The Walking Dead: Beware the Zombie Member

(By Colin Perry, Optimum Contact) When COVID-19 hit in March this year, many Australians were forced to change the way they live due to increased financial pressures as a result of losing their job or taking a pay cut. For some, this may have meant cutting down on extra luxuries but for others, it might also mean they reconsider renewing   membership to their professional body.

Many Australian businesses who might normally sponsor membership and ongoing professional development for their team members have “pivoted” away from that support or expense. While the Government has injected a considerable amount of financial assistance to businesses, those funds have, in the main, been utilised for job retention, not discretionary spending.  

Further to this, the recent Association Economic Outlook Report published by Marketing General Incorporated discovered that 69% of associations have seen an increase in engagement from their members following the recession/pandemic, yet 39% of associations are still anticipating a decline in membership over the next 12 months. The decline is likely due to these businesses no longer funding memberships for their staff.

So, what does this mean for your association when your members are relying on the government’s financial assistance payments?

Who is a Zombie Member?

A zombie member is a member who hasn’t renewed their membership but are technically still members for a grace period or, in some cases until they resign in writing. Their membership still exists but isn’t active, (alive but dead if you will).

It’s important to monitor Zombie memberships closely because:

  • They are not normally active or add value to the community
  • They may present to the general public as active financial members using association logo’s and expired post nominal which could damage the associations hard won professional reputation.
  • They do not participate in professional development to maintain standards which could reflect poorly on the sector
  • Their behavior or non-committed attitude can be infectious. 

Preventing Zombie Members

As an association, it’s important to remember that you exist for the good of the members and the sector. Strong support and advocacy, an active engaged community and strong values proposition will help ensure success for you and your members and generate the much-needed revenue to help to keep those important wheels turning.

Therefore, in order to keep your members interested, you need to give them a reason to continue with their membership, even when they’re cutting other expenses out of their budget. Your membership, your community and their connection to it, is paramount, not ‘a nice to have’ – be relevant.  

At Optimum Contact, we help associations find meaningful solutions to maintain active members – How do we do that?

Optimum Contact’s Top Tips:

  • Focus on loyalty

Consider providing special options for longstanding members to maintain their loyalty and to show yours. These might include flexible payment plans, a hardship discount, negotiating shorter membership terms, or placing memberships on hold for a period of time. You can also recognise their contribution and off-set membership fees with value-added activities such as writing for your magazine, presenting a webinar or other CPD options that allow for participation, recognition and continuance in the community as well as mentoring of less experienced members.

Some people forget that membership to a professional association, peak body or union that is directly connected to their primary job is tax deductible – a really valuable thing to remind members of when they are weighing up their options.

  • Maintain the connection

Even if a member chooses not to renew their membership right now, that does not mean never again. Associations should seek an opt-in for future communication so that they can keep their finger on the pulse and continue the valuable membership conversations. Members may quickly realise that they miss the association, the resources and connections to like-minded people – a well-timed “we miss you” call campaign and offer may be able to revive a zombie member.  

Remember, it’s best to maintain the relationship with an active member than to revive a Zombie. Member care calls, especially at this time when many are feeling isolated can mean a lot to members and avoids the “I only hear from you when you want money” stake to the heart.

Optimum Contact can assist your association with member outreach and report back to you with the information we receive.

  • Consider their true needs

In order to maintain loyal members, you need to consider what their priorities are and what they want from their association. A broad-brush approach to a 10% discount or theme park passes in a state they can’t travel to is not going to be valuable to your members.  

When was the last time you asked members what they really want?

Taking the Next Step

Optimum Contact can assist in strengthening your connection with your members and retaining loyal customers. Our team love to have meaningful conversations with members and know how to build the rapport that will secure the outcome your association needs.

By Colin Perry Managing Director of Optimum Contact, an Australian-based company that helps connect professional associations, not-for-profit organisations and unions with their members to drive engagement, value and revenue. Contact Colin Perry and the team from Optimum Contact on 1300 017 293 or cperry@optimumcontact.com.au. Read more at www.optimumcontact.com.au