What does member retention look like in your organization? You’ve taken the time to articulate the benefits of your facility and programs, a new individual or family has signed up and their enthusiasm is high…now how do you ensure that your new member gets involved, sees value in their membership and you retain them when it comes time for renew?

Many YMCA and JCC organizations struggle with member retention, and 2020 has amplified these challenges. A study conducted of 17 YMCAs across the U.S. found that, without intervention, 63% of new members stopped exercising within six months of joining the organization and, unsurprisingly, member termination often followed.

We’re sharing a collection of tips and strategies to help you retain your members, even during these challenging times when in-person activities are limited.

Why Member Retention Matters

As the old adage goes, it’s more expensive to acquire a new customer than it is to retain a current one. How much time does your team spend reaching out to potential new members versus enriching and cultivating relationships with your current ones? And, how often does your leadership team review retention numbers and look for correlations with program usage, differences across facilities, age and gender distribution, and more?

6 Ways to Increase Member Retention…Yes, Even In a Pandemic

1. Prioritize Members’ Needs and Align Programs to Meet Them.

Your members have unique goals and needs and specific reasons that they joined your organization in the first place. This can include a gym with childcare options, group workout classes, programs for seniors, or summer camps for kids. When your members first enroll, leverage surveys and phone calls from your staff to identify their individual needs and guide them to programs that align with their goals.

Some organizations have used journey mapping to identify initiatives and programs that are most valuable to members. Front desk staff may hear comments and frustrations with limited pool access or crowded locker rooms during peak periods but mapping the full member experience may point to optimizing the workout class schedule as an improvement where you’ll get the most bang for your buck.

Additionally, what’s important to members may have changed over the past few months. They may want to know how many people will be in a certain workout class before they come to the facility and what percent of the time they’ll have to spend indoors. Have you shifted your communication efforts to share the information that’s most important right now?

The Y-USA finds that new members are 50% more likely to leave if they don’t make friends and cannot meet their wellness goals. And, if members have few or no interactions with staff in their first month after joining, they are 50% less likely to return the following month. Look for opportunities to make connections between members as well as staff and provide members with easy ways to track their goals and progress towards them. I’ll share more on tracking progress in a moment.

For your existing members, consider ways to keep them engaged with others at the organization. For example, a member referral program can provide a reduced monthly fee to members who recruit their friends or family to join the organization. Both members can take advantage of the reduced monthly rate, they have gained a workout buddy and your membership base has grown.

2. Reinforce the Value That You Provide to Members.

Make sure to highlight the results of your work in personalized emails and member newsletters, reminding them of the programs that are unique to them and that you care about their needs and are working hard to meet them.

This is especially important during the pandemic when members are able to take advantage of a limited number of programs and facilities. Make sure to communicate often about the changes that you’ve made to accommodate social distancing, which facilities are open, changes to processes such as booking classes and more. And, consider providing members with a year-end summary statement of benefits where you quantify the value of the benefits they’ve received.

3. Make Membership Affordable and Streamline the Renewal Process.

Membership affordability is always a concern, but it is particularly relevant this year when many families have lost their jobs, experienced pay cuts or had to prioritize their limited resources. Revisit your membership options to ensure that you can accommodate a range of budgets and options. While in-person interactions are still limited, consider membership options that allow people to take advantage of digital programming only and provide ways for people to pause their membership and resume billing at a future date.

Organizations tend to focus on retention every 12 or 13 months instead of thinking about it on a monthly basis. Instead, evaluate your member retention data and discussions during the time periods when people are making a decision to renew their membership. If the majority of your members are paying their dues monthly, they’re considering the value of that membership each month and not just at the end of their renewal cycle.

4. Is your organization a place where people know your name?

 Sometimes you wanna go

Where everybody knows your name…

Okay, but really. Your staff plays a crucial role in facilitating relationships and helping members feel welcome every time that they walk through the door. Emphasize the importance among your team of getting to know members personally. Remembering first names is important, of course, but it can certainly be difficult. Instead, focus on details that are relevant to that member such as why they joined the organization, their fitness goals, what’s happening in their lives, etc. Front desk staff and trainers can make notes about these details in the member’s record and quickly reference them when he or she shows up for a class or training session.

When a prospective new member is given a tour of your facility, encourage staff to introduce them to other people in the organization. In a socially distant world, you can make introductions via your member community or launching a virtual buddy program. By creating these connections prior to member enrollment, you’ve built a reason for them to come back and instilled a tight-knit community atmosphere in your organization. When that member comes back for their first program or workout, they’ve already met a few people and feel like they’re part of the community.

5. Get Members Plugged In.

Your member community is a powerful tool for member retention. Often, members may feel that they’re solely responsible to keep up their exercise program and training schedule. Find ways for members to collaborate with and support one another as they work towards their goals.

You can host community events and hangouts for targeted groups such as members who joined in a particular month, those recently signed up for personal training, parents of young kids, and more. Encourage people to come early to a workout session, whether it’s in-person or virtual, or stay later to get to know their classmates. Introduce new members to people who frequent your facility often and find ways for staff to engage with all members, both the newbies and veterans.

6. Communicate Often and Help Members Track Their Progress.

Communication can help keep engagement high for some members. Consider accountability programs where members receive notifications when they have missed multiple sessions or are visiting your facility less often. The first sign of a member not being engaged is missing a week or two of workouts. Consider having your staff reach out, ideally someone they already know, to find out if anything has changed with their goals and how your team can support them.

Tracking progress can be difficult and it’s hard to bounce back once you’ve missed out on a few sessions. You can integrate your member management software with tracking programs and apps on a member’s phone or smart watch. The YMCA of the Twin Cities did this by engaging Personify, NetPulse, and eGym to leverage an Apple technology program for their members. Members check into the facility by scanning their Apple Watch and log into equipment at the facility that track metrics and progress in wellness programs. Members are also able to renew their membership using their Apple Watch, which is integrated with all of the member’s information in Personify.

Want to Learn More About Member Retention?

Check out our Endurance Training eBook, which details Personify’s research on young members at YMCA and JCC organizations, and includes their perception of membership, the programs and outreach techniques most effective in compelling them to join and how they prefer to engage with your organization.