Estimated reading time: 3 minutes, 24 seconds

The 2018 Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report from Marketing General Incorporate (MGI) noted that the average member retention rate for associations is 84%. Looking at the same statistic for new members, the number falls to 70% and for associations with more than 5,000 members, the new member retention rate drops to 60%. In compiling these numbers, the most commonly cited reason for non-renewal was “lack of engagement with the organization.” Losing members not only negatively impacts dues revenues, but can also have an adverse impact on the volume of donor contributions.

To avoid high levels of member churn, organizations should consider developing a member engagement plan that rigorously collects and analyzes relevant member data (event attendance, financial contributions and online activity). This data collection effort requires participation and commitment from all functions within an organization. With regards to integrating data analytics into the engagement planning process, an organization should consider following these four steps:

  1. Define and weight engagement activities.

Defining what activities constitute engagement should be the first step as this can mean different things to different people. Additionally, when determining these activities, organizations should consider developing an engagement “weighting” that ranks certain activities higher than others. For example, an organization may be attempting to assess the activities of two members while one member has attended every event that year and the other has opened and read every monthly newsletter. Each member is engaged and committed to the organization in their own way, which may indicate to organizational leadership that they’re not at risk of discontinuing their membership. However, while both activities constitute engagement, attending every event might be considered a higher level of commitment than reading every newsletter – something an organization can recognize by adding a weighting component, deriving a truer picture of member engagement.

  1. Decide which metrics to track.

Focus on areas where data can make the biggest impact and contribute to strategic planning. Areas to consider:

  • Digital data – Email opens and clicks, donor portal logins and profile updates, website and blog page visits and downloads.
  • Activity data – Event attendance, volunteer service, online resource participation, social media interaction.
  • Transactional data – Donations, referrals, sponsorships and other revenue partner activities.
  • Emotional experience – Surveys or alternative methods that collect information on constituent experience, such as motivation to contribute to the organization, initial expectations and fulfilment of those expectations.
  1. Establish an engagement “baseline.”

Data collection and segmentation is an effective strategy to understanding constituent behavior, attitudes and needs. Associations should establish an engagement “baseline” which analyzes segmented member data. Examples of these segments include location, constituent tenure, annual event attendance, webinar registrations, product purchases and workshop participation. This information can be further segmented by constituent type, age, gender or occupation, or it could be filtered by constituent tenure in the organization.

When combined with the data collection approach outlined earlier, this data can help organizations identify what appeals to various individuals, as well as how their engagement with the organization changes throughout time. Not only can this help construct a development or fundraising plan, it can also better inform marketing and communication strategies.  

  1. Analyze and share results.

A comprehensive data set can help identify issues and goals met, as well as provide benchmarks to set attainable goals for the future. The internal data governance team should develop easily digestible reports for staff and leaders that provide key insights to inform decision-making in their areas of operation. Assistant and junior-level employees benefit from data that delves into their day-to-day work while director-level employees require insight on trends, revenue streams and operational issues.

Without a plan to collect and utilize engagement data, organizations risk time wasted, intel lost and sector irrelevance. Measuring engagement involves defining what kind of participation the organization values, how that sentiment can be best measured and how the results can be utilized to assist better informed decision-making. As nonprofits begin to adopt data analytics, it is important to take thorough and deliberate steps to integrating this tactic into strategic organizational planning.


Shaun is vice president of marketing at MemberSuite, an innovator in cloud-based association management software (AMS) and business intelligence solutions for member-based organizations of all sizes.

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