What is an appropriate membership goal for our association?

How much should your association membership grow in a year?  3%?  5%?  More?  Less?

The answer is as varied as your association’s situation.  Here are five things you should consider when setting your association’s membership goal for this year:

  1. What are your trends?  How much has the association grown over the past 3-5 years?  Has that trend been consistent?  Or has your association’s growth fluctuated significantly?  Regardless of whether you are happy with past trends, they will usually form the starting point for your membership goal calculation.
  2. How are similar associations doing in terms of membership growth?  Find associations that are similar and use them as benchmarks.  If your association is regional in nature, contact nearby regions/chapters and ask them how their membership levels have moved in recent years and what they are projecting for this year.  Of course, you’ll also want to ask them what their membership development plans and programs are; they should be happy to share ideas with you unless you are a competitor.  If your association is national/international, find non-competitors that serve similar audiences and ask them about their trends.
  3. What is your board expecting?  Are they asking for aggressive growth?  If so, that’s fine, but you will also need to know where this goal ranks against all of the other association priorities.  If your board wants aggressive growth, and it’s a high priority, they should also be willing to give you the resources to get the job done.  If your board wants aggressive growth, but this is a lower-priority goal (meaning you’ll get few resources), ask for either a lower goal or more resources up front.  It’s better to negotiate with your board now from a position of principles than later from a position of desperation.
  4. How has your association’s membership retention level been looking?  If retention is weak (e.g. less than 75%), then work on fixing retention and your membership levels may fix themselves without a major membership push.  If retention is high (e.g. greater than 90%), then you have a great story to take to prospective members – you simply need to get the word out.  If your retention levels are in between, then you’ll need to work on both areas, with retention getting the greater emphasis.
  5. How are your association membership demographics trending, and how do those compare to the pool of prospective members?  For example, if your association membership is getting older, and the prospect pool is shrinking, it will be difficult to grow as your members retire and there are fewer prospects available.  If your association membership is maintaining its age distribution and the pool of prospects is growing, then you have more room to set an aggressive goal.

There are many considerations when setting your association membership goal, but the items listed above will give you a great start.

Has your association met its membership goals over the past several years?  To what do you attribute your success or failure?

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