Now is the perfect time for engaging members, building membership, loyalty, revenue

By Anthony Casale

Few would argue professional and trade associations weren’t hard hit by the COVID pandemic. Fewer recognize some of the challenges and issues they face today have been simmering for years.

For more than a decade, associations were increasingly urged to:

  • Develop new strategies to enhance member engagement
  • Rethink dues structures to attract younger people, earlier in their careers
  • Increase use of technology in membership marketing and retention

Despite this, more than six-in-10 professional and trade associations have flat or declining memberships. Half have actually lost members, a trend that began before COVID.

Now, with the worst of COVID behind us, this is the perfect time for associations and other organizations to regroup and develop new strategies to attract and retain members, while increasing revenues.

New research by American Opinion Research (AOR) provides some keys how to do this.

AOR analyzed thousands of interviews with association members nationwide to identify the relative importance of factors that best predict member behavior, satisfaction, engagement, measure their expectations and identify those at risk of leaving.

The results led us to develop Member Based Marketing (MBM), new research-based, data-driven marketing approach designed specifically for associations. MBM is based on science, not intuition.

Following are just a few of the member-building strategies that emerged from AOR’s national study.

Frequency = loyalty

The research results are clear, the more frequently members use association services, the more likely they are to stay members and recommend others.

The key, and part of AOR’s Member-Based Marketing approach, is research to identify those specific programs and services that will engage members, attract new ones and become a revenue source.

Cost vs. value

While often given as a reason, our research shows cost is rarely the primary cause members quit. Most often the issue is value—they don’t see enough of it. Others give lack of time as a reason for quitting. This really means the services they receive aren’t valuable enough to make time for.

Our proprietary MBM research determines which few variables, out of many, are most powerful in creating value. We also segment members into mutually-exclusive groups based on such variables as age, geography, job function, experience and interests. Different members are interested in very different services, and respond differently to association messages.

Our research has helped association executives walk the tightrope between attracting new members and retaining long term ones.

We then work closely with association leaders to identify programs, products and services that will build value and engagement. Also, these programs often yield additional non-dues revenue.

Make your communications, communicate

Much member communications are either skimmed or not read at all. This includes print and digital magazines, newsletters, even daily and weekly bulletins.

A major reason, “There’s nothing in it for me.”

These are important ways to communicate and engage readers, and promote your association and its services – if they are read.

We measure satisfaction with member communication, but also go much further to provide very specific recommendations to increase their value.

For example, we may measure the importance of every specific type of content, then measure satisfaction with each members consider very important. Identifying content very high in importance but low in satisfaction provides a reliable game plan to increase readership and build engagement overall, and among specific member groups.

We can also determine information members want, even if it’s not available now.

For more information contact Tony Casale at 609-912-6350 or

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