lapsed membersThe other day I was driving home and listening to the 1977 easy listening hit, “Baby Come Back” by Player (A fun aside: Player bassist Ronn Moss would later achieve arguably greater fame playing prodigal son Ridge Forrester on CBS soap opera “Bold and the Beautiful.”)

For the unfamiliar the song is… well, exactly what you think it is. In the song, the narrator has lost his lady love and tries to win her back. It’s a classic tale of loss, regret and the promise of reuniting. It occurred to me that many of our membership professionals, looking at their year-end performance numbers and seeing how many members have left may be facing the same empty feeling.

Why Re-Engage Lapsed Members?

It’s not just nostalgia. The value of re-engaging lapsed members is well documented, and the value is quantified in the commercial sector. According to website Invesp:

  • It costs five times more to attract a new customer than to keep an existing one
  • The success rate of selling to a customer you have is 60-70% while the success rate of selling to a new customer is only 5-20%

Aside from impacts to the bottom line, reengaging lapsed members represents “low-hanging fruit” for many organizations. First, he or she has demonstrated a need for your organization at some point. Second, they’re already familiar with your association and your offerings (although there’s always an opportunity to build greater awareness). Third, and perhaps most importantly, if information about the lapsed member is already in your database, your organization has an unprecedented opportunity to both target them with tailor highly personalized, ultimately more successful, win-back offers.

Understanding Why They Lapsed

While retention is almost always a focus, lapsed members are a normal part of the member lifecycle, faced by organizations of all types and sizes. Recapture campaigns have limited success as they focus exclusively on converting that member from canceled back to active but, without considering what went wrong and what’s going to be different, your relationship may be destined for a breakup – again.

Understanding why members have let their membership lapse is a critical component for reconciling what originally went wrong and building a strong foundation for a long-term relationship. Perhaps the value you’re delivering is no longer aligned with what they’re looking for. Perhaps they never realized the value in the first place because they weren’t engaging in programs due to lack of interest or convenience. (Are your members already struggling to balance work and family alongside a heavy calendar of in-person association events?) It could be that they just got hung up trying to renew their membership because of a bug on your website.

Take the time to understand your audience. Often your AMS will provide you with insight into not only which members have lapsed but why. This data helps you and your staff have improved visibility into the possible issues at hand, allowing you to pinpoint a specific reason driving a lapse in membership and help you quickly understand how you can make the experience better the second time around.

It can also be beneficial to compare lapsed members as a group to your membership. Other than their membership status, is there anything unique about this group? Are members more likely to lapse at a certain membership tier or in a particular geography? Do they tend to be earlier or later in their careers?

Segment out your members into those who lapsed within the past 12 to 24 months versus those who lapsed more than 24 months ago. Consider launching a campaign to help the latter group rediscover your organization and provide compelling reasons why your organization provides value in the first place.

Re-Engage Your Lapsed Members

1. Have a plan

While lapsed members may represent an easier sell because they’re already familiar with your organization, they’ve already made the decision to disengage. Creating a thoughtful, specific strategy for re-engagement, including the tactics you’ll use and the message you’re sharing, is a must. Take advantage of any and all behavioral data in your AMS or constituent management and engagement tools. Review audience-level information about these members to identify which channels work best.

Still feel like you don’t have all of the information you need to create an extensive win-back plan? Consider a single-touch to lapsed members to learn what you could be doing better, remind them of your value proposition and offers a single click to get them back to your website and to get their membership current.

When conducting a win-back campaign or a single touch email, use it as an opportunity to drive interest in the activities and programming that you have planned for the coming year. These serve as an important reminder for the value of your organization’s membership and may make the difference in whether an individual makes the choice to renew.

2. Show them the value

I can’t speak for your email, but mine is full of “We’ve missed you!” messaging from other marketers. And I’m not opening any of them. Are you?

Remember, the focus of win-back campaigns shouldn’t be only on the renewal. If you hone in on simple, binary conversion, it may deliver a short-term boost to the bottom line but it can also introduce unnecessary risk to your long-term success. Focus on what’s in it for the member. Put yourself in their shoes, using what you’ve learned about why they’ve lapsed, what they need and then showcase the value you know will bring them back into the fold.

It goes without saying that all efforts should be as personalized as possible. Whether it’s including personal details in an email (reminding them of the value they realized going to last year’s annual conference and introducing the exciting changes you’ve made to this year’s events) or giving phone calls from your leadership team, members want to feel special. Make these initiatives memorable and use them as an opportunity to show how much they mean to you. This may be your last opportunity to reengage them- make it count!

If you conduct exit or satisfaction surveys with your members, leverage the findings from your surveys in communication to lapsed members. For example, if your association now offers more professional development opportunities that provide CAE credit, lead with that messaging in the subject line of your win-back communication.

3. Offer a discount

It may be that a member’s renewal happened at a time when finances were tight, and he/she couldn’t stomach the cost of renewing. But a good deal is hard to pass up and may make them think about renewing again. Offer a discount to renew their membership or giving them a deal on event registration may entice them to take a second look.

But, remember that it’s not all about the money. Finances may be part of the reason that the member lapsed but ultimately the perceived value was not worth the association membership fee. So, it’s important to reiterate the value that you provide to members in addition to discounting their membership cost.

4. Keep it from happening again

The best way to re-engage and win back lapsed members is by ensuring they never leave. Leverage technology to be proactive. With the efforts from your pre-campaign planning in hand, apply what you’ve learned to the member data within your AMS or CRM to proactively engage members who may lapse. Take advantage of workflows and marketing automation to create an automated campaign to onboard your members or perform immediate outreach to those whose membership falls off your books. These timely strategies will give members a chance to reengage and rejoin your association.

Finally, make renewals easy. Simplify the process for members to renew their membership and limit the amount of information you are requesting from them. If you see that members start to renew their application online but don’t make it fully through the process, evaluate which steps are causing hiccups and how you can streamline.


It’s hard to be on the losing side of a break-up but there are ways to rekindle the feelings that brought these members to your organization in the first place. Ultimately, people want to join your association and stay in it when you provide services they need and enable emotional connections with others in the organization. Take the time to understand who lapsed and why, use those key learnings to develop personalized campaigns to showcase your value (and show them what they’re missing!) and re-engage them now and for the long run.