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Your Membership Marketing Is In Trouble: The 2013 Pulse Report

Greenfield Services just released their 2013 Pulse Report based on a survey of 173 association managers, leaders and executives across Canada. This year, the news is not great, as the title of the report may give away: “Opportunities Beyond Our Grasp.” Membership marketing issues are top of mind for a lot of associations, but unfortunately, many aren’t keeping up with member demand. The report is filled with disconnects between what associations know they need to or want to do and what they are actually doing. We’ve done a bit of discover to break down the important aspects of this year’s report:

Greenfield Services just released their 2013 Pulse Report based on a survey of 173 association managers, leaders and executives across Canada. This year, the news is not great, as the title of the report may give away: “Opportunities Beyond Our Grasp.” Membership marketing issues are top of mind for a lot of associations, but unfortunately, many aren’t keeping up with member demand. The report is filled with disconnects between what associations know they need to or want to do and what they are actually doing. We’ve done a bit of discover to break down the important aspects of this year’s report:


Membership is top of mind for associations. Over 62% of those surveyed listed membership growth as a top priority Just over 20% of associations say that member retention is a priority, 12% say member acquisition and 67.1% put equal priority on each. Yet, only 12.7% say that increased renewal rate is a “key focus.”

Respondents know they need to build meaningful and long-lasting relationships with members. So how are associations building these relationships?


It takes 10 touch-points to break through the noise of competing media and priorities in order to reach an audience with messages that require a decision or action (ie: renewing association membership).

Of those surveyed, 45.2% use only one to three touch-points. Only 8.1% reach out at least 10 times, and 3.2% don’t reach out at all. That leaves a lot of room for improvement.

Associations need to improve not just in frequency, but also timing. Over 75% of respondents didn’t reach out until the last few months before renewal was necessary. When it comes to renewing membership, these touch-points should start six to nine months in advance of renewal date to be fully effective.


Satisfaction with the associations’ social media program dropped slightly from last year. This year 9.4% said their programs were “unsuccessful” and only 57.9% said programs were “somewhat or very successful,” down from 63.3% last year.

This isn’t really a surprise when it looks like most associations are still treating social media as an afterthought, despite important goals surrounding the online platforms. Seventy-two percent say social media objectives include engaging members and getting them to events as well as getting members to engage in online conversation. The largest sector of respondents say their associations only spend five to nine hours on social media per week. That’s not enough.

The most effective online communicators:

  • Produce twice-weekly or daily blogs
  • Use social media to promote relevant third-party content
  • Seek opportunities to guest blog on external sites

That level of activity cannot be accomplished in five to nine hours per week.


This year, the number of people cancelling association membership because they’ve retired from the industry grew from 5.3% in 2012 to 8.4%. Baby boomers are retiring, and as they do, you can expect the number of cancellations due to retirement to increase. This means, engaging the next generation to fill the membership ranks gets more important every year. However, over the last year, the number of associations with plans in place to engage the younger members remained nearly the same with 23.6% this year only slightly up from the 22.9% with plans in place in 2012.

Additionally, it looks as if associations working on plans to engage younger members have put those plans on hold. More than a quarter of associations stated they had no plans to reach out to Generation Y. Those putting a plan in place dropped from 34.7% last year to 26%. Associations reporting no activity on engaging Millennials also increased slightly.

This year’s Pulse Report shows that associations are in trouble when it comes to member marketing. Big trouble. The reports points to lack of budget and staff resources and issues keeping associations from fully engaging in the member marketing they know they need. It clearly points to many opportunities beyond our grasps.

If you want your association to remain relevant you need to take a look at where your new members are coming from and how to show all members value in belonging to your association. You need to do that before next year, or you may not be around.

For more information about the 2013 Pulse Report, contact Greenfield Services.

Zs came of age in an era of disruption

In many ways, it’s symbolic that Generation Z is named after the last letter in the alphabet because their arrival marks the end of clearly defined roles, traditions, and experiences. After all, Gen Z is coming of age on the heels of what has been referred to as the most disruptive decade of the last century. America has become an increasingly changing and complex place.

For example:

  • ‍Zs were born into a “modern family era” in which highly involved dads help out at home, and the nuclear family model (two parents, married, with children) represent only 46% of American households.
  • ‍Zs are the first generation to be born into a world where everything physical, from people to places to pennies, has a digital equivalent.
  • From the time they were infants, Zs had access to mobile technology. As a result, their brains have been trained to absorb large amounts of information, and Zs are especially adept at shifting between skills and subject matter.
  • Zs tend to have crystal-clear memories of sitting up for the first time at six months old because they can easily and quickly reference the photos and videos their parents shared on social media or saved in the “cloud”. 

