Membership Management Made Easy!

So what Association Leader doesn’t want an easier life? 

Thought so, and that’s the premise of our new blog series. In celebration of our partnership with Wild Apricot, the number one membership management software for small to mid sized associations, we have produced a series of articles to help make your member management easier!

Over the coming weeks we will cover topics such as:

  • How to manage Membership Renewal
  • Everything you need to know about selecting the right membership database
  • Optimising event management technology
  • Attracting, recruiting and engaging new members with new marketing techniques
  • Turning your website into a membership growth engine
  • How Google Ads can grow your membership.

Within these topics we will offer tips and advice and access to Wild Apricot’s resources to help make your member management easy!

In today’s blog we look at …

How to Manage Membership Renewal: Tips and tactics for small membership organisations.

For some of us membership renewal is looming or already upon us. Everyone we speak to seems to be looking for ideas to refresh their membership renewal process. Based on Wild Apricot’s online research, it appears even large, national associations admit they could be managing member renewals differently.

So let us make things easier for you and provide some tips, ideas and insights into ways you can tailor your renewal tactics to suit your members’ preferences, your renewal cycle and available resources/technology to promote effective membership renewal.

Please excuse us for opening with a rather long post where we will cover the following:

How to …

  • Start the renewal process
  • Determine the number of renewals
  • Choose the most effective communications method(s)
  • Follow-up and acknowledge renewals

As well as thoughts and information on …

  • Incentives & Discounts
  • Grace periods
  • Automated renewal process
  • Thinking in terms of Ongoing Engagement & Retention

As we said, this blog is partly based on the insight gained through the Wild Apricot membership renewal survey, and here are a few snippets on the profile of the respondents.

Predominantly from organisations with 250 to 2000 members

The renewal cycle for respondents was:
63.6% – static (or annual renewal) (All members renew on the same date)
36.4% – rolling renewal (members renew on their own anniversary date)

82% of respondents offered automated ‘self-service’ renewal procedures

The survey respondents’ membership renewal process was managed by
Staff – 50%
Volunteers – 37.5%
Combination of Staff & Volunteers – 12.5%

So let’s begin on understanding how we can make life easier for your membership renewal process…

Start the renewal process.

The Wild Apricot research found that it was common practice for most small membership organisations (i.e. fewer than 2000 members) to start their renewal process either one month prior to expiration (48.3%) or two months prior to expiration (34.5%).

The research also found that the timing of the first renewal notice varied depending on the size of the organisation. So how does this research help in making it easier for you?

Well, when trying to determine the optimal time to start your renewals, you might want to:

  • Look at your previous renewal data – when did you receive the most renewals? Did most members renew right away after you sent the first notice? If so, your timing is working! If you are on a static/annual renewal schedule and are finding members take 1-2 months to renew, perhaps you need to start the renewal process earlier.
  • Consider conducting an online survey to ask your members their preference. You can do this via your website, email or Facebook page.
  • Take a longer view – in the survey we found that some respondents were sending out invoices or notices just prior to the membership expiration date. To make things easier, consider creating an on-going year-round ‘membership connection campaign’, (which we refer to later on in this blog).

The one thing though that you must do without hesitation before you start your renewal process is to be sure your membership database is up-to-date! After all, your organisation’s credibility and attention to detail is on display when members receive their renewal notices. With technology as it is today, you should be able to ask your members to update their contact information, profile and other details online with ease. If you don’t have this function and one centralised membership database then you are making life difficult for yourself! Give us a call and we will point you in the right direction to make it easy for you.

How many renewal notices?

The Wild Apricot membership renewal survey found that is was common practice to send out 2 to 3 renewal notices for optimal results. 43% of small associations send out 3 and 32% reported sending out 2.

Other findings recommend a general rule is ”that as long as the revenue generated is greater than the cost to send the invoice, send it!”

If you are sending out only one notice and/or an invoice, and this is not working for you, then it is obviously time to consider additional renewal notices. The main thing here is to ensure you vary your communications methods and messages. Even if you are automating your renewals through a member management system, you can set up customised emails, varying the message in each communications piece along with attention grabbing headlines, subject matters, images and calls to actions.

Which communications methods to use?

The research suggests that the preferred communications methods are

Direct Mail

However, how you employ these three communication methods, in what combination, as well as your timing and messaging will depend on a number of factors, such as your renewal cycle and your member’s communication preferences.

If you have an annual cycle you need to reach every member simultaneously and thus a multi-channel approach should be employed. For rolling renewals we suggest you set up (and test) a series of communications and send these automatically to each member based on their anniversary date.

It goes without saying that if you know your members’ communication preferences, then you continue to use these methods, but keeping an eye on the effectiveness of each communication will help in your future planning. Measure the results of each method of communication and adopt those most effective.

