What factors lead to the choice not to renew? How can we increase renewal rates and create targeted messages to re-engage lapsed Members?

SFMOMA asked us to dig into these questions, and the findings allowed them to tackle the complex challenge of why Members lapse.

SFMOMA’s membership team were already exploring innovative strategies to boost membership and keep current Members engaged. However, the team recognized that renewal rates were falling and identified an urgent need for insight to help reverse this trend.

A multi-method approach

Asking about reasons for lapsing isn’t straightforward – often multiple factors are involved in the decision not to renew. Sometimes it isn’t even a conscious decision, but a failure to act.

To ensure we captured all the nuanced reasons someone might lapse, we first crowdsourced ideas and opinions from within the SFMOMA membership team and beyond. We asked staff to feedback on what might be causing Members to lapse, generating ideas and theories to inform the creation of an online survey.

By creating a streamlined, concise online survey (and offering a generous incentive for taking part) we were able to exceed our target of 250 responses from lapsed Members, resulting in robust quantitative data on the reasons Members are deciding not to renew. We explored these reasons further with ten respondents who were invited to take part in a short depth interview.

Re-defining what value looks like

Lapsed SFMOMA Members were generally satisfied with their experience; over half reported that they visited the Museum at least three times in their last year of membership (although self-reported data of this nature may need to be taken with a pinch of salt) and 55% said they were likely to re-join in the future. So if these lapsed Members hadn’t been pushed away by SFMOMA, why had they chosen not to renew?

Our data suggested that many SFMOMA Members were viewing their membership as a transaction; a way to get great value for money and enhance a visit to the Museum. Therefore, many lapsed Members were biding their time, waiting to re-join when it was most financially beneficial: when an exhibition they wanted to see was on display.

We recommended that the team prioritize quick wins (such as offering discounts in return for immediate renewal, creating a sense of appreciation through small gestures or gifts and reminding Members about the value of gifting membership to others) while also working towards longer-term prizes. These longer-term goals will likely include unlocking a sense of altruism and support through embedding mission and support-related messages in Members’ communications.

While it’s possible to re-engage lapsed Members in the short term with additional discounts and other benefits which provide great value for money, the key to long-term retention is redefining value for money beyond the transaction.


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