Members of this generation have undoubtedly been shaped by crisis and disruption. This generation will largely be responsible for confronting the aftermath of the Great Recession, high youth unemployment, the effects of climate change, terrorism, energy sustainability, and more. These dark events have undoubtedly made this generation more cautious and pragmatic, but they have also provided this generation with the inspiration to change the world – and their grit will likely allow them to do it.

Coming of age during disruption means that most Zs will be comfortable being the disruptors. While Millennials tend to be collaborative and innovative, this generation tends to be sincere, reflective, thick-skinned, and self-directed, and will likely approach work in much the same way.

Zs were raised to be competitive

In the era following World War II, Boomers (1946-1964) were born and eventually became the wealthiest, most prosperous generation in history. Raised to aspire for the American Dream, this very large generation moved into positions of power and influence, and served as the workforce majority for 34 years.

With the American Dream alive and well, Boomers had no reason to teach their children, mostly Millennials, about competition. Instead, they taught them to focus on academic achievement and to be team players because if everyone works hard, everyone can win.

Enter Generation X (1965-1981). In contrast Boomers, Xers came of age during a time when change and economic and political uncertainty began to take root. They have lived through four recessions, struggled with debt and economic decline most of their lives, and watched the best educated and accomplished generation of all time (Millennials) graduate during the Great Recession and become the most debt-ridden generation in history.

Gen Xers can be defined by their independence and anti-status quo approach to life, and they have taught their Gen Z children to be competitive, believing only the best can win. They have encouraged their children to be realists, finding something they are good at and aggressively pursuing it.

Xers have raised their Zs with an intense focus on competitiveness -- in academics, sports, and other activities. This approach to parenting has many implications, but one stands out in terms of business: Gen Z is likely to lead.

Millennials in the workplace created and aggressively advocated for collaborative work environments. In fact, their aversion to leadership has been so strong, some Millennials sought out companies that boasted boss-free or team-managed workplaces.

In contrast, Zs have been raised with an individualistic, realistic, and competitive nature. They have been taught the skills to successfully defy the norm. This means we’re going to see the pendulum shift away from collaborative workplaces towards a widespread demand for, and pursuit of, leadership development.

Zs are career-focused.

While Millennials have been criticized for their “delayed adulthood”, Gen Z is showing signs of “early adulthood”. Educators and parents often describe this generation as being more serious and contemplative about the world. Zs are thinking about their career paths and exposing themselves to career training at an earlier age than Millennials. It’s probable that some of this early onset of adulthood is caused by parents, who are pressuring their children to be competitive and successful and to avoid the debt that plagued both the Gen Xers and Millennials.

The numbers from our global research found 46% of Gen Z said they know what career to pursue and 51% have taken a class at school focused on their career interests. Forty percent joined an extracurricular program (team, club) based on their career interests.

Zs are seeking financial security. 

Zs have been shaped by the aftermath of the Great Recession. They watched Millennials become debt-ridden and are concerned about falling into the same trap. XYZ University’s survey results show 66% of Zs said financial stability is more important than doing work they enjoy, which is the exact opposite of Millennial survey results.  Also, 71% of survey-takers have a paying job.

Zs value leaders who are positive and trustworthy.

When presented a list of leadership traits, Zs ranked positive and trustworthy the highest. While Millennials and Gen Zs both value trust in a leader, Millennials usually cite collaboration and vision as most important. In other words, Millennials focus on the outcomes leaders inspire, whereas Zs are more likely to consider leaders’ attitudes and personalities. To Z, what leaders encourage others to do isn’t as valuable as how they make them feel.


Zs want to be challenged.

Both Millennials and Gen Zs place a very high value on feeling challenged and appreciated in the workplace. However, according to our survey results Millennials rank appreciation slightly higher than challenge, whereas Zs rank feeling challenged slightly higher than appreciation.

Time will tell how Zs go down in history, but we know this generation’s influence on history will be unlike any other.


Does your organization have what it takes to engage the next generation? Take this quiz to find out.


Sarah Sladek is CEO of XYZ University. Our generational intelligence can assist you with engaging and retaining young talent and members.

Sarah Sladek

Concerned about declining engagement in our nation’s membership associations, non-profits, and workplaces, Sarah Sladek founded XYZ University, the nation’s first and only generations-focused training and engagement strategy company, in 2002.

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