While it may seem counterintuitive for a membership organization to break up with members, there are times when it makes more sense for you to go your separate ways. But when is that? When is the drama, the check, or the difficult personality worth it? 

In this article, we’re going to cover all aspects of breaking up with a member including:

  • When enough is enough. Reasons you might need to terminate a membership (or have a serious conversation about expectations).
  • How to handle the breakup.
  • ​Ways to manage chamber member departures over unpaid dues.
  • The importance of recruiting your ideal member initially to cut down on the need for breakups.

Understanding When It’s Time to Break Up with a Chamber Member

Breaking up with a member is never a decision to be taken lightly. However, there are circumstances where it may be necessary for the health and integrity of the chamber, not to mention your sanity. When breaking up with a member, you’ll likely be less direct than you would when ending another type of relationship.

We’re not saying you should call them and revoke their membership. Most of the time, you’ll simply wait for them not to renew. But there are times when you know someone is not a great fit and you may assume they’re not getting the value out of chamber membership. That’s a great time for a conversation.

You might choose to do that for any number of these reasons:

Non-Compliance. If a member consistently fails to adhere to the chamber's code of conduct or violates policies, it may be necessary to part ways. This is especially true in the case of a board member.

Dip in Engagement. Members who no longer actively participate in chamber events, initiatives, or networking opportunities may not be deriving value from membership, particularly if they were involved in the past and you’ve seen a sharp decline in participation. Open the doors to communication to ask about the change.

Misalignment of Values. If a member's values or business practices conflict with those of the chamber or its mission, it may be best to part ways amicably.

Financial Issues. Members who repeatedly fail to pay their membership dues despite reminders and outreach should be removed from the roster. Look at your by-laws to see when that is the appropriate action.

Speaking of…

How to Handle the Breakup

When a member expresses their desire to discontinue their membership, it presents an opportunity for you to have a conversation and potentially salvage the relationship.

Here are some ideas if you’re hoping to encourage them to renew:

Listen and Understand. Listen to your member's reasons for discontinuing their membership. Understanding their concerns or challenges is crucial in determining whether there's room for resolution.

Address Concerns. If the member's decision is based on specific issues or dissatisfaction, try to address those concerns directly. Demonstrating a commitment to their needs can turn things around.

Highlight Value Proposition. Reinforce the value proposition of chamber membership. Emphasize the unique benefits and opportunities that serve their goals (not a laundry list of all the things membership can provide). Members may not fully appreciate the value they receive, so reminding them can help in reconsidering their decision. In rare instances, you may offer something they know nothing about so there is value in having a conversation if they will spare the time.

Offer Flexibility. Explore flexible membership options tailored to the member's needs. This could involve adjusting membership levels, benefits, or payment plans to better align with their circumstances or preferences. Some chambers have even implemented a free membership tier to further emphasize how the chamber serves all businesses in the community.

Personalized Engagement. Demonstrate the chamber's commitment to the member's success. Offer to connect them with relevant resources, introduce them to potential partners or clients, or provide support in addressing specific business challenges before they go.

Financial Assistance or Incentives. In cases where financial constraints are cited as the primary reason for discontinuing membership, you can explore creative solutions such as offering payment plans, discounts, or deferred payment options. Chambers can also provide information on available grants, funding opportunities, or cost-saving initiatives that could alleviate financial burdens for the member. It’s even possible to offer member scholarships through a sponsor.

Handling Chamber Member Departures Over Unpaid Dues

There are instances where members fail to meet their financial obligations in paying their dues. When this happens, you need to make decisions about when to cut ties. There may be some occasions when a failure to pay dues does not result in removal from your membership list. For instance, the year after COVID some chambers allowed members a recovery grace period before they were dropped for non-payment.

However, if they’ve exceeded all grace periods and you know it’s time to end the relationship, consider the following approaches:

Communicate Openly. If a member expresses their intention to leave, take the opportunity to understand their reasons. See if there's any room for reconciliation or a change of mind. Find out what was missing from their experience. Offer an exit interview to gather feedback that could benefit the chamber. Keep in mind sometimes no matter what, it’s not you, it’s them.

Enforce Policies. If a member hasn't paid their dues despite reminders, follow the chamber's established procedures for addressing non-payment. This may involve suspending benefits or ultimately revoking membership. If you continue to float non-paying members, your paying members may wonder why they’re paying when others aren’t.

Avoid Assumptions. Regardless of the circumstances, always handle member departures or non-payment issues with professionalism and respect. Don’t make assumptions about the business. It's crucial to preserve the business' and the chamber's reputation and relationships within the business community.

Adopt a Supportive and Professional Approach. It’s hard not to take a non-renewal personally but sometimes there’s just no turning it around. