Solving the 3 Biggest Problems in Membership

Jul 17, 2018

Ask nearly anyone who runs a membership what their biggest struggle is, and chances are that they’ll answer one of three things:

  • Signing members
  • Engaging members
  • Getting members to renew

These are three very different problems that happen at completely different stages of member experience, but I’ve come to believe that there’s one thing you can do that will help you in all three areas simultaneously: capturing stories.

Why stories?
Think for a moment about the benefit that stories could play in each of the problem areas. When people are deciding whether they are going to join, they’ll be actively looking for evidence that you’ve helped people like them to determine if joining will be worth it.

After people have joined, stories inspire members to use the benefits that are offered so that they, too, can see similar results.

Then, at renewal time, stories of success reinforce the progress and transformation that is possible when people stay in the community.

Hence, one solution (stories) applied at multiple places in the member experience make a difference.

How to get started with stories
Story-telling within a membership can take several different formats. Case studies, testimonials, video interviews, member spotlights, etc. can all be used to weave a tale.

What was someone experiencing before they joined?
What surprised them along the way?
How did they conquer their great challenges?
Was there a happy ending? What did it look like?

Remember that the best stories include characters that are relatable. Choose people who reflect the values of your market.

What to do if you don’t have stories – or if you can’t share stories because of privacy reasons?
If your membership is still new, you may feel like you don’t have stories yet. Or it may be difficult to share actual member stories because your members wouldn’t want you airing their problems publicly.

In such situations, you simply choose a representative avatar.

Introduce the avatar to stand-in, facing the same challenges that you see so many people facing. This avatar can be effective until you have real person stories that can be told… or permanently, in the case of privacy concerns.

As an example, for many years, I had several examples on my website to illustrate the kind of administrative support that was provided to membership leaders.

Before introducing the situations, I simply put a statement that the names had been changed for privacy reasons. This allowed me to tell a relatable story without using the actual client.

Susan has been a client since 2014. She single-handedly runs an extremely busy association, splitting her time between an office in her home and a hotel room in Springfield when the legislature is in session. Susan was struggling with how to put administrative assistance in place when she really didn't have any place to house a new staff person. She also only had the budget to hire one person and she was concerned that one person might not have all the skills that would be needed to adequately support the association's diverse needs. Working with has been a terrific fit because it provides a team-based approach, giving her a depth and breadth of expertise that she'd be unlikely to find by direct hiring. Working virtually has also given her the freedom to maintain her travel schedule while administrative tasks like scheduling meetings and managing committee emails happen automatically.

In a single 2-week period, here’s how we helped:

  • Met with Susan by phone to flesh out a plan for the Association's upcoming Annual Meeting. This was turned into a formal project plan which was monitored weekly until the event.
  • Monitored a dedicated support email address for incoming communications from members. Responded as needed.
  • Formatted a fact sheet for Susan to use during an upcoming event.
  • Sent out committee meeting confirmations and cancellations to the master distribution lists that our team maintains for the association. Made corresponding changes to Susan's online calendar.
  • Contacted legislator offices from a list that Susan gave us to set up meetings for the two days that the association’s members will be in the State Capitol to lobby.
  • Created a summary schedule for an upcoming event. Distributed that schedule to the client's Board of Directors.
  • Made and confirmed Susan's lodging and dinner meeting reservations.
  • Compiled success stories from association members into a single Word document and saved the file to the association's shared folder.
  • Compiled data sent in from a member poll to a single spreadsheet. Saved the spreadsheet to the association's shared folder.
  • Listened in on a weekly recurring teleconference to capture key notes/assignments. Prepped summary for Susan.
  • Formatted Board meeting agenda and distributed full packet prior to the meeting.
  • Created an invitation for a client’s legislative reception. Made edits based on client feedback. Ordered invitations and had them shipped directly to the client’s headquarters.
  • Researched proper format for a formal Board resolution. Modified a client’s content to fit that format so that it could be presented at an upcoming Board meeting.
  • Responded to member questions about a client’s upcoming event.

In addition to showcasing these “stories” on my website to attract new clients, these were also used with existing clients to show them additional opportunities for how they could utilize the team, and if they weren’t already leveraging these possibilities, they could gain more value from their experience.

Same story, used for three different purposes.

I’d love to hear if you’re weaving story-telling into your marketing and engagement experience. Share your tale in the comments.


Joy Duling is Founder and CEO of The Joy of Membership.  Since 2005, Joy and her team have helped associations, trade groups and membership-based nonprofits run their programs more easily and deliver exceptional member care.

You can find FREE tools, tips and training to help you run and grow your membership organization in The Joy of Membership Help Hub.




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Joy Duling is Founder and CEO of The Joy of Membership.  Since 2005, Joy and her team have helped associations, trade groups and membership-based nonprofits run their programs more easily and deliver exceptional member care.

You can find FREE tools, tips and training to help you run and grow your membership organization in The Joy of Membership Help Hub.