Here's where it gets more complicated. You have to manage the membership. This means, you have to manage the work and mission of your organization and provide the expected services. In addition, you have to be sure to deliver on all of the benefits and promises you've stated when recruiting and renewing members. I'll use the Chamber of Commerce as an example again. The mission of the Chamber where I spent the most years was to make the city a better place to live, work, and do business. Some of what we provided included seminars and workshops to help existing small businesses and encourage new business growth. We offered ribbon-cutting ceremonies for new businesses, we were a referral service for our members, and we had committees focused on things like economic development, government affairs, or education. That was the job of the Chamber and the expectation of the community as a whole. In addition, there were benefits of membership like monthly business luncheons, window decals, listings in directories and brochures, monthly newsletters, and such. We needed to do our job of making the city a better place to live, work, and do business, but we also had to deliver those promised benefits to the members to keep them engaged and retain their membership. If we didn't make sure every member received their promised benefits, we'd lose them. That, in turn, would cause a revenue loss and hurt our ability to provide the programs and services. An integral piece of the puzzle to keep members in the fold is a good system for membership renewals. A typical organization renews members on a set cycle, like a fiscal year or a calendar year, or they use the anniversary of the membership activation. Using a Chamber, which was set up on an anniversary model, as an example again, if I joined and paid annual dues in October of 2015, I would expect to receive my renewal letter and invoice in September of 2016. I read an interesting article recently at associationnow.com about dues, cycles, and membership metrics. It talked about the anniversary model being more prevalent among individual membership organizations and large associations, and the calendar dues cycle being more prevalent in trade associations and small staff organizations. It also noted a study from 2013 that showed anniversary cycles showing an overall increase in membership but calendar cycles showing a slightly higher retention rate. I know here at UC Davis, I changed a longstanding anniversary model for our leadership annual giving gift club to a fiscal year model. The reasons behind the change were staff resources to manage renewals. Frankly, it was taking a lot of time to manage, and there was also confusion from our donors who didn't know when they were supposed to renew. The change started in July of 2015. The response on the first renewal mailing we did in the fall garnered four times the results of all the mailings from the prior fiscal year. The fiscal year model made more sense to us and it seems to have made more sense to the donors. Whichever model you follow, just as an annual giving, be consistent with your timing. Regardless of the cycle, anniversary, or calendar, the process would be the same. You start with a renewal letter and dues invoice. The letter should talk about renewing their membership, thank the members for their support, and talk about why their continued membership and support is imperative to the success of the organization. This is your solicitation letter, basically, just like in annual giving. Sell your story and ask them to renew. An invoice should be included as well with the membership dues amount and due date. If a member doesn't pay their dues after receiving their renewal letter and invoice, have a follow up reminder system in place. This is just like any other unpaid invoice with a business, and a lot like a pledge reminder as well. You send 30-day reminders, 60-day reminders, and 90-day reminders. I also like to use a last chance letter as the final letter before a membership is cancelled. In this letter, you talk about the importance of membership, the impact of your organization, how much you've appreciated their membership and support, and that you hate to see them go. And let them know they'll be welcomed back anytime. The last step of the renewal process is acknowledgement. Just like annual giving, you must thank your members for supporting you. Memberships in organizations and associations are a choice. They can choose to support you or not, and you want them to continue to support you. Always follow up membership renewals with timely acknowledgements that show the organization's gratitude. Maybe those letters or thank you notes come from the president, a board member, the executive director, you make those decisions based on your organization's structure. Now that we've covered marketing, recruitment, and renewals, I'd like to briefly talk about keeping your members engaged throughout the year. In addition to managing the benefits and instituting a renewal process, what else do you need to do? You need to keep your members engaged with your organization. This can be accomplished in a multitude of ways, so be creative. Newsletters, both print versions and e-newsletters, are great tools. Send out regular email communications with organization information, invitations, and updates. I've seen some membership organizations that do monthly member spotlights. I love this because it's great stewardship for those donors that get spotlighted but it's also really good for building a sense of community among your members. Keep your Facebook and Twitter accounts up-to-date and current. Post regularly and keep the information useful, interesting, and fresh. I had colleagues a couple of years ago who split the social media duties for their department up by week. Each team member was responsible for a week and it rotated from person to person. This helped distribute the burden of the task, but it also built a friendly rivalry among the team because they wanted their post to get more likes and shares than their team mates'. Think about your organization in any activities that may be interesting and meaningful to your members: workshops and seminars that help your members, networking activities like luncheons, coffee talks, or receptions, trade or business fairs, volunteer opportunities. The opportunities are endless depending on what you do, and keep in mind that activities can be formal and planned or informal in nature. I can share a couple of personal examples of informal activities that kept my Chamber members engaged. I used to produce a monthly print newsletter for one of my Chambers that was mailed to the membership. It had to be stuffed with paid advertisements before it was mailed. Every month, a dedicated group of members would come to the office and spend an afternoon helping with the project. These volunteers were a huge help to me and I believe they kept coming month after month and renewing their memberships because they felt needed, and they were indeed needed. And another membership organization I worked at, we had an informal Open House on Friday afternoons. It developed rather organically but after a period of time, the members knew about it and we would sometimes end up with a dozen or so people many Friday afternoons in the boardroom visiting, eating snacks, and sharing ideas. These little things make a difference. They make your members feel more engaged with you. We've covered a lot of ground. For memberships, we talked about the basics of a dues-driven membership organization and talked about how the renewal process and acquisition are similar to annual giving solicitations. Namely, you need to have a good system in place and be consistent in your timing and your messaging. We talked about marketing, recruiting, and managing memberships. We covered engaging your membership throughout the year through communications and activities. Remember, this is critical for retention. And we reviewed ideas for building a benefits package for your organization that is meaningful to your membership as well as the importance of providing all of the benefits you promised to your members.