Member Retention: 4 Best Practices That Win Members for Life

Many nonprofit organizations have already caught onto the fact that implementing a membership program can incentivize more donors to give to their organization. After all, the very nature of membership programs is incentivizing. When becoming a member, donors receive certain benefits or perks in exchange for making donations in the form of membership fees or dues.

The problems lies in that fact that, instead of focusing on keeping the members they already have, many organizations turn the majority (or even entirety) of their focus onto gaining new members. However, this is a big mistake. It’s much more cost effective for your organization to put your resources toward member retention than it is to put them toward member recruitment.

Think about it: you’ve already successfully convinced your current members of the worthiness of your cause and the value of your membership program. That means it will take far fewer resources to get them to give again! Take advantage of your donor database or association management software to gain insights into what your members want (and if you want to learn more about membership and association software, check out Neon’s guide).

In this article, I’ll focus on 4 best practices that can help you win members for life.

1. Choose the most appealing benefits.

Why it works:

The reason membership programs are such an effective fundraising strategy is because they incentivize your supporters’ donations.

These types of programs are incentivizing for two main reasons:

  1. Benefits. Membership programs provide specialized benefits to the donors who join them. These benefits can range anywhere from a welcome packet that includes branded merchandise to internal influence at your nonprofit. Membership benefits provide donors with exclusive opportunities to engage with your organization in the ways that are most meaningful to them.
  2. Exclusivity. Since not all donors will receive member status or perks, donors will feel like they’re joining an exclusive club. Having exclusive access to your organization can really make members feel especially valued!

For your membership program to reach its full motivational potential, it’s important to choose the perks that will most appeal to your members. You should be offering the benefits and opportunities that meet donors where they are and best speak to how they ideally want to interact with your organization. If current members feel like they’re being understood and like they’re gaining something valuable from your program, they’ll be much more likely to renew once expiry rolls around.

How it’s done:

To figure out which membership benefits your supporter base will find irresistible, turn to your donor data. You can analyze your supporters’ past interaction history to figure out which benefits might appeal most to your base.

If your organization is notorious for its fundraising events and always sees a higher volume of donations when interacting with donors in person, you might consider offering event-related benefits through your membership program. You could give your members VIP access to your annual fundraising auction (think: better seats, free refreshments, etc.) or invite them to conferences and trade shows that non-members wouldn’t have the opportunity to attend.

All it takes is knowing a little bit about your donors’ habits and preferences and meeting them where they want to be met.

In summary: Membership programs that include the benefits and perks that most appeal to supporters’ interest will foster the highest retention rates.

2. Personalize your outreach.

Why it works:

Perhaps the biggest key to member (and donor) retention is personalizing your outreach. It’s true that your members are united by your organization’s common cause and are likely motivated by similar incentives (they were all inclined to join your membership program, after all!). 

However, each member still has unique preferences, habits, and concerns. They all want to hear from your organization through different communication channels, and they all want to engage with your organization in different ways. The more you can cater your outreach to each individual donor based on their habits and preferences, the more relevant, and thus, compelling your outreach will be.

Taking a personalized approach to your outreach shows members that your organization is invested in them as individuals, not just in the funding they can bring in. When members know that you’re interested in building deeper relationships with them, they’ll feel more valued by your organization and be more inclined to stick with your program.

How it’s done:

This is where your donor database or association management software will come in handy. You can use your member profiles to start creating individualized outreach strategies for each member.

  1. Use the member’s name. While using your members’ names in the salutation of your outreach might seem obvious, you’d be surprised at how many nonprofits still use a generic greeting like “Dear member” or “Dear friend.”
  2. Pinpoint communication preferences. Looking back on past interaction history, you can get an idea of which communication channels each of your members is most responsive to.
  3. Find further opportunities for engagement. I’ll go into this more in the next point, but analyzing past interaction history can also give you insight into which additional engagement opportunities might appeal to your members.

