• ESAE

Membership retention: Introducing change to a traditional Membership Structure

Updated: Jul 1

45 Association Professionals worked together in groups, addressing some major retention challenges Associations might be facing in today’s disruptive environment. These sessions took place as part of our April 2021 event “How to avoid a membership retention crisis?”. The case studies, developed by ESAE, allowed for participants to share insights and expertise to develop potential solutions together.



Case: International Moving and Relocation Industry Association


Staff: Mid-sized trade Association with 14 staff.

Membership: 600 from over 100 countries. Mix of large international companies and SMEs. restricted governance rules and unchanged membership structure

Finances: Stable.

Main activities: education, industry seminars, certification schemes, industry guidelines as reference points, financial protection programme, networking, annual conference.


Case study scenario


The long-standing Association is facing a major change in the market landscape. It has a very diverse membership, and the changes are putting different kinds of pressure on different member groups. Competition is increasing, as other international Associations are developing similar services and activities. The Association wants to take a strategic shift and change its membership structure and adapt its services to better fit the landscape changes. The governance structure, however, is conservative, and not conducive to embrace change.


Tips from the ESAE community


Change must be introduced in small steps while still having a long-term plan – the Association needs to know where it is going in the long term.


“You have to think ‘evolution’ more than ‘revolution’ when introducing change to members.”


Any change should be justified with relevant data, for example, such that can be extracted from membership surveys. Get stakeholders on board by creating clear project assignments through committees or task forces, and with specific deliverables. This will create a joint perception of responsibility. In order to avoid governance changes backfiring, the Association needs to first make sure that key members are on board before introducing change to the wider audience, for example through informal discussions. At the same time, the smaller members should likewise be given due consideration, so as not to feel excluded from the decision-making processes.


To successfully continue retaining members, the Association should be aware of what the competition looks like by conducting a competitive analysis and this way finding their own market niche, one that value can be built upon. Is the current vision and mission aligned with member needs? Finally, the Association should be the “bearer of high standards”, so that members really see the value in their membership. This way, individual and corporate members will become the real-life ambassadors of the Association, which will in turn be very powerful in attracting new members.


Many thanks to Magali Horbert and Michiel Gen for skillfully moderating the workshop and to our participants for their excellent contributions. ESAE members have received a full post-event report with all key takeaways summarized, together with a recording of the plenary session. Check out our Knowledge Library for more useful material and join ESAE to be part of the dialogue!