Is membership retention or recruitment more important to an association?

Asking whether membership retention or membership recruitment is more important to an association is a little bit like asking whether breathing or blood flow is more important to a person. You won’t live long without both being in good order. That said, retention is probably more important for four reasons:

  1. If your association has membership retention problems, that signals that your association has larger issues. The problem may be in your mission, member benefits or leadership, but if no one wants to stay in the association after they have joined, the association is in trouble.
  2. Mathematically, if your association has membership retention problems, you’ll have to work much harder on the recruitment side. It’s the proverbial leaky bucket issue.  Fix the leak, and filling the bucket will be much easier.
  3. Fraternities and sororities have a built-in retention challenge due to graduation – they will lose ~25% of members each year just due to graduation. As such, they have to spend a disproportionate amount of time and resources on recruitment. If you’ve been in a fraternity or sorority, you know that the average association would have difficulty sustaining such a time-consuming effort. That said, associations with retention issues tend to lose a similar percentage of members each year, and somehow think they can recruit their way out of the problem. It might work for a year or two, but soon you will have burned out both the volunteers and staff.
  4. Financially, retention problems are very draining on an association. Existing association members tend to be more profitable than new members due to the prospective member marketing costs. Losing those members can create financial problems very quickly.

This is not to say that recruitment problems do not need to be addressed urgently. But if your retention rate is strong, the association can live for some period of time while you fix the association’s recruitment problem. Moreover, when you do fix the association’s recruitment problem, you have a good chance of surviving long term because those members should stay with the association.

All in all, it’s better to not have any problems with association recruitment or retention. But if you had to have one problem, hopefully it’s not retention.

Has your association ever had any recruitment or retention problems? What was the solution? We recommend that you try the Best Association® Index – it’s a free service that makes for an outstanding new membership benefit idea that will help both with recruitment and retention.

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