Dear chefs and friends,

Which is more valuable to your organization?

A. One new member?
B. One retained member?

The answer is definitely B.  According to Amy Gallo of the Harvard Business Review, “acquiring a new customer is anywhere from five to 25 times more expensive than retaining an existing one.” That’s because it costs more to find and convince a new member to join than to keep your current members engaged. Of course, keeping members engaged and enthusiastic can be difficult at times, so here are some ways to keep our member engagement going, either at a national or local level.

Discover why they joined and do more of it
The top two reasons people join an organization are because they want to:
1. Network with others in their field
2. Access specialized and/or current information

While perhaps two thirds of your chapter’s members joined for these two reasons, where do the rest of them fall? Are our chapters potentially losing people if we’re not providing them the value they expected when they joined? Imagine you’re a fishing club and someone joined because they love to fish, but all your events are about how to craft lures. This person may become disappointed and end up lapsing.

Ninety percent of the organizations in the U.S. do not track the reasons why members joined. Knowing this information and delivering on it is one of the most influential ways to keep your members engaged and, hopefully, keep them from leaving.

There are two industry-accepted ways to collect this information from your members:
1. Ask them in your new member application form
2. Survey all current members (often member expectations change from year to year)

To collect this information in your new membership application form, simply add a field called “Why did you join?” and include a checklist of your benefits with an additional open-ended option. 

Here’s the tough part: Chapter members, especially the board members, must focus on the benefits your new members want. We should also not forget about our current members. The benefits they wanted when they became members have changed since they joined. Once a year, survey your current members to make sure you always know what they want.

Free online survey platforms like SurveyMonkey or Google Forms can help you with this.

Here are some sample questions you can use for your current members:
1. What are three things our organization should continue doing?
2. What are three things our organization should stop doing?
3. Which membership benefits do you take the most advantage of? (Check all that apply)
4. Would you recommend our organization to a friend? Why or why not?

Gathering this information will help you stay on the right track to engaging and retaining your members the best you can.

Identify who isn’t engaging and send them a “win-back” email If you can’t identify which of your members aren’t engaged, you can’t do anything to win them back before they end up lapsing.
Your member database should be organized in a way that allows you to easily identify who these people are. Once you identify these people, send them a “win-back” email — a special offer designed to re-engage someone with your organization. Take this example of Starbucks™’ “win-back” email:
These type of emails work. Organizations that are successful at member retention have a plan in place to send these emails out to unengaged members on a regular basis. Does your chapter do this? Why not? The value you offer can be a discount, an invitation to a special event or simply a request to chat on the phone.

To identify unengaged members, simply filter your database for “triggers” which may indicate they are unengaged.

Here are some examples of triggers you and your chapter can look for:
Any member who hasn’t attended the last three events
Any member who hasn’t updated his or her profile in the last year
Any member who hasn’t read any of your emails in the last three months One whose membership or certification is a few months from lapsing

Pick up the phone and start creating personal connections 

Yes, this may seem old-fashioned, but nothing engages a member more than a personal connection, and this does not usually mean an email. I will let you in on a little secret, when I first became a board member of my chapter, I did none of this. It’s a smart strategy that a lot of membership organizations have also used to grow.

In fact, Sarah Rintamaki, founder and executive director of Connecting for Kids used personal connections to help grow her organization over 300% in just the first year. “Personal contacts are invaluable. Nobody joins our organization without getting a personal phone call from me,” says Sarah, “and I don’t think that will ever change. … Whether it’s a donor, or a family, or a professional, they need to have a conversation with somebody.” Sarah’s organization has well over 1,000 members and each one of them received a personal phone call from her. This may sound daunting, but it’s worked.

If it works for new members, try it with your unengaged members too. I bet they’d love a phone call, or at the least a personalized email. It may be the thing that keeps members engaged so that they don’t lapse.
Give it a try. Make a commitment to reach out to one unengaged or even lost member every single week. Put it in your calendar right now. Monday afternoon at 3 p.m., schedule your first call.
Carlton W. Brooks, CEPC, CCE, AACACF Western Region Vice President