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How to Engage Volunteer Leaders in Member Retention

By Michele F. Liston, CMP

Member retention isn't the exclusive job of the membership staff. Board leaders can play a valuable role in communicating with members and keeping them when renewal time comes around.

These days, member retention is a tough business. It's hard enough to keep track of who holds the purse strings for a member, let alone beat the spam blockers and the mailroom so your member-benefit materials reach their intended destination. And while staff play a huge role in retention efforts, your association's volunteer leaders can play an equally essential role in ensuring your message reaches the right people and that it is heard and received by your members.

How so? Association volunteer leaders can add the personal touch that can make the difference between a seamless renewal and a lengthy approval process—or worse yet, a nonrenewal. Staff can communicate member benefits all day long, but the message means more when it comes from an industry colleague.

Give Volunteers Tools for the Job

So, how do you get volunteer leaders involved? Any recruitment and retention strategy with volunteer leaders will incorporate email, phone (better), and in-person (best) outreach. That can be time-consuming, but the job can be broken down into workable chunks.

Assign each volunteer leader (board members, committee leaders, other interested volunteers) a small number of members to contact each month or at renewal time. Make sure the number of contacts is manageable; your volunteer leaders likely have full-time jobs and don't have the time to devote to a full-fledged phone campaign. Limit to no more than three or four communications per month—just one or two is best to ensure the conversations actually happen.

A few tips as you get started:

  • Begin the effort well in advance of the renewal date. Or, better yet, have it be an ongoing process.
  • Provide a script and bullet points. Give the leaders a handful of talking points to work from during their conversations. Keep the message short and simple, and have participants focus on telling their own stories of involvement, how the association has helped them, and why they continue to be members.
  • Brief the leaders. Let the leaders know of any pending issues with the members they are assigned to contact so they can respond to any questions that might come up.
  • Make sure they are fully aware of member benefits. You'd be surprised at how many board members know very little about what the association offers.

One of the very best ways for volunteer leaders to make those important renewal connections is in person. Is your annual conference right in the middle of your renewal cycle? Industry holiday parties? Other industry tradeshows or functions? Even standard business meetings can be a terrific opportunity for your board members or leaders to put in that extra good word for the association and ask for the renewal. It's that personal touch that can make all of the difference, and it is probably the easiest way for a board member to be a part of the renewal process.

The best person for the ask is a current or potential client, someone the member knows or someone the volunteer would like to do business with. It's a win-win when you give your leaders a reason to reach out to someone they know or a potential client.

A Mix of Member-Retention Methods

Asking board members or leaders to make three or four phone calls each month is a faster way for volunteers to engage in the process, and email is faster still. However, email isn't the best way to have leaders reach out; it eliminates some of the personal touch you are looking for. But, if that's the only way you can get participation from volunteers, it can still aid in the renewal process and open the lines of communication with a member. Make sure they are personalized emails; having staff draft templates might be a good first step, though volunteers should feel free to expand on them.

The job isn't over when that first contact is made, of course. Enlist staff to provide immediate follow-up on any information requests. And schedule a follow-up mailing or email to reinforce the message, including a renewal notice.

One note of caution: The leadership outreach cannot and should not be the only time that members hear from you all year. Leadership communication should be just one part of a staff-led multitiered communication and marketing effort throughout the year, one that reinforces the benefits of membership and thanks members for their participation.

This article was developed in collaboration with ASAE's Membership Section Council.

“Reprinted with permission. Copyright, ASAE: The Center for Association Leadership (April, 2015), Washington, DC.”