Getting it right for retired members

In the UK, there is no legal age of retirement: a law that enabled employers to force workers to retire at 65 was abolished in 2011, although employers may still operate their own, contractual retirement conditions.  According to figures from the Department for Work and Pensions released in October 2018, just over 10% of individuals were working beyond the age of 65, which was double the number doing so in 2000.


The impact on memberships

The increasing working age is having an impact on membership organisations. For many bodies, the demographic profile of their membership is becoming older. However, the focus of activities is often on the core membership - those in full-time work, mid-career, middle to senior-level roles. These are often the members who generate the most income for the organisation through their fees and by making most use of the paid services that give them access to the knowledge and skills they need in their roles.

The DWP reported (in 2019) that the average age at which men leave employment is 65.1 years. For women, the average is 63.9 years.  A financial planning expert quoted in an article in The Guardian suggests that men are more likely to retire or work part-time in their mid-60s following full-time employment, whereas women are more likely to take career breaks in their 30s and return to work in their 50s.

It is almost certainly true that, as members age, they are less likely to renew.  The change in lifestyle may present an opportunity for a natural and non-acrimonious break from a body that has been part of an individual’s professional life for 10 or 20 years, or longer.  No hard feelings on either side.  However, the increase in working age means this break is likely to be happening later and later, hence the proportion of older members increases.  And if the focus of the organisation is elsewhere, these retired or semi-retired members may be receiving less attention from the organisation when it comes to developing services or offering opportunities.

A highly-valued group of members

Organisations are frequently concerned about attracting and retaining younger members: about convincing student members to commit to a full membership once they leave education; about encouraging young professionals to retain their member status after they’ve qualified and about ensuring the offer is delivered in a way that younger professional recognise and engage with.  However, most bodies recognise the value that older members bring, through sharing their knowledge and experience and the greater likelihood that they have the time and inclination to give something back to their community.   So an understanding of retirement trends in the sector - when and if older individuals are likely to fully retire, or to semi-retire and take up part-time roles, for example - could be a first step in building a better picture of why older members are motivated to continue their membership.   

Once this is established, some research to determine what these particular members like or need most from their membership helps add detail.  Are they just looking to stay connected, so would benefit from receiving the magazine, newsletters and opportunities to meet with others?  Do they need to keep up to date with technological advancements in the sector that didn’t exist when they first qualified?  Do they need to access to potential clients for their consultant or advisory roles?

Benefits that suit 

One interesting example of a benefit specifically for retired members comes from a US sporting body: the Pro Football Retired Players Association. During their playing years, members of the PFRPA are focused on staying healthy and although the focus shifts, the desire for continued health continues post-retirement.  So the PFRPA has a health and wellness program that, among other things, funds dental plans for retired professional American football players

As well as looking at what they can offer, organisations might also consider the lifestyle of the older member and how easy it is for them to participate and engage.  Health issues later in life may make it more difficult for these members to get involved in the ways they used to. And leaving the workforce - even if only partially - may mean that professional fees or travel expenses are no longer covered by an employer.  Nevertheless, any reduced-cost offer or reduction in fees would have to be balanced against income, and clearly defined criteria for any retired membership category would be important to ensure other members couldn’t access the benefits undeservedly.

Research to get it right

Research that focuses exclusively on older members is rare: organisations usually include these members in surveys but often don’t select them as a segment for further, in-depth investigation. Running a discussion group or conducting interviews helps uncover the answers to key questions, and it also deepens the connection members feel with their membership body to encourage advocacy. Such research, along with an informed assessment of employment and retirement in the sector should mean that most organisations could be getting it right for retired members.