Using any of the data fields you have listed in the platform, you can segment your list to better target your member base with individualized content.

In summary: Sending personalized communications ensures that your outreach is relevant and that your members will always feel valued as individuals, both of which lead to heightened member retention.

3. Offer plenty of engagement opportunities.

Why it works:

One of the great things about membership programs is that they provide you with a built-in structure for reaching out and engaging your supporters. After all, you’ll have to administer the benefits of your program to your members.

Some membership programs have a more hands-on structure than others. For example, an advocacy-based membership program that provides members with a guided structure for taking political action might provide plenty of active engagement opportunities (signing petitions, attending rallies, writing to legislators, etc.). However, a community-based membership program that centers on offering its members access to exclusive facilities, classes, or services would rely mainly on the member initiating interaction with the organization.

It takes frequent interaction with your members to keep them invested in your organization. And the best way to do that is by presenting further opportunities for engagement that go beyond the scope of your program.

Providing members with frequent chances to interact with your organization:

  • Can help them feel like they’re getting maximum value out of your program.
  • Always keeps your organization and the great work you’re doing fresh on their minds.
  • Makes them feel more connected to your cause and work.

All of these factors will increase the chances that current members will renew.

How it’s done:

Using the insights you’ve gleaned from studying your members’ past interaction history with your organization, you can scope out other engagement opportunities that might appeal to their interests.

Here are some of the additional opportunities you could provide:

  • Sharing exclusive news and/or content.
  • Inviting members to events, conferences, or trade shows.
  • Seeing if members would be interested in volunteering.
  • Having members take advocacy-related actions, like signing petitions or writing to local leaders.
  • Asking members to participate in peer-to-peer campaigns.

These opportunities don’t even have to be exclusive. They can certainly be opportunities you’re offering to non-members as well. The important thing here is to find the opportunities that are most likely to engage your members further and to provide them on a regular basis.

In summary: Providing members with frequent opportunities to interact with your organization outside the scope of your membership program will ensure that they always stay engaged. Engagement leads to investment, which in turn leads to renewal.

4. Make renewal easy.

Why it works:

People are increasingly motivated by convenience, especially in a day and age where depositing a check or ordering a meal can be done with the mere click of a button. To foster the highest member retention rates, your organization should aim to make membership renewal as convenient for your members as possible. The easier and shorter the process for membership renewal is, the more likely your members are to follow through.

How it’s done:

Luckily, making renewal easy on your members will be easy for your nonprofit, too.

With association management software (the type of software that was especially built to help nonprofits facilitate their membership programs) you can add the option to set up recurring renewal right on your online membership formTo renew their membership, all members will have to do is to check off this box when they’re filling out your form. You can even provide them with multiple renewal options (one year renewal, two year renewal, multiple membership tiers, etc.), so they’ll have the flexibility to choose what’s most convenient for them.

By setting up this option, renewal will be automated for both your donors and your organization. Your software will automatically charge the payment method you have listed on file once it’s time for membership to expire.

In summary: Your members will be more inclined to renew when doing so is straightforward and convenient. Set up automated renewals through your association management software to make the process easier on both you and your members.

Bonus: Convenience is key: learn more about building a successful landing page.

Increasing your membership renewal rates will take some effort, but it’s certainly not something that’s too difficult. To keep your members coming back, all it takes a thoughtful approach to structuring your membership program and reaching out to your members. Do that, and you should have a base of members who are loyal for life.


Image credit: paulaphotos

Jeff Gordy
Jeff Gordy is the President & CEO of Z2 Systems, Inc. Z2 Systems created NEON CRM in 2004 to provide fundraising & membership based organizations with all the tools they need to grow and succeed in the ever changing technology landscape. We have added hundreds of updates each year to create a powerful solution that is on the leading edge of technology. Jeff is a graduate of the University of Illinois and has over 10 years of experience working with non-profit & membership based organizations.