What to do when members are leaving

28 APRIL 2017

Emma Thompson, Director

At some point, every one of your members will leave your organisation.  Some at the very earliest stages of their professional lives - while they are still finding their feet and choosing their path - some much later, when they’ve retired and their interest in your organisation and its offer has waned.   That is, of course, just a generalisation based on a career journey.  The range of reasons for actively cancelling a membership or choosing not to renew is wide.  And investigating those reasons not only helps an organisation adjust and improve, but - if done in a timely manner - provides the opportunity to entice back some of those about to take the next train out of there.

What we found out about younger members

In our 2016 research, professional membership bodies reported that the top reasons for members who were studying or in-training to leave the organisation were:

they’ve left the profession

they haven’t yet found a job

the cost of continuing to the next membership grade is prohibitive

they join another professional body instead

Other reasons included not being aware of their membership or not knowing of, understanding or valuing the benefits.  Much could be done to better understand and improve on these situations.

Finding out why your members leave

Most members won’t spontaneously tell you why they are choosing to depart; you have to ask.  There are various methods you could use, from surveying a cohort of recently lapsed members, to a feedback / exit form with a few simple questions (18% of organisations taking part in the MemberWise 2016 survey reported the use of exit forms sent by email).  But to get to the bottom of the issue and give you some chance of retaining the member, a quick phone call from the membership team has to be the winning strategy. 

Worst case: they’ve had a terrible experience and nothing you can say or do will change their mind about leaving.  But you’ve taken action to find this out, given the member opportunity to voice their opinion and listened to what they’ve said.  You may find that what they’ve told you leads to a change in the organisation’s processes, offers or communications, so that the same situation won’t arise again.  Although you have lost one member, your actions may secure the organisation’s wider reputation and lead to positive change.

Or: they just don’t see the point.  They can’t work out why they need membership, they’ve hardly used anything that’s on offer and don’t see why they should pay fees again.  This is more of a passive opt-out than a proactive jump.  Maybe this member just needed someone to talk to them about membership, to find out what they need day-to-day, or what their longer-term aspirations are. Now’s your chance!

By asking What aspect of your membership did you derive most benefit from? you are encouraging a conversation about the positive experiences and things that matter most.  And by doing so, you increase your chances of talking about something they’ve missed or a change you - or they - could make that means they seriously consider staying.

The MGI 2016 Membership Marketing Benchmarking report showed that ‘most associations reach out to lapsed members more often through email than through direct mail or phone calls’. MGI reported that the median number of emails sent in a renewal programme was 3 to 5, contact was made via direct mail 2 to 3 times and organisations tended to call lapsed members only once or twice to renew membership.  Phone conversations take time and resource: easier for a dedicated membership team of eight, not so easy for one person whose role covers everything, and membership too. 

But even if that’s the case, a few phone calls whenever you can, that result in any of the aforementioned outcomes, are still worth it.