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In a perfect world, growing your organization’s membership would be a straightforward path. New members would join and stick around, each adding to a bigger and bigger audience.

But membership organizations know that reality is more complicated. While many members do join and stay, others bounce away after a year or two. For every membership organization, increasing retention is a major concern.

The first step in addressing this persistent challenge is rethinking the way we approach membership. Here’s why you should view membership as a forever transaction — and three tips for making it a reality.

What is a forever transaction?

First, let’s take a moment to define a forever transaction

Many organizations focus on increasing the number of new members who join. But the transaction doesn’t end when a new member signs up. After joining, members encounter many steps that greatly influence whether they’ll stay or go — from onboarding to how easily they can access benefits. 

Creating a forever transaction means treating each individual step in the membership process with equal care. This attention to detail can make the difference between lasting retention and a high turnover rate.

Organizations that nurture each stage of the membership life cycle, rather than just the effort to bring in new members, are more likely to build healthy, engaged communities over time.

Tip 1: Focus on mission over product

The best way to create forever transactions is to prioritize your organization’s mission over everything. 

It’s easy to get caught up in pushing the exclusive events, resources, and perks that come with membership. But as enticing as those factors might be, most members can find similar offerings elsewhere — sometimes for a cheaper price.  

People join your organization to become part of a community that will rally around a central mission. Maybe that’s ending cardiovascular disease or homelessness; maybe it’s bringing the arts into people’s daily lives or caring for the environment. Your organization’s mission should be so unique and powerful that people feel compelled to take part.

Over the years, your products and offerings will come and go. But your mission should remain a core element that keeps members from drifting away. 

Tip 2: Build an agile organization

Along with a sense of purpose, your organization should deliver a seamless membership experience — from onboarding through every perk and benefit. 

Why? If new members are confused or frustrated by the onboarding process, some won’t have the patience to figure out how to find resources or get involved. Their forever transaction will be cut short, thanks to a faulty website or an inefficient onboarding experience.

Slow-moving organizations with a deeply entrenched bureaucracy are far less likely to improve these issues. 

Strive to build an agile organization that relies on collaborative teams working together. Agile organizations can remain nimble as they test new features and apply emerging technology. 

Your organization might not be capable of changing overnight, but you can start by choosing a specific project and building a cross-functional team to tackle it. For example, revamping an outdated onboarding process can get new members excited about everything they’re gaining.

Tip 3: Continuously adapt over time

It’s crucial to realize that there is no perfect formula for creating a forever transaction. People, technology and the world are constantly in flux. The best membership organizations are willing to grow and adapt to these changes over time. 

What makes a forever transaction today may not work tomorrow. 

If members know that your organization cares about keeping up with cutting-edge technology and insights, they’ll want to stick around to see what you dream up next.

Heather Nolan
Post by Heather Nolan
November 11, 2020
Heather a skilled communicator with expertise in social media and marketing strategy, brand management and journalism. She uses storytelling and audience growth skills to help companies showcase their brand and expand their reach.