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Membership 101: Recruitment versus Retention versus Renewal

Three great tastes that taste great together.Uncle Sam World War 2 I want you poster

Recruitment, retention, and renewal are related, but they aren’t the same thing.

Recruitment is what you do to get people in the door of your association in the first place. It’s at least partially about sales, but it’s also about starting a relationship. When you recruit a member, you are both choosing to start a relationship with each other.

Retention, on the other hand, is about keeping members, nurturing those new relationships over the long term.

To quote Joe Rominiecki from ASAE’s Associations Now membership blog:

“Recruitment requires creativity, but retention demands authenticity. Any number of offers, incentives, or messages can convince someone to try out your association, but once they’ve experienced it for a year, it’s either good or it isn’t. Which makes the decision to renew a lot different than the decision to join.”

Association membership professionals tend to focus a lot of energy on recruitment, and that’s understandable because campaigns are fun, let you be creative, and are time-limited (that is, they have a start and an end). But retention is critical to long-term, sustainable growth. Recruitment, no matter how successful, without a strong retention relationship-buiding program, is like pouring water into a bucket with a hole in it. Pointless.

Renewal is a process. It’s the mechanics of retention, the glue that holds this cycle together. As such, it’s tactical, focused on answering questions like:

  • How many notices are you going to send?
  • When?
  • On what platforms/channels? (DO NOT only send emails.)
  • What offers are you going to make?
  • What messages are you going to use?
  • Who do you need to convince? (Your actual member may not be the only decision-maker.)

Retention is the goal. Renewal is the tactic you use to achieve that goal.

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About Elizabeth Weaver Engel, CAE

Elizabeth Weaver Engel, M.A., CAE, is CEO and Chief Strategist at Spark Consulting LLC. Elizabeth has over 19 years of experience helping associations grow, in membership, marketing, communications, public presence, and especially revenue, which is what Spark is all about. She speaks and writes frequently on a variety of topics in association management. When she's not helping associations grow, Elizabeth loves to dance, listen to live music, cook, garden, and blog about the Philadelphia Eagles.
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