August 18, 2017
    Membership Outlook ’14: Associations continue to grow

    A TRENDS Special Focus Sponsored by Marketing General Inc.

    By Erik Schonher, CeM, MBA | 06/13/2014

    Today more associations are increasing their total membership counts than not, and even more are successfully recruiting new members.

    These findings come from the soon-to-be-released 2014 edition of Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report, an in-depth survey of leading business indicators among associations, conducted annually by Marketing General Inc.

    This year, 894 membership organizations participated in the benchmarking survey, which examines the practices associations commonly use to recruit new members, retain current ones, and reinstate those who have lapsed.

    3 key marketing indicators

    Most membership organizations use three key indicators to measure trends in their overall health: total membership, new members acquired, and members renewed. This data helps them gauge their performance compared to the industry as a whole as well as identify areas of strength and weakness in their membership marketing efforts.

    Total membership

    This has been a growth year in membership, as more than 53 percent of the 894 associations who participated in this study report an increase in membership. Of those associations reporting membership growth, 24 percent report a membership increase of 6 percent or more. While 16 percent report no change, only 27 percent report a decline in their membership. This is the third year in a row that the majority of participants report membership growth and continues the positive trend from the low point of only 36 percent of associations reporting growth in 2010. (See chart above.)

    New membership

    While the number of associations experiencing membership growth continues to climb, an even larger number report gains in new members. This year’s benchmarking survey finds that 58 percent – more than half of the associations sampled – report new member growth, a significant improvement from 42 percent at the depth of the recession in 2010.

    Also this year, only 13 percent of the associations surveyed saw their new membership numbers decline compared to the 16 percent from last year and the 26 percent that reported a decline in 2010.

    Renewing membership

    Association membership renewals, unfortunately, appear to be somewhat less successful. Just 31 percent of the associations surveyed report improved renewal rates in 2014, which is a drop from the 35 percent reported in last year’s study. however, some of this was offset by the number of associations reporting that the decline in their renewal rates has dropped to 27 percent from 31 percent in 2013.

    Association membership renewals have improved since the 2010 study, when just 21 percent of the associations reported increased renewals and 44 percent reported a decline.

    Renewal rates

    Further analysis indicates that the Mean Renewal Rate for individual membership associations dropped from 79 percent in 2013 to 76 percent in 2014, and for trade/organizational membership associations from 87 percent in 2013 to 85 percent in 2014.


    A review of the key marketing indicators shows that the growth in membership reported by respondents is more the result of aggressive and successful new member acquisition initiatives than member renewals.

    Impediments to association growth and goals

    While the drop in renewal rates “softened” the impact of member acquisition, renewal rates as a metric measure the association’s cumulative ability to effectively develop and manage the relationship with their members.

    Given this perspective, it is important to consider what association executives feel are the obstacles to renewing.

    This year’s respondents cited the top three reasons for not renewing as: (1) lack of engagement with the organization; (2) could not justify membership costs with any significant ROI; and (3) budget cuts/economic hardship of the company. When respondents were asked their association’s top three membership goals, 67 percent responded “Increasing member engagement,” 64 percent responded “Increasing both membership acquisition and retention,” and 60 percent cited “Increasing membership acquisition.”

    The sixth annual Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report reveals a comfortable and continuing trend of strengthening in 2014 in the key indicators that measure the health and performance of associations and other membership organizations. That’s indeed good news. details: Schonher, 703-706-0358 or To obtain the Marketing General Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report, go to

    Association TRENDS