Five tips to ensure new members cross the threshold to year two

In last month’s newsletter we wrote part one of this article, Membership: the crucial first year. In this, we spoke of the critical first year of membership. Here we give five tips to increasing retention for those all-important first year members.

1. ACQUISITION - Remind new members of the varied benefits they have access to
Members who join an organisation for altruistic reasons are prized assets but realistically, they remain in the minority for most cultural organisations and attractions. Most new joiners are likely to join for better value and a package of benefits. A sense of commitment and altruism usually develops over time. Logically, you might think new members therefore have a stronger grasp of the benefits available to them - they should be fresh in the mind. But our research tells us this is rarely the case. Often it is one or two marquee benefits which trigger joining, but it often takes members a long time to establish an awareness of what else comes with their membership. And even longer to actually use these extra benefits.

You will likely describe the package of benefits in their welcome pack, but in other communications, throughout year one, do you foreground the benefits which on acquisition might have been in the background? Consider how you reaffirm benefits in the first six months of joining to let the seed of joy grow in members.

2. INITIATION - Surprise and delight with unexpected ‘hidden’ benefits
Members will revel in the joy of discovering ‘hidden’ benefits. These can be small gestures but are big on psychological impact. They are the stories that members advocate to prospects. They make members feel special - they tease of what else might come their way (just be careful not to set expectations too high!)

With the RHS, members get access to the Members Seed Scheme. This allows members the exclusive opportunity to buy small amounts of seed carefully harvested from the society's own gardens. The RHS app and account helps members to catalogue the plants in their garden, access one-to-one advice, and sends reminders of what to do and when to help them bloom. We're big fans of this offer.

3. HONEYMOON - Capitalise on initial interest
We all know what it’s like when you buy a new toy - you can’t wait to get home to play with it. Membership is no different. Whilst satisfaction often increases after year one, the very newest members can often be the most enthusiastic and the strongest advocates. We need to harness this enthusiasm to encourage high engagement - striking whilst the iron is hot. This means pushing events (we’re seeing events as more and more critical to new, younger members), new member meet ups, introductions, networking, referral strategies, etc.

4. RENEWAL - Report their usage back to visitors, triggering memories
Early enthusiasm often subsides resulting in a ‘soggy’ middle of the year, where usage dips. For seasonal outdoor attractions this can be at the most dangerous time, early in the new year as the renewal months approach. By this time, the memory of early usage can become blurry. Members can slip into a mentality of ‘I’ve hardly used my membership this year’. Therefore, re-triggering usage (think of those ‘hidden’ benefits) in the danger months of January - March becomes vital.

Then we get to renewal strategy. And this is where the wonders of scannable cards and CRM systems can come into their own. How personalised can you make your communications? Can you use known data from your CRM to tell members how much they used their membership this year as a reminder of its value? Can you trigger memories of moments that membership brought about? Can you tell them what their specific contribution means to the cause? This makes membership more of a must-have than a nice-to-have.

Of course, at this point, making reactivation a default rather than a decision is the aim. Systematising this with Continuous Authority will improve renewal percentages by removing the barrier of form filling.

5. RETENTION - Talk of your diverse community of members 
In most memberships, whether it be gardens or contemporary art, new members are often those who feel most out of place. Almost by definition they are often younger, which often correlates with less experience. They don’t have the depth of relationship with the organisation or subject matter behind them of older, more established members. They are more at risk of feeling they don’t belong, that membership isn’t for them because they lack knowledge.

Throughout the first year it’s important to instil confidence in new members. They need to feel that they aren’t alone. Focus communications on celebrating the diversity of ideas, of experiences, of lifestages etc of members. Continue to remind them that it’s interest that binds members, not knowledge.  All of which builds a concept of community; once that is built, members are more receptive to other messaging around cause. But this messaging might come in the latter part of the year, once the concept of community has been formed.

If you have examples from your own work of what has improved your year one retention rates and would be happy to share them, we’d love to include them in future newsletters. Please get in touch with deb.sullivan@mhminsight.com


As Director, Guy is responsible for delivering pioneering audience engagement projects with many of...