Your Association Membership Is Declining: Now What?

Your Association Membership Is Declining: Now What?

Your Association Membership Is Declining: Now What?

While overall association membership is trending upwards, more than half of associations report that they are actually losing members. With competition from new groups, aging members and new recruiting methods available, your association may find itself with an attrition problem too. Let’s look at some solutions to declining membership.

Ask the Tough Questions

Many associations wait too long to address the issue of attrition because it’s an unpleasant topic. But if your association is going to survive, you’ve got to ask the difficult questions:

Is your association still relevant?

If your industry is changing or even being phased out, how much impact can your group have? Although there are things you can’t change, you can become proactive about making your association more meaningful. Consider revising your mission statement, updating your activities or even merging with another association that’s more ahead of the curve.

Is there something driving members away?

This can be a particularly tough question to pose. In insular groups, infighting, backstabbing and gossip may be responsible for membership losses. On a more positive note, it may be something that’s an easier fix, like a website with too many aggressive pop-up windows or dues that are disproportionate to what the association offers compared to new competitors.

What do members want?

Associations often become mired in what the board or a core group of leaders want at the expense of the larger membership. Is it time to conduct a detailed survey of your members to see if you’ve drifted away from why they joined in the first place?

Think of the Youth Factor

It’s not just professional associations that are losing out by not appealing to younger prospects. This is a problem for many organizations that traditionally favor older participants, like symphony orchestras and museums.

As Baby Boomers age, associations must look at what Millennials want and how they communicate in order to bring in the next wave of members. Associations are especially useful to workers earlier in their careers, so you’ve got to determine how to be relevant to members just starting out, as well as to more established members.

How are you conveying your information and membership opportunities? Think about how much more tech savvy Millennials and younger members are than their older colleagues. Are you capturing the right audience with your outreach strategies?

Look at Alternative Funding Sources

Does your association need a huge membership to survive, or can you obtain funding from elsewhere and still thrive? If you’ve been relying on dues, maybe it’s wise to look at other funding sources:

  • Hosting more events and conferences (think webinars and e-courses with low overhead)
  • Self-publishing books and other materials to sell to both members and non-members
  • Applying for grants and gifts


Make Things Easier on Your Members

It may be time to look at your membership process itself to make things easier for your members:

  • Do you need membership tiers to appeal to a wider range of people?
  • Could you offer split payments with discounts for paid-in-full memberships?
  • Can you make the sign-up process easier or more automated?
  • Are members given adequate and effective renewal notices?
  • Do you make it painless for prodigal members to come back into the fold?


If you’re struggling with membership issues, think about bringing in professional help to boost your association. At Jaffe Management, we assist with membership administration, website updates and communications to help keep your membership trending in the right direction. Get in touch to see how we can help your association fix or prevent an attrition problem with your members.