Member retention - Practical ideas to keep your members loyal during unusual times

Amy Nield By Amy Nield

This year we're entering the mid-term phase of Covid. And it's important for you to set out sustainable strategies for member retention that will last.

Now is the time to take stock and work out what your membership model looks like in times of precarity. What will your organisation offer to people going forward? What resources will you need? Where does growth come from, in a difficult economic situation?

If you only do one thing, let it be this:

Look at your membership. Let them guide you.

1. Identify the risks

Start by identifying and prioritising the risks to your membership base.

Some of the questions you need to ask:
• Where do you expect to lose members?
• Which part of your database is most at risk?
• Do they fit into categories of engagement? i.e. transactional, values-based, super members?

Who do you need to retain in order to survive and thrive?

How have people been using your organisation differently this year? What are the worries and concerns of your organisation? What have people stopped being able to take advantage of?

2. Speak to your members

Don’t second guess your membership. Ask them where they’re at, and craft their experience to meet their changing needs.

Once you’ve identified your audience, and understood what they’re looking for, you can develop tactics to keep them and start devising a strategic programme that will work in the mid and long term.

Steps you could take

• Send out a member satisfaction survey, or a generalised survey that goes out to your whole membership base

Qualitative research could help you uncover some of the stresses and strains some of your membership might be facing, and understand patterns in membership that could help you find tactical opportunities to increase retention

Ask people on the ground – employees or highly engaged members – what are they hearing from people that you might not be?

• Understand why people are leaving – send out a quick survey, or have a reason for leaving box on the offboarding process can help identify some common reasons for leaving

Use your social channels to reach out and ask people what they want from you

3. Defining relationships

A good way of developing retention strategies is to decide the relationship you want to have with your members. This might be on a segment-by-segment basis, or it may be the overall role your organisation has with its members.

Once you’ve defined the relationship you want to have with your audience – and the relationship they’re looking for from you – it will naturally become easier to develop activity that keeps nurturing this relationship. 

Examples of relationship types

4. Building relationships

You’ve worked out which members you need to retain. You’ve identified the type of relationship you want to have with them. Now you can start building up some tactical and strategic ways to keep them connected to your organisation.

We’ve focused on four potential member types – and we’ve shared some thought starters to help you get your thinking moving in the right direction…

Transactional members

If you’re an organisation (like an arts and culture, or heritage membership organisation) that has a strong transactional element to your membership offering, look at how you can add value to retain members.

Remember – a degree of attrition is inevitable for this audience – but that doesn’t need to be the end of the story. Look for ways to keep them primed to return when times are different.

Thought starters
What else can you offer, if you can’t offer the thing that they’ve signed up for? And how can you incentivise a more limited offering to keep these members happy?
• Reduced rates for membership in a short-medium term capacity?
• Can you allow people to ‘pause’ membership?
• Can you invite people to buy a membership for someone else?
• Make sure that you welcome people back when it’s time.

Values-based members

If you have a segment of your membership that’s driven by values, it’s more important than ever to reinforce these values, and find ways of bringing them to life in a way that resonates with them.

Thought starters
• Could you position membership as a pledge to the values of your org through difficult times?
• Could you provide ways of helping your members to live these values, perhaps in interactions they have with others?
• How do you keep these member values alive when you can’t necessarily provide the tangible?

The commuter opportunity
Our change in living circumstances over the past 12 months has hit many of us very hard. But others are finding that the end of daily commutes (and visits to Pret) have made their paycheques go further.

Can you reach out to this emerging audience and invite them stand in solidarity with your organisation through difficult times?


One of the strongest retention tactics is to help members connect with each other, and give them the tools to form microcommunities within your organisation.

Thought starters
What are some novel ways you might be able to link people up?
• Virtual networking
• Virtual drinks
• Virtual mentorship
• Discussion forums
• Membership ‘clubs’ where people with specialised interests can talk
• Local area - connecting people with local people who are also members of your organisation
• Fostering communication and community on other channels - social (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn), owned channels like member portals and discussion forums, publications

Super members

Every membership organisation has them: the people who want to be closely involved in your organisation and how it’s run. It’s likely you’ll need to nurture these people less than other segments, but it can be useful nonetheless to use them as ‘influencers’, to strengthen the bonds that others have with your organisation, and also to help drive new membership.

• Let them set some of the topics of conversation, or nurture them to hold their own virtual events, or input into your activity
• Give them ownership over activities or streams of work
• Assign ‘buddies’ within membership to new or at-risk members

Help on the long road ahead

When times are tough, and belts are tightened, membership can be deemed unaffordable luxuries. But there are ways to keep your members engaged – and if you’re looking to explore new strategies, we’d love to help.

If you want to have a chat about what we could do for you:

t: +44 (0)20 3397 3816 or e:

Amy Nield

Amy Nield

Senior Strategist

A pin sharp planner with a passion for people, Amy is a digital strategy expert with a range of big brand experience. They were named one of Campaign’s Faces to Watch in 2017 for their work with Digitas’s LGBT+ network and they’re fascinated by communities and conversation – we reckon you’ll enjoy chatting.