At Wild Apricot they recommend a basic 3-prong multi-channel strategy, in this order.

  1. Email renewal notification: If you offer online renewal and payment processing, (which again with modern technology means you should be to make your life easier!) it would seem to make sense that your initial renewal reminder would be via email – with a link to and clear instructions on the online renewal process, as well as a reminder of why your member should renew.
  2. Reminder letter via mail: next, for those who do not renew after the first email notice, you could send a direct mail letter. Depending on your processes, this letter might include an invoice and also offer instructions for optional online renewal and payment (e.g., include the URL). To save on costs though we would also recommend sending out a second reminder via email. Once again, with modern member management software you can automate this process, making life easier again!
  3. A phone call – from staff and/or volunteers can be a powerful final step for those members who have not renewed after the first two notices.  This offers an opportunity for your staff, board members or renewal/recruitment volunteers to address the member’s questions or reservations first-hand.

This 3-prong approach though is not definitive. You have plenty of other communications methods available to you. If your renewal cycle is an annual one – where all members renew at the same time – you can also consider including renewal reminders in other communications vehicles, such as:

  • in any publications (online or off), such as e-newsletters or mailed newsletters
  • on your website – message on your home page and/or members-only area
  • what about sending a post card to all members with instructions for online renewal?
Wild Apricot Tips for Renewal Communications:

In an ASAE article - The Care and Feeding of Your Renewal Strategy – Monica Williams offers some practical suggestions about renewal communications (both the message and the medium) – here are some excerpts from her article:

  • Tailor the renewal message to your acquisition message. Is your message consistent across your marketing materials? Review your renewal copy to make sure you’re reselling what they originally bought. This is especially important when converting new members toward the end of their first year.
  • Vary your package. Redundant mailings are easy to ignore. Change the look of your mailer to get people to notice your message. This raises the cost slightly, but improved response rates will offset any increases.
  • Test methods. E-mail, phone, and mail are all valid channels for renewals. If your organization sends an e-newsletter, add a renewal reminder during “expiration month.” Stick reminder cards in your monthly magazine. Create a pop-up for users when they log in to the members section of your Web site. Make it hard for them to forget to renew.
  • Test packages. While printing small quantities may drive up the cost of your renewal series, testing within your series is well worth the investment. Track by effort and by total response of the test and control groups. You’ll want to select the methods and determine which ones drive the highest response for the least money.
  • Keep it simple. With renewals and acquisitions, keep the offer simple. If it’s too confusing — or if members perceive it as misleading — you’ll get complaints instead of renewals.

In a post – Membership Renewal Should be More Than a Business Transaction – Lowell Applebaum (Association 141 blog) also offers some tips on renewal communications – here is an excerpt from his post:

  • Invoice first? …I really believe that in today’s membership world, the first formal renewal ‘ask’ should be electronic. I’d rather click through, pay through the site, and be done in under three minutes. The benefits to this are a win-win all around – saves the member time and postage/finding a fax machine, online renewal should be tied to the AMS so that upon payment renewal is immediately acknowledged, and best of all – not printing an invoice and mailing it saves costs. Yes, if I do not renew after the first email/e-outreach then send the invoice – but give me the chance to do it online first!
  • Missing the Warm Fuzzies –…When the time comes for membership renewal, the ‘ask’ can start from a place of conversation and appreciation. Thanking the member for their ongoing participation, recognising that their affiliation with the association has made it a more rich and vibrant community. With the help of members, some highlights of what has been accomplished, and what the association is looking forward to in the year ahead. 

Follow-up and acknowledging renewals.

Stating the obvious again … the renewal process is not complete until you have acknowledged and thanked the member for their renewal payment. If you do not have a system where this is automated you need to make life easier for yourself and get one! Smile!  Your system should offer automated, customisable renewal confirmation emails.

Whilst your renewal reminders may talk about accomplishments, your thank-you note might include details of upcoming activities or issues that demonstrate the value of membership and prompt ongoing participation. The ASAE Center suggest you include:

  • Automatic “thank you” page/receipt for online renewals
  • Automatic “thank you” email once payment is processed
  • Thank you note/letter
  • Membership packet
  • Dated membership card
  • Dated membership certificate (can be set up as print-on-demand) 

Should you offer Incentives & Discounts?

The Wild Apricot research found that only 18% of respondents offered incentives to encourage prompt renewal and 18% were considering it. The MGI report on larger organisations, Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report, they found that 22% were offering early renewal discounts; 46% offered instalment payment options; and 32% offered multi-year renewals.

