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Should Organizations Worry About a Decline in Membership?

Updated: Apr 1

Wild Apricot turned to Sarah Sladek and two additional experts in the membership field to gather their thoughts on the challenges of growing membership and continuing to thrive through the COVID-19 pandemic. Read the full article here.

Why do you think so many membership organizations are struggling to grow their membership? 

Sarah: I’ve been researching membership engagement trends for 20 years now and the simple fact is, membership decline occurs when associations aren’t responsive to the needs, interests, and expectations of their members. When membership decline first made headlines, there was this widespread belief that people aren’t “joiners” anymore.

The reality is, we’ve experienced numerous social disruptions in recent decades, and these disruptions have directly influenced shifts in buying behaviors, communication preferences, and values. How members engage in associations and what they want from their membership experiences has changed — and will continue to do so. Change is a constant now.

Unfortunately, many associations have held steadfast to tradition, resisted change, and backburnered innovation. They forgot they were membership associations and stopped putting their members’ needs and interests first.

What advice do you have for membership organizations who are worried about engaging and retaining members throughout COVID-19? 

Sarah: Membership should be growing right now. Yes, growing! In times of crisis, people seek solutions, community, and information. In times of crisis, associations are a shelter in the storm. If membership isn’t growing right now, contact a membership strategist and get the guidance you need to immediately resolve the issue.

What do you think membership organizations need to do in 2021 to stay relevant to their existing and potential members?

Sarah: First and foremost, know what members need, want, and expect. To stay relevant and valuable, associations must understand their community’s needs and what behaviors and deliverables will drive future success.

This requires surveying members and opening up channels for on-going feedback and dialogue. I’d also urge associations to deploy a diversified membership strategy which relies on the introduction of new revenue streams, outreach to engage new audiences, and being intentional about bringing new voices and skillsets into the association’s decision-making roles.

COVID has taught us all the values of community and accessibility and it’s made our world much smaller. Going forward, it will be critical that associations serve the needs and interests of the entire community — not just a tiny fraction of it — and offer opportunities for people of all career stages and geographies to get involved and benefit from the association’s deliverables and reach.


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