The past few years have been challenging for everyone—associations included. According to Marketing General Incorporated’s research, 80% of associations had to cancel their annual meeting and 47% reported declines in total membership, the sharpest drop since 2010.
The good news is that associations seem to be on the upswing. Though only 26% of associations reported an increase in membership in 2021, in 2022 that rose to a healthier 38%. But what strategies and decisions are driving this renewed membership growth?
In this article, we look at three contributing factors that growing associations cite, according to insights from the 2022 Membership Marketing Benchmarking report.
1. They Put a Priority on Attracting New Members
We know that attracting new members matters. The numbers tell us why.
For the past three years—2020, 2021 and 2022—renewal rates have held steady at 84%. While it’s a good sign that associations aren’t seeing higher attrition, it does mean that they can’t count on renewals to be a significant driver of increased revenue.
That’s where new-member growth comes in. Rates jumped over the past year, from 29% in 2021 to 43% in 2022. Associations are also seeing demographic shifts, with the numbers of millennials and Gen Xers rising and the number of baby boomers declining. These trends are creating downstream waves in the value members are looking to get from an association.
2. They Focus on Providing the Value Members Want
The better that associations understand and deliver on their value proposition, the more likely they are to thrive. So, what are members looking for? The same thing as the association: growth.
When asked why members join an association, the top three reasons association executives cited were networking with others in the field (63%), accessing continuing education (36%) and finding specialised and updated industry information (35%).
This perception is also translating to on-the-ground member engagement. Throughout 2022, 66% of association executives reported increased attendance at webinars and virtual professional development meetings. The use of career services also jumped, from 37% in 2021 to 55% in 2022.
Ultimately this increase speaks directly to the perceived value members want associations to provide. Continued professional development opportunities through credentialing, skills development and networking are offerings that associations need to prioritise if they want to deliver the value members are looking for.
3. They Innovate
To nurture long-term success and stability, associations need to find ways to set themselves apart. The research shows that associations that report increases in new-member acquisitions, member renewals and multi-year growth are the same ones that rank themselves as highly innovative.
Innovation ties back to a core goal: helping members grow. Over the past year, 73% of associations said they’ve expanded the virtual professional development opportunities they offer. In part, this was a response to an immediate need, but it’s also part of a broader, long-term trend. The reality is that member dues aren’t the reliable revenue source they used to be. Associations are looking for ways to diversify where and how they generate revenue, and selling professional development is emerging as a valuable strategy. Beyond the financial boost, it sets associations up as leaders in their industries and keeps members active and engaged.
Driving Growth for Your Association
When those factors are taken together, what fuels growth for associations is achieving the right balance. It’s about fulfilling the mission and meeting members’ needs today, while finding ways to explore new possibilities and get ahead of trends that are on the horizon for tomorrow.
Drive Growth for Your Association With Online Learning
Create learning programs that can meet members’ shifting needs and be ready to adapt to disruption.
Haley Wilson is a Content Marketing Manager at D2L, specializing in the corporate learning space. She holds an Honours Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Guelph as well as a Master of Arts focused in history from Wilfrid Laurier University.
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