In December 2020, Wild Apricot, a company that helps small membership organizations grow by providing tools and resources, released their 2020 Membership Growth Report. In this report, the group speaks to tactics and strategies to help organizations increase their memberships. They learned that 68% of organizations surveyed have had difficulty growing their membership; 25% did not grow at all; and 11% shrank.

Wild Apricot turned to our expert, Sarah Sladek, CEO of XYZ University, with several questions about their findings. Here are Sarah’s responses.

‘Why are so many membership organizations struggling to grow?’

I’ve been researching membership engagement trends for 20 years and the simple fact is, membership decline occurs when associations aren’t responsive to the needs, interests, and expectations of their members. When membership decline first made headlines, there was this widespread belief that people aren’t “joiners” anymore.

The reality is, we’ve experienced numerous social disruptions in recent decades, and these disruptions have directly influenced shifts in buying behaviors, communication preferences, and values. How members engage in associations and what they want from their membership experiences has changed — and will continue to do so. Change is a constant now.

Unfortunately, many associations have held steadfast to tradition, resisted change, and backburnered innovation. They forgot they were membership associations and stopped putting their members’ needs and interests first.

‘What do you think membership organizations need to do in 2021 and beyond to remain relevant?’

First and foremost, know what members need, want, and expect. To stay relevant and valuable, associations must understand their community’s needs and what behaviors and deliverables will drive future success. This requires surveying members and opening up channels for ongoing feedback and dialogue.

I’d also urge associations to deploy a diversified membership strategy that relies on the introduction of new revenue streams, outreach to engage new audiences, and being intentional about bringing new voices and skillsets into the association’s decision-making roles.

Going forward, it will be critical that associations serve the needs and interests of the entire community — not just a tiny fraction of it — and offer opportunities for people of all career stages and geographies to get involved and benefit from the association’s deliverables and reach.

If you need help with ways to overcome membership sluggishness or decline, contact Sarah Sladek through XYZ University to help your organization design solutions to your specific issues.