What keeps association leaders up at night?
According to Marketing General Inc.’s 2016 Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report, it’s issues such as balancing a limited budget, engaging younger members and understanding what members truly want, especially in terms of networking and professional development.
The good news, though, is that associations continue to grow.
Slightly up from last year’s report, this year 49 percent of associations reported a growth in membership. The largest individual member organizations (those with more than 20,000 members) were the most likely to see increased growth. In fact, only 14 percent report of respondents indicated no change in their number of members, a decrease from 16 percent in 2015.
For most associations, membership renewal rates didn’t change this year. Nor did the top methods for recruiting new members: word of mouth and email. Perhaps not surprising, associations said conferences and trade shows are also common recruiting tools, ranking No. 3.
So why do associations remain popular? Most association executives believe members join for networking and continuing education opportunities.
Other key findings from the MGI report:
- The primary internal challenges to growing membership are difficulty in communicating value or benefits, insufficient staff and difficulty meeting members’ needs due to a broad membership base.
- Competitive associations or sources of information (34 percent) and economy/cost of membership (31 percent) are the biggest external challenges to growing membership.
- Nearly 80 percent of associations with increasing renewal rates indicate increased participation in their private social networks, with Facebook and Twitter being the most popular platforms.
- A majority of associations consider the average age of their members to be between 45 and 54 years old.
- Similar to acquiring new domestic members, the most effective methods for recruiting international members is through word-of-mouth recommendations, email and by promotion of or at an association conference or trade show.
- The majority of associations currently have a separate strategic initiative or tactical plan for increasing engagement (58 percent).
- More than 30 percent of associations offer certification of some kind.
So what does this mean for the future?
The MGI report includes best practices, predictions and tips from association leaders who participated in the survey.
As one respondent said, “Associations will need to find services that can’t be provided by any other organization — such as professional credentials. Networking can be online and social; professional development can be searched online; and knowledge is not valued, as information can be easily gathered. But status can only be gained by peer review and credentials are important.”