The Questions Association Leaders Need to Answer to Engage and Retain Their Members

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an association holding a meeting to discuss membershipDeclining membership is a major concern for association executives. Whereas it used to be standard for professionals to join industry-focused associations, people of all ages now find communities through social media where they can connect with peers without formal commitments, events to attend, or membership dues – not to mention easy, real-time crowdsourcing opportunities. Associations used to be the main source of knowledge and training for certain industries, but now the internet provides a wealth of information to anyone looking for it.

This is not to say that association membership is doomed. However, there are some important factors to consider if an organization wants to attract and retain members – now and in the uncertain future. The most successful associations use data to understand member behavior and build long-lasting relationships that lead to revenue growth and stronger commitments to the organization. Establishing a “segment of one” mentality – that is, one that treats individual members as an entire market segment – can help association leaders understand both past and future behaviors and help anticipate upcoming actions.

The key to engaging and retaining members is first to understand who they are and what they need. With that knowledge, associations can focus on developing tailored offerings and services.

Here are questions that an association needs to answer, authoritatively and with data, to determine the most appropriate actions for engagement and retention:


  • Who are our members? Who are our prospective members?
    • Are our members individuals? Companies? Both? Who pays their dues?
  • Who should be a member, but isn’t?
    • Why aren’t these prospects joining our organization?
    • What do they want? How can we deliver what they want in the way they want it?
  • What are their communication preferences?
    • Do members want to receive email newsletters? Printed magazines? Text messages?
    • Are they looking for a real-time social community? Do they participate in other communities?
  • What is the primary reason each member belongs?
    • Do our members utilize services from us that they can’t currently get elsewhere?
    • Do we know this definitively, or are we acting on anecdotal information?
    • Are they members because they need to be (e.g., certification, accreditation requirements)?
    • What would happen to our retention if another organization started to provide something similar?
  • How do they feel about attending conferences, events and webinars?
    • Are they funding their own attendance? Taking time off from work?
    • What types of events are most appealing, and when do they want to attend them?
  • What else do our members need to support their goals that they don’t get from us?
    • Who else are they going to and for what types of services?
    • What would it take for us to become an indispensable resource to each member?
  • Who are our most engaged members?
    • What activities, offerings and services do they value the most?
    • How can we further leverage their engagement?
    • How do we show them that we value their loyalty?
    • Do these members help recruit other members? What can we do to support or reward them?
  • Is it easy for our members to work with us?
    • What roadblocks do they face when interacting with us?
    • What can we do to improve the membership experience?
    • Do we do anything to annoy our members?

a business seminar held by an association with high membershipMany associations are stuck in a place where they have plenty of data, but not nearly enough information. Leveraged correctly, through the right tools and implementation procedures, information can help association executives understand their members and help meet their needs.

Hartman’s team of C-level IT leaders specialize in the association industry and work alongside executives to align technology with organizational goals. Contact Hartman today to start a conversation and learn more about how we work to advance, cultivate and leverage people, processes and systems to transform organizations and position them for long-term success.

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