Membership Maintenance in a Challenging Economy

Jeffery Barnhart, CMA Association Management; January 2011

With the effects of the economy continuing into 2011, the role of association membership continues to change. In fact, in late 2009, the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) and the Center for Association Leadership conducted an online survey to determine the role of association membership in the current economic climate. The survey found that while association members see associations as valuable for networking, they are less confident in what associations can provide in an economic downturn. Respondents disagreed that associations do not provide the resources necessary to cope with a down economy.

This should serve as a wake-up call to association leadership. Members are looking to cut their budgets any way they can and association membership might be on the chopping block if the value of participation is not clearly shown. Experienced association management companies (AMCs) can assist with determining the best strategies for maintaining membership and positioning professional associations for future growth.

Who are your members?

Perhaps the biggest challenge facing an association is they simply do not know who their members are and what they want. Utilize the strength of association management professionals to find out what makes them feel connected and ultimately, what will drive them to renew their membership and attend association events. Member polls, for example, can show associations are listening to the concerns of the membership and developing new benefits based on their responses. Pinpointed tactics that assist members in their careers come full circle—increase the member’s profitability and you increase the association’s profitability. The goal is to keep members engaged in this process.

Effective leadership strategies

In today’s economy, many association members are forced to work harder with fewer resources. However, members still lend their time to an association Board or committee in the hopes that new relationships can help them stay ahead of the changing marketplace, and that the fruits of their labor might assist others in the same field. No matter the economic situation, association leadership can’t do it all. Experienced AMCs provide end-to-end strategic planning, governance consultation and solid support to help the Board of Directors advance the organization’s mission and overarching goals.

Members and committees may be looking to voice their opinions more often to be sure their dues dollars are put to work in their best interests. The best AMCs can advise association leadership on the best methods of member retention and communication— whether it is through educational webinars throughout the year or the establishment of social networking forums to ensure attention is paid to critical issues. Ultimately, annual renewals and conference registrations won’t lie when it comes to measuring the association’s ability to meet member needs effectively.

Associations and industry support

At home or abroad, we are all suffering from information overload can’t help but be fearful of what the coming months will bring, but associations can provide the industry support needed in times of distress. Work with an AMC to strengthen your association’s impact and address the pressing issues facing your members.


Jeffrey Barnhart is President and CEO of CMA Association Management, a Princeton Junction, NJ based association management firm serving regional, national and international organizations for over two decades.