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Quick Guide: Membership Retention Rates for Associations

By: Jennifer Rock

As I write this, it’s hard to believe we are in February 2021. It’s even harder to believe that we are almost a year into the pandemic.

As much as we all want to forget about 2020 and go full steam ahead in 2021, now is the time for associations, societies and other nonprofits, especially those with calendar year ends, to evaluate the effects that COVID-19 had on one of their most crucial benchmarks / metrics — membership retention.

COVID-19 aside, it’s always smart business to know exactly where your association stands with membership.

The good news is that for the most part, membership associations have figured out how to pivot and operate in this COVID-19 world that we are living in. Some are even thriving. The bad news is that we are not out of the woods yet and it is still hard to see that light at the end of the tunnel, or even when it will get turned on for that matter.

Where Do I Start?

The first step is to calculate your membership retention rate for 2020. This will be your baseline metric. Each year, perform the same calculation to assess whether your membership is growing or declining.


Download our free membership retention rate calculator here.


What Figures Do I Need?

As noted in the equation below, you will need to identify the number of members you had on January 1, the number of new members you obtained during 2020, and the number of members you had on December 31.

How Do I Calculate My Membership Retention Rate?

While there are several different methods to calculate membership retention, we’ll use the most simple of the calculations:

_Membership Retention Rate Formula (1)

What Time Period Should I Use?

Since we are touching on calendar year end organizations and trying to determine the effect that the COVID-19 pandemic had on your membership retention rate, I recommend selecting January 1 as your beginning time period and December 31 as your ending time period. That said, once you understand how the equation works, you can run calculations at any given time period — monthly, quarterly, etc.

Can You Show Me an Example?

Absolutely! ABC Association had 1,000 members on January 1, 2020. Over the course of 2020, they obtained 50 new members and ended the year on December 31, 2020 with 980 members.

Here's what that formula looks like in action:

Membership Retention Rate Example

To make things easy, we created a simple Excel calculator that you can download here. It allows you to easily track your association's membership retention from year to year.

What Should My Membership Retention Rate Be?

In a perfect world, the retention rate for a membership type organization would be 100%. In all honesty, associations are rarely able to achieve let alone maintain a 100% membership retention rate, especially amid today’s unpredictability.

Anything over 90% is really the goal for any type of membership association or society. That said, many organizations have seen membership retention rates plummet this year because of COVID-19 and percentages are ranging much lower for 2020.

My Membership Retention Rate Is Much Lower Than I Expected. What Now?

The first step is to identify why you are losing members. Obviously COVID-19 is most likely the biggest factor for 2020, but why?

Once you identify the why, you can identify the “what now.”

Has the pandemic stopped you from engaging your members? The top reason that members don’t renew is because of lack of engagement with the organization. We are living in a virtual world now. Engage your members with automated email campaigns, social media campaigns and virtual events. Even better, engage them with a personal phone call or email every now and then.

Are your members getting enough value from their annual membership dues during the pandemic? If the only benefit a member receives is a discount to your annual event, the member is unlikely to renew this year because in-person events aren’t taking place. Some members simply aren’t interested in sitting at a computer all day for a virtual event. Research associations or societies similar to yours and determine what benefits they are providing to their members.

Are you giving members what they want? This question is important to ask now, as well as outside of the pandemic. Ask your members why they joined your organization in the first place, then do more of that. Did the majority of your members join for educational opportunities? Then offer more webinars. Did most of your members join to study for and obtain an accreditation that only your organization offers? Then offer programming around the accreditation and, just as important, spend time educating your stakeholders about the accreditation and why it’s significant. Consider polling current and past members to determine exactly what they want out of their membership. Then do more of those things.

Remember Your Outreach to Prospective Members

Even if your organization’s membership retention strategy is top-notch, it’s inevitable that you will lose members from time to time. Healthy organizations not only work hard to retain members, but they also have strong outreach programs to replace members who don’t renew.

Consider stepping up your organization’s marketing to attract new members. Ask current members for referrals, partner with another organization to expose your association to a new audience, boost your social media presence or give new members a discount to join.

Need Help?

Do you need help calculating your membership retention rate, or do you want to brainstorm on how to make your association stronger? Contact us here or call 800.899.4623.

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Published February 4, 2021

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