Monday, January 19, 2009

Membership Renewal and Retention

The heart of many nonprofits is the membership. For some nonprofits, membership income can be one-third to one-half of all income. How then can nonprofits keep membership from slipping during these delicate times?

Attention must be paid to member renewal and retention. Typically organizations will see a twenty-percent decline in membership each year. Holding that number and trying to reduce it requires extra effort. There are some key things that can be done to ensure that your organization’s “churn” doesn’t get out of control.


Take a good long look at your organization. Why do people join? What’s in it for them? Start by asking some of your loyal members to give you the answers. Do they continue to renew because of altruistic reasons? Does the “mission” of the organization fulfill some need they have to be a part of it? Are there certain tangible benefits they derive from their membership, such as discounts on products or services or important networking connections they can’t get anywhere else? Does your organization provide legislative representation at the local, state or federal level? Perhaps you have training programs that are critical to certification or continuing education. Ask: why do people spend their money to belong to this organization?

Services and Programming

Next, look at the services you provide your membership. Particularly focus on what your members need from the organization. Conduct a survey of your members to find out which services they find invaluable and which services they rarely, if ever, use. Also ask your members what they need. I am particularly fond of Question Pro ( It’s easy to use and provides terrific analytics on the back-end. They also provide free access to nonprofits and a one-month survey is $15.00.

Are there some services or programs that have become stale? Are there new services or programs that should be introduced to keep up with members needs? Are your programs and services up-to-date with technology? Conversely, are your programs and services too technologically advanced for your membership? Are you giving away services that should be exclusive to the membership?


It never ceases to amaze me that many nonprofit executives and boards don’t communicate what they are accomplishing to their membership. Communication has to be a priority and it has to be ongoing all year long, not just at renewal time. Not communicating will cause your members to ask “What have they done for me lately?” or to assume that the “national” or “regional” office does nothing. Maybe your organization can’t afford to publish a printed newsletter or journal, but it certainly can afford to publish a newsletter or journal online and it certainly can afford to email a missive to the membership to say “Here’s what we’re doing!” I know of organizations that have excellent listservs used by the membership for peer-to-peer networking and never used by the organization itself to reach out to members!

Lack of regular communication screams to the members that you don’t care about them you only care about getting their money.

Once you’ve looked at these areas: motivation; services and programming; and communication; it’s time to look at your renewal strategy.

I am not a fan of annual dues collected all at once, like in January. They work for some organizations but for many they mean a sudden influx of money and delayed membership projections that cannot be addressed until the annual collection window has closed. In other words, if you only renew once a year in January, you won’t be able to calculate that your membership numbers are off until mid to late February. However, if you do anniversary renewals all year long you get a better sense of renewal rates and can adjust your campaign and your budget as you go.

Start three months in advance of the renewal. Send a personal letter (yes, you can mail merge) telling the member why it is they want to renew. Tell them about all the great things your organization has accomplished this year and why it’s exciting to be a part of such a great endeavor. Send that letter each month until the renewal date (be sure to modify it a bit each time). Once the renewal date has passed and they haven’t renewed, send out a new letter, re-capping how great the organization is and what member benefits they will be missing if they don’t renew. Do this for three months, each month.

If the member still has not renewed, send them a special package. Include a “gift” in that package; it can be as simple as your printed journal or 10% off the next conference or a magnet or calendar.

If the organization is small enough, have your board members divide up the non-renewed list and give each of those lapsed members a personal call. Or send your regions or chapters a list of those who did not renew (after a six month lapse) and have them personally contact those members. (A great incentive for regions or chapters is to give them 50% of the lapsed members renewal…half for your organization is better than none).

At some point in the future I’ll provide sample member renewal letters.

But for now, it is critical that membership renewal run like a well-oiled machine and that a lot of thought goes into why people become members and why they stay members.

Bunnie can be reached at


  1. hello
    question pro is a good survey tool i have found a new survey software . it is also good and affordable.

  2. Thank you for sharing all of your knowledge. I am working hard to make our Library Foundation a success with no training, this blog will be huge help in building my skills and knowledge.

  3. Dear Ms. Riedel:

    I very much enjoyed reading your articles, Membership Renewal and Retention. I think that the information is so valuable that I linked it them to my website entitled

    My company has worked in this field for the past twenty years and perhaps our paths will cross at some point.

    Thank you,

    Dale Paulson, Ph.D.
    Allegiance Research Group
    Alexandria, VA

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