How to Grow your Association’s Membership Base

6th April 2020

It’s likely your membership base grows faster the year you hold a congress. Discounted registration fees and other benefits are an easy attraction. But what if the conference is held every two or even three years? The expectations for membership growth are logically lower, but one should not simply disregard this as a non-congress year.

The International Pediatric Nephrology Association (IPNA) organizes a meeting once every three years. In 2019, when the congress was held in Venice, IPNA broke the record in membership numbers: at the end of the year there were about 1,600 pediatric nephrologists members. Promotion for an autumn trip to Venice was not even needed, and the congress itself had a record attendence.

As the association follows a calendar year basis, C-IN, the company managing the association and its events,  officially launched a membership campaign for the next year in Venice. There were a few dozen interested and many were lured in mainly due to the scientific program or exploration of the historical parts of the city. In November, C-IN then began our first bulk mailings regarding membership renewal.

This article was provided by Prague-based company C-IN. With over 17 years of experience, C-IN is specialized in congress and association management, corporate events and special event production. Since 2013, C-IN is the first Czech headquarted company joining International Association of Professional Congress Organisers (IAPCO).

At the end of March 2020, IPNA grew to 1,395 active members. That is almost a hundred more members than last year when preparations for the congress were in full swing. What helped ensure that the association didn’t lose any members and, on the contrary, manage to actually increase our membership base compared to the previous year? A good communication plan, comprising the following:

  1. Repeat, repeat. Repetition is the mother of wisdom, as they say. This also applies to reminders for membership renewal. Every member of the association undoubtedly receives several dozens of emails every day and it is easy for yours to be overlooked. Be careful, however, as nothing should be done forcefully. Mailings should be scheduled ahead with reasonable spacing. They should be at least partially authentic, which means that it is not enough to take the previous email and just copy/paste it.
  2. Be personal, not demanding. You should not start the first paragraphs with the words “Your membership has just ended, renew by clicking here.” It is important to recall the successes of the association in the previous year, how many more workshops and other projects have been organized, what new initiatives were launched, and all of this thanks to you, members! You are important to us, you form our association. At the end of the report, you can indicate how happy you would be should they decide to support these activities in the next year and – here we are – renew their membership.
  3. Transparency above all things. This is a good point to keep in mind throughout the year, as it is often a separate chapter in the organization’s strategic plans. It is very important to regularly inform members about what the association is doing, what are the outcomes of the association’s management meetings and how the association’s budget is handled. Awareness of what and how the association is working on go hand in hand with how they feel about being part of the association..
  4. We are interested in you. Members of any association should not only be seen as passive payers of regular membership fees, and communication must not only be in the direction of association-member, but also vice versa. Why not, in this context, send a short follow-up email ideally once a month after paying the membership asking how the person views the current membership experience, what could be improved, what does not work and so on? Most likely only a few will send back their evaluation, but the message itself sends a signal to the member that he is the driving force of the association.
  5. Personal approach a second time. If you manage to create a friendly relationship with your members and your communication is not only about the topic of membership, you have won half the battle. It is not in vain that the best marketing is by word of mouth. Be interested in how the association‘s projects turned out, ask for photos and be active on social networks. It is very helpful for members to know the face behind the emails from the association’s office. The ideal opportunity for meetings are not only the conferences themselves, but also during the association’s participation in other relevant events in the form of a booth, where you can offer the opportunity to meet and greet members.
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