Wish You Were Here

How do organizations address the ones who got away, the long-time members 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 DC 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.