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August 12, 2020

3 Ways to Retain Members and Convert New Audiences

A graph showing the the decrease in member retention over the first 6 months in 2020.Coinciding with economic shifts, findings from our research on the impact of COVID-19 on associations indicate significant declines in membership retention rates the last six months. However, thanks to an increase in virtual accessibility, nonmember engagement has increased notably. How can associations respond to current member needs and capitalize on interest from new contacts to stabilize membership? Here are three ways to retain members and convert new audiences.

Deepen engagement

Existing members reevaluate the value of membership each time they renew. But in this time of instability, even loyal members may think twice about renewing. Not to mention, prospect conversion is likely to yield lower returns in this challenging economy. This makes it all the more critical for associations to focus on effective engagement — to remind existing members of what they gain from membership and to introduce new contacts to all you have to offer.

By reassessing and adapting existing strategies to drive engagement, associations can drive:

  • Increased awareness of new and existing products and services.
  • Higher levels of program participation.
  • Conversion of one-time attendees into repeat customers.
  • Stronger member loyalty and retention.Image of a funnel with a purple circle at the top with "Attract and Renew", a red circle in the center with "Engage and Deliver" and a third light blue circle on the outside of the funnel with "Convert or Retain" written.

No matter how many resources or the level of capacity your association has, you can strengthen and foster connections through outreach. Following up with virtual event registrants with relevant content and related resources reiterates their ability to continue maximizing their knowledge in areas integral to their careers. Sharing recorded content, referencing notable speakers and building out key takeaways will give those who didn’t attend a broad sense of what they missed while piquing their interest for future involvement. Communicate the strong resources, guidance and support you provide on related topics and inspire them to take advantage.

 Engagement Tip: Set up a simple drip campaign that engages your audiences based on their interests. Did a member click on a link for an upcoming webinar on advocacy? Send them more resources on how your association is making strides in effecting policy change.

Connect and reconnect

As member and prospect needs evolve, so do the approaches that associations need to take to gain insight. Research and data analysis allows you to get a pulse on their priorities and a grasp on the market. Inform your strategy by learning: How much time and money are they able to put toward professional development this year? What are the greatest challenges they are facing in their work today? How are they preparing for next year?

These questions apply to nonmembers and members alike but showing interest in new nonmember contacts is a great way to demonstrate your dedication to understanding and fulfilling their needs. Once you compile this information and identify target audiences, this data plays a dual role in informing your content development as well as future marketing and engagement efforts.

A outlined cartoon magnefying glass with gears in the center symbolizing research.Research tip: Personas create a richer messaging strategy for connecting with both members and nonmembers. Once your research is complete, it’s beneficial to develop personas to get a better understanding of your unique audiences, their interests and their interactions with your association. 

Communicate your commitment

An era of widespread uncertainty and unrest is no time for a hard membership sell. In fact, rather than sparking interest, you could unintentionally alienate your audiences.

Making a case for membership means reiterating an association’s foundational themes of community and mission. There is a level of comfort to be found in the solidarity of our shared challenges. By weaving emotion into your messaging appropriately, you can communicate the value of connections between members, the contributions members make, and a united mission to positively impact society.

Associations have demonstrated resilience by effectively adapting to this unprecedented moment in history. Members want to know how you have stepped up. As my colleagues recently shared, you should aim to reshape your story by reiterating how you have:

  • Served as a trusted source of information.
  • Developed new tools and content.
  • Adapted your exchange of knowledge.
  • Preserved and fostered community.

Furthermore, your messaging should instill assurance in ongoing strides in these areas as conditions continue to unfold.

An icon of a light blue cell phone with a yellow star in the middle symbolizing communication.

Communication Tip: Rebuild the connection between your industry and your community to establish emotional resonance by setting up a social media engagement campaign and asking your members to share why they love what they do. 


As we continue responding to an uncertain trajectory, there are still ways to strengthen member engagement and retention by being intentional with your outreach.

How can you support your members and connect with new contacts? Reach out to McKinley for research insights and guidance on strengthening your engagement and messaging.


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