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Four Habits for Successful Member Communication

Every day, associations like yours work with data and are tasked with communicating important information to the membership, including renewals, event invitations and updates, and advocacy updates. Does the data show that your message is resonating with members – and prospective members?

  1. Understand how your membership likes to receive and respond to information. One of our clients, an enthusiast-based membership, structured their renewal series in such a way that the first two notices were sent via email, with the third (a letter) after expiration. This might have worked great if (a) they had more than 60% of the current member email addresses; and (b) their open rate was more than 11%. The majority of their members didn’t even know their membership was expiring until after expiration. The new series has a combination of print and digital efforts, and their print efforts perform more strongly. Another client, a business association, has had great success communicating to their members via digital channels, with a couple of their renewal e-mails pulling an average 16% response – as good or better than some of their print efforts. Choose your communication channels wisely, with the member in mind. This will help increase response. Do you know how your members prefer to get information, and how they tend to respond?
  2. Tailor your message. For one enthusiast based conservation organization we worked with, it became evident during a review of the data (membership levels, renewals, event attendance, etc.) that there were three types of members: active, social, and passive. The actives are up-and-coming leaders, the regular volunteers, the boots on the ground. Social members enjoy going to events and meeting other members, and the passive members feel strongly enough to support the association but don’t really want to be involved. All of them are vital to an association and bring much-needed variety. Today, people are expecting to receive content and information that they find relevant, including your members. Divide your list – by analyzing the data – so that you communicate various messages, tailored for different types of members. This way you deliver more relevant content. Is there diversity among your membership base?
  3. Be willing to adapt. Just because something has always been done one way doesn’t mean it needs to stay that way. With the changing landscapes in digital and social, associations can’t ignore the potential and opportunity to use these channels to help keep in touch with members and communicate information to them. Some current members – and perhaps prospective members will feel the same way – prefer to be communicated to via digital means such as email. Also, if a printed communication isn’t pulling like it used to, it might be time to refresh the copy or the design – or even the whole package itself! Track how members are responding and engaging with you; this will tell you a lot about which types of communications are effective and valuable. But then use the data to make decisions. There is no sense is tracking all sorts of statistics if you then ignore those statistics. Tweak, test, change – adapt – to what the data are telling you. This could be in copy, design, timing, channel… there will always be something to analyze. When is the last time you modified a process?
  4. Don’t just appeal to their business side, appeal to their values. With so many associations and causes vying for our attention – and dollars – why should it be yours? Current members already know what you offer and what you do, and they expect you to hold up to your end of the bargain. Relay to current members the value of belonging to the association by communicating what they would find valuable. If the majority of members joined your association to support advocacy initiatives, then tell them what’s happening in Washington and the impact these initiatives will have on them if they are successful.

Prospective members are another challenge: You need to communicate everything your association gives to them (direct benefits) while also appealing to their heart. In other words, the “why.” Show how your association has values, not just for a member but for others or the community or the environment. This will resonate with prospective members and the public at large – and separate you from competitors.

If you need to know for sure (it all goes back to data!), conduct a test with different types of appeals – business- versus heart-oriented – and track and analyze the results. Use this data for rolling out the larger strategy. Can anyone – current members, prospective members, the public – tell what your association values?

Response rates, event participation, donations, and the level of social media engagement are all ways of telling whether your messages are being communicated effectively. It boils down to the numbers: They help gauge your membership and help with making informed business decisions as time goes on. But don’t forget to entreat to a person’s humanity, both to help close the deal with new members and to make your membership base that much stronger.

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