In a recent piece, Jeffrey Cufaude wrote about a little experiment he conducted. On purpose, he let his membership expire with three professional associations to see what would happen. What he found was that “one out of 3 slightly acted in a manner consistent with organizations that profess to be about ‘community.’ But since then? Crickets. Silence. Nada.”
Fortunately, discontinuing communications are not how all membership organizations operate. The Marketing General Inc. 2013 Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report highlights that 32 percent of associations “continue indefinitely to contact lapsed members.”
Here is why staying in touch with former members is so important. Every relationship personal and professional can have problems. But in most cases, it is best to try to fix the problem rather than starting a wholly new relationship.
The same is true with membership. A member may be dissatisfied or lose touch with the organization. But in almost every case, organizations that I have worked with have found a former member more likely to re-join the organization compared to a totally new prospective member. This is why membership reinstatement is a significant component of the membership lifecycle. All members will someday leave, but many will come back if asked.
So when you look to get former members to come back, here are some things to keep in mind:
1. Learn. There is an old proverb that says, “Look where you tripped and not where you fell.” Former members can be your most valuable resource to identify problems and impediments in your membership program. Ask them why they did not continue and drill down beyond the standard answer of it was too expensive. Then use the information to keep more members and win back those who have left.
2. Acknowledge. Address a former member as someone you know had a previous relationship with your organization. One association does a great job of this by instead of asking the former member to “please join” they send out a greeting card that says, “We miss you.” The card includes a personalized message to the former member.
3. Keep trying. Perhaps the most important message about reaching out to lapsed members is, do not give up on re-establishing a relationship. Many associations are sitting on a relational and financial goldmine of former members that they have failed to re-engage. They just need to replace the chirping of crickets with an ongoing effort to restore the relationship.
There are many marketing tools available for following up with former members. Since an association has a previously established business relationship with lapsed members, it is appropriate to use both email and telemarketing in outreach efforts. Some organizations also use staff and board calls to encourage a member to return. But whatever the mechanism that works best, try contacting your former members and replace silence with a request to return.