Wish You Were Here

How do organizations address the ones who got away, the long-time members, donors, or customers no longer in their ranks?

That was the question on my mind last fall when I decided to engage in a little personal experimentation.  What did I do?  I did not renew my membership in three professional associations.  I had been a member of each group for more than 10 years.

So what happened?  Not a heck of a lot.  Each of the three associations continued to send me additional renewal invoices (second notice, third notice, final notice) without any cover letter or change in messaging.  Several months after my membership lapsed in one association, a membership staffer did send a more personal email inquiring about my decision and inviting me to rejoin.

So 1 out of 3 slightly acted in a manner consistent with organizations that profess to be about “community.”

But since then?  Crickets.  Silence.  Nada.

So here’s the thing. It shouldn’t be this way.

I recently checked into a hotel which I used to frequent more regularly and the desk agent greeted me by saying "Where have you been?  We haven’t seen you in months."  She astutely took the date of my last stay—that I assume was displayed on her computer screen—and turned it into a personal outreach opening line.  Well-played Grand Hyatt staffer.

I once belonged to a gym that would send you a postcard if you hadn’t worked out in the past month.  I belonged to another gym that went even more personal, sending you a postcard of your favorite piece of workout equipment (which the staff would have had to notice to know) emblazoned with “I miss you so much.”

An elliptical told me it missed me more than any of the three associations—to which I paid dues and was an active contributor—has since I failed to renew. 

Yeah, let that sink in for a second.  A fundraiser would never let this happen.  They’ve got assertive retention and outreach plans for individuals that fall into those special categories of LYBUNTs (last year but not this) or SYBUNTs (some years but not this).  They know that attracting attention and interest completely anew can be far more difficult than re-attracting attention and contributions yet to completely fade away (hopefully).

We miss you.  That’s the message a community would send to one of its former members. So many associations have "Member Get a Member" campaigns, but I haven't seen one that has a "Member Get a Member Back" Campaign.  We believe peer-peer outreach is good for recruitment, but not for retention.  Really?

In addition to tugging at the heartstrings of the community connection, the organization might let you know what you’ve been missing in more tangible terms.  When you let your membership lapse in a professional organization, when you quit visiting a store where you once shopped regularly, you no longer have familiarity with the new products, services, and value they offer.  So in a sense, you don’t know what you don’t know.

Wouldn’t a “Here’s What You’re Missing” communication be a campaign that organizations should attempt with lapsed customer or members?  Shouldn’t we be doing the same with individuals who are still members, but who are not attending programs or major conferences? 

Members and customers make decisions partially based on the perceived return on investment of an organization’s offerings.  If we don’t let people know the value that they’ve been missing, how can we ever expect to get them to reinvest as a member or customer? In the spirit of Jay Baer's excellent new book, Youtility, share info in these marketing communications that is helpful to the recipient, not hype about the sender.

And if absence does indeed make the heart grow fonder ...
and if a professional association indeed has cultivated a community ...

the campaign that might most easily renew the connection and contribution of a lapsed member is the simplest one of all: 

a photo of members around a table at an association event with an empty chair and a handwritten sign that says:

Wish you were here.

See also: The More Appealing Appeal


Leslie White said...

WOW - what simple but grand ideas. But you are talking about changing a mindset and culture (there's that word again). When will association realize that members are not a nuisance but the reason for the organization's existence?

Jeffrey Cufaude said...

Thanks Leslie. Changing a mindset may be exactly the approach that is required. Organizations with members are obviously in a relationship business, yet they let too much of that relationship be driven by impersonal transactions managed only be technology (i.e. second notice, third notice, et al).

Shelly Alcorn, CAE said...

Fabulous post and rignt on the money!

Jeffrey Cufaude said...

Glad it resonated with you Shelly.

Anonymous said...

Actually had an Indy business owner become angry when I cancelled my membership. She had her staff send me text messages and she herself sent me emails threatening to sue for slander if I made any negative online reviews! I actually had not considered it before that.

Jeffrey Cufaude said...

Well that's a new and mot unpleasant twist. Interesting that she thinks she can limit what you might say in an online review so long as you stick to the facts.

Anonymous said...

Great ideas - I did a "re-member" campaign a few years ago when I targeted members who had terminated in the past two years with a letter and a promotional flier indicating we missed them. The entire campaign resulted in one reinvestment, paying for the expense of the effort. We have since moved to a more significant outreach before they terminate since it was not a huge success. My question is this... how do you manage the re-engagement all year long? Who owns it? I agree it's important and a must to continue growth, but at some point we run out of man power and end up focusing on the current, paying members to keep them from joining this list.

Jeffrey Cufaude said...

You ask great questions, ones that really have to be answered at the individual association level based on its overall membership strategies, the resources it has available for recruitment and retention, and what it knows about what its members value.

Obviously some people aren't going to renew. My main point is that to not try and re-engage long-time lapsed members may be a real missed opportunity.

My thinking is that a "wish you were here" type of reminder might be most effective 3-6 months after the membership lapses, particularly if the organization has released new resources or created other value during that time period.

As far as resources, I might look to ways to really involve volunteers in this effort, so that the appeal is more peer-peer. Staff could help provide the infrastructure to enable volunteer efforts.

Unknown said...

My group reaches out to former members. One of the smallest things we did which generated the most reaction was to use the subject line "We Miss You". The inside of the email had an image of someone sad. People actually called our Customer Service staff and mentioned, "you miss me?".

Years ago before we cut our print budgets we mailed brochures to former members that had a bouncer blocking the door to a club on the cover with copy about missing out. That received a good response to.

We also rely on our Chapters to help since they know many of these members locally. We rebate $50 for each person they bring back.

Reinstatements are big for us. We focus most our efforts on those that terminated within 1-3 years.