The latter report also noted “Associations that offer an early renewal discount were more likely to see an increase in renewal rates over the past year.” In addition, the MGI report notes “those associations with renewal rates at 80% or higher are significantly more likely to provide an instalment renewal plan, with monthly or quarterly payment options.”

So, does offering incentives and discounts make life easier for you? The research from the MGI report would seem so, but before you build in incentives and/or discounts into your renewal strategy consider a few options available to you.

Testing: In her ASAE article, Monica Williams also suggests you: “Test offers. Package tests keep the series fresh, whereas offer tests open up a world of possibilities. It doesn’t have to be complicated. Early on in the series, while you’re creaming the crop, try a long-term offer with a modest discount for a two-year commitment, with a fall-back offer of your standard one-year renewal. We’ve incorporated a membership upgrade into our series that encourages members to join one of our professional segments and get a modest discount on their membership. They can simply renew at the regular renewal rate.”

Administration: Does your current membership management software allow for offers to be integrated into your automated renewal procedures? If not then you will need to look at your software to make life easier for you.

Grace Periods.

Do you offer your members a grace period and if so how long? (An agreed period of time, following the membership expiration date, after which fees are not received the membership is considered ‘lapsed’ or terminated). The Wild Apricot research found that the most common ‘grace period’ was either one or two months (42% each). The other 16% of respondents offered many different grace periods from none at all to 6-7 days; to 3 years!

So what’s the best solution re ‘grace periods’ to make your life easier? The real issue comes down to whether you continue to offer member benefits, such as admittance to member education, events or access to publications etc, or whether these benefits are denied until membership fees are received. We agree it’s a fine balancing act trying to keep existing members and bring back lapsed members whilst ensuring you are not short-changing your paying members. Your data is going to help make things easier here. Check your average lapsed time for renewals and/or the actual success rate of reinstatement of lapsed members. Are members aware of your existing grace periods and does this encourage them to postpone their payment? Unfortunately there is no one answer here. Analyse your data and then work out what is best for your members and organisation. 

Automating the renewal process.

Hello! Have we mentioned this already? Lol. Yes, if your system does not allow you to automate your renewal process then you need to review it and get a new one to make member management easier!

An automated process can be especially effective if you’re on a rolling membership cycle, since the system will generate renewal notices based on each member’s anniversary date. The one thing to note though and definitely not forget is that the messages in your automated renewal process are as important as the medium. Be sure you focus on keeping key messaging consistent, while varying the actual contents of each piece and above all, make it relevant.

To make life easier ensure your process can automate reminder emails; grace period email notices; lapsed email notices and renewal notifications such as ‘renewal pending’ email, ‘renewal confirmed’ and ‘recurring renewal failed’ emails. 

Ongoing engagement and retention.

So one of the biggest things to come out of the Wild Apricot research is that

“membership renewal isn’t just about a once-a-year procedure”.

As Lowell Applebaum (Association 141 blog) suggested in a post a while back, “It should be part of the overall connection campaign that an association should run throughout the year. …it should continue an ongoing conversation of community and value that should take place between the member and association throughout the year.”

One of the main reasons members do not renew is lack of value, or perceived lack of value. It is therefore essential, as Wild Apricot concluded in their report, that you clearly identify the benefits of membership and the value individuals place on their membership and convey this in all of your renewal communications.

So how do you do this and make life easier? Our gang at Wild Apricot refer to a guest blogger, Christopher Palumbo and his post - How Sales Pros Build a Rock-Solid Membership Renewal Cycle – for some tips. He uses the example of tactics a fitness club would use to get members involved and keep them participating. While he’s referring to membership-based businesses, we think you can substitute the words “association,” “club,” or “membership group” when he uses the term “business.”  Palumbo suggests:

“Put extra effort into getting your member involved in all of the benefits your business offers right away. For example, a fitness club would pair up the member with a trainer or coach at the first visit so that she can reap the benefits of the club and start achieving her goals immediately. The member might be anxious and nervous about using your business. It is up to you and your staff to make them comfortable and make them come back for more.

In addition to making members aware of the benefits your business has to offer them right off the bat, you must also have impeccable member service to maximise your renewals. Keep in mind these points:

  • Are you inspiring your members to reach their personal goals?
  • Are you not only listening to, but addressing concerns?
  • Do you value your members’ input?
  • Are you working on solutions before problems arise?
  • Do you know at least 60% of your members by name?
  • Are you planning a member appreciation event?

So in making life easier for your member renewal process and making it successful, your member’s participation in the association throughout the year is key.

We hope you found this article of interest and don’t forget to look out for the next in the series, “Everything you need to know about selecting the right membership database”.

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And finally before you go … take advantage of our free 47-point homepage checklist to see if your website is not only attracting new members, but engaging your members effectively to ensure a successful renewal process and make member management easy!