By now, many of us have renewed our annual dues with local nonprofits that are membership-based. Most Sonoma Valley nonprofits are on a fixed-date calendar renewal schedule, with membership starting on the same set date each year. Organizations such as the Sonoma Valley Historical Society, the Sonoma Valley Women’s Club, Newcomers, and Vintage House fit in this category, with memberships starting January 1 and ending December 31.
The Boys & Girls Clubs of Sonoma Valley also provides fixed date membership renewals, but the dates span June 1 to May 31. However, a few local organizations, including the Sonoma League for Historic Preservation and the Sonoma Valley Museum of Art, offer anniversary date renewals. That means if you join as a member in July or any other month of the year, your membership will expire a year later.
While it may not seem that having a fixed date or anniversary date member renewal schedule makes a difference, research indicates that it indeed does.
Research conducted by the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) shows that smaller organizations tend to have fixed date membership renewals and larger organizations offer anniversary date renewals. What’s significant about this research is that organizations with anniversary renewal dates are more likely to see an overall increase in their membership, but that organizations on calendar renewal cycles show a higher overall membership renewal rate. While the anniversary cycle may allow for more people to join spontaneously throughout the year, many of these may be fair weather members who won’t renew the following year.
From a member’s perspective, people want the flexibility to be able to join whenever they want. But to make that happen, nonprofits need the technology to support anniversary date renewals. They also need the ability to continually engage with members throughout the year to ensure that new members who join whenever they are motivated to do so remain members in subsequent years.
Historically, new members are always the lowest category of members to renew, so organizations should work the hardest to keep them as members.
Wild Apricot, a membership management technology solution, recommends that instead of sending invoices or renewals right before the membership expiration date, organizations create a year-long “membership connection campaign.” During this campaign, members should be reminded about the value the organization provides to them and be given the opportunity to provide feedback on how the organization can improve the programing and services it offers to members.
The most recent Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report concludes that the three most popular methods of sending out renewal notices are email, followed by a hard copy mailed reminder, followed by a phone call from staff or volunteers. ASAE provides the following tips for renewal communications: (1) tailor your renewal message to ensure you’re communicating that the value your organization offers is still aligned with why the member joined in the first place – a tip that’s especially important for first-year members; (2) vary your message so that the second and third reminders don’t look and sound like the first one; (3) add renewal reminders in your newsletters throughout the year; (4) use control groups to test what language generates the most renewals; and (5) keep it simple. The easiest way to ensure member retention is to enable members to renew on their own via online recurring dues. This process is just like automatic billing that many of us use for loan, utility, or subscription payments.
Regardless of whether you use a fixed date calendar renewal schedule or an anniversary date renewal schedule, don’t forget to thank members when they renew. In addition to the automated thank you page members see after they rejoin online, a personalized hard copy letter sent in the mail still goes a long way in showing your members just how important they are to your organization.