Should our association focus on recruiting members or retaining them?

Which is more important to your trade association or membership organization:  recruitment of new members or retention of existing members?

Recruitment of new members seems to get all of the attention and budget.  It’s easy to understand why.  Recruitment is exciting and can be a great cause for celebration – it’s fun to see those new member numbers grow.  But for the long-term health of your association or membership organization, retention deserves more of your focus.  

Here are three reasons why retention is more important than recruitment for your association or membership organization:

1. If you get retention right, you will have built the basis for recruitment.  High retention rates are the signal that you have happy, satisfied members.  And happy, satisfied members tend to share the association story with others, automatically creating a grassroots recruitment campaign.

2. The old saying, “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush” is certainly true for associations and membership organizations.  It’s true not only because it takes less effort to keep a member than find a new member, but because it is less expensive to retain a member than recruit a new member. 

3. Most importantly, if you have a low retention rate, it is a signal that you have serious underlying problems in your association or membership organization.  Recruitment of members is primarily a function of great marketing.  But member retention is a function of both marketing, and more importantly, a great membership experience.  If you can’t keep your members, then you are wasting money recruiting them until you fix the association.

The bottom line is that recruitment is important for your association or membership organization.  But retention must be your first priority.  Get retention right – then move on to recruitment.

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