Declining membership? It’s time to eliminate the negative impact of departmental silos

Janine Chasmer
Janine Chasmer

At a time when organisations are cutting back on spending, it can be difficult to convince valued members to stay. Indeed, membership numbers are falling across the country, where in recent years an estimated 47% of organisations have reported an annual decline in member numbers.

Far from the only industry to suffer, the CAF 2023 UK Giving Report furthermore predicts a 17% drop in charitable donations over the coming year, all thanks to the cost-of-living crisis. Yet, financial uncertainty is not the only enemy. Organisations must also battle declining numbers citing poor or inadequate service, with Congrex Switzerland reporting that trade associations around the world are losing members as a result of their inability to meet customer needs and expectations. When Chartered status or affixes once ensured retention, a new generation of member-customers demand exceptional service, demonstrable and immediate ROI and new benefits, trends or initiatives to pique their interest.

Membership challenges

It’s therefore more important than ever to add value to retain existing members and attract new ones. The issue is that, despite best efforts, membership initiatives often fail. Perhaps the marketing team’s efforts to attract new members by launching a compelling campaign are thwarted by the operations team, which might struggle to integrate newcomers swiftly, for example. Likewise, existing members might feel frustrated by the time it takes to get through to someone to help with an enquiry, or lack of self service options available to perform basic functions about their membership– deciding to resign or lapse their subscription as a result.

Ultimately, it all comes down to an absence of a shared  goals and ways of working, and data. If different departments could work together, sharing information easily and conveniently between them, they could send out coherent, personalised messaging – and could have efficient processes in place that could in turn be automated and support self-service.

As it stands, however, efforts to improve or personalise membership services are fragmented or haphazard at best. Leaders know they need to make better use of their data, but they’re not quite sure how.

In order to truly offer what members want, organisations need to collect and analyse relevant membership data. However, this data is usually stored across several different systems, it’s impossible to get a comprehensive outlook that encourages innovation. Furthermore access to systems and the data within them is still often restricted or locked down, and a lack of dashboards and data visualisation and reporting means that staff just don’t have the key insights that they need to proactively spot trends or take action to intervene when a member is disengaged or at risk or leaving.

What’s more, members often find themselves passed from pillar to post before they can access the services and information they need. This means that, even when organisations are able to add membership value, this value is overridden by ineffective, inefficient experiences. Ultimately, departments must work together to come to a solution.

Data silos

Digital experts MemberWise hold an annual membership conference, at which they regularly identify multiple databases and siloed information as a big challenge for professional bodies, charities and trade organisations. This is because, when operating independently using different tools and systems, each function within an organisation will make its own decisions based on its own priorities. This ultimately makes for a disjointed membership experience.

Convincing leaders, staff and the executive board to switch to invest further in technology proves difficult. Executive boards in particular are responsible for reducing costs and may be reluctant to spend money., particularly when the tangible benefits of investment may be harder to justify.. Whilst COOs are aware of the membership advantages that the investment could bring, it can be difficult to present this in measurable terms, unless they have extensive technological experience.

Another common hurdle that must be overcome is team reluctance. Many people will complain that the transition to new systems will add to their workload, for example, whilst others might fear being displaced if they are unable to work with new technology. They already have their tried-and-tested systems, so why would they want things to change?

Bringing people on board

Rather than feeling lost trying to turn things around, those in operational roles might lean on external specialists who, not can not only determine and implement the necessary technologies but also guide teams throughout the transformation process – be it through training or change management.

This way, those in charge of membership numbers will have a better grasp on how the proposed changes will improve things tangibly for each individual in the day to day. They will feel more confident asking teams what they struggle with currently and presenting their proposed changes as a solution. Likewise, they will be able to present more concrete data on how poor membership experience is actually driving up costs, due to remedial spend.

Better engagement and retention

By introducing a customer relationship management system (CRM), membership organisations will benefit from better, seamless communication and will soon see an increase in membership numbers. Not to mention the time spent on redundant tasks – with different teams completing the same actions in ignorance – which can be better spent on future strategy, further boosting membership engagement.

Furthermore, when teams have uninhibited access to comprehensive data, they are better positioned to pass members on to the right person without delay, curbing time-related frustrations. Equally, they become much better at problem solving, in turn coming up with data-driven solution that will ramp up innovation to add further value to members’ lives.

When departments can make comprehensive use of membership data, services and solutions will be better tailored to individual preferences. For instance, membership marketing resource can direct their sustainability messaging to those already interested in eco-conscious initiatives. This helps to prevent member frustrations, as people won’t feel bombarded with materials that aren’t relevant and are more likely to feel organisations are listening to them.

It’s a small change, but the impact it can have can be overwhelming. It’s all about gaining a better grasp of people’s true desires and interests, ensuring that their loyalties continue to lie with organisations that matter at a time where limited funds call for a cull in subscriptions.

Are department silos impacting your members’ experience? Contact a member of the Equantiis team to arrange an initial consultation today.

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More about the author

Janine Chasmer
Janine Chasmer - Principal Consultant

Janine’s career includes 10 years in the not-for-profit sector, specifically within membership, and she leverages her industry expertise and first-hand experience with a wider range of clients, including Membership and Charity, where she provides consultancy on a range of areas including Business Strategy, Customer Experience improvement and process optimisation. In recent years, Janine has applied these consulting skills to the Education sector, supporting HE and FE institutions to improve their applicant and student experience at key phases such as application, enrolment, Clearing and progression. Other projects include Digital and Data Strategy, process and automation, and Student Journey optimisation. She has also worked as a SRM Functional Consultant, using this unique insight of both sector knowledge, and enabling technology to achieve transformational outcomes. Janine is also a regular event speaker and creates and shares industry and sector insights with her network.