2:00 to 3:00 pm in room 802A of the Toronto Convention Center: I will be co-presenting an “un-session” on the report. The session is titled, How do You Compare? Benchmark Your Association against Industry Research in Membership, Marketing, Meetings and More.

In addition, Marketing General Inc. is pleased to again sponsor the Membership Section's Reception at this year's Annual Meeting. Join me from 5:00 to 6:30 PM on Sunday, August 16, in Ballroom A of the InterContinental Toronto Centre Hotel.

Finally, on Sunday August 16 at 1:30, I will be attending a session by my colleague Erik Schonher who will be part of a panel of membership executives and association CFOs to explore how to facilitate communication between the association's membership department and their finance department's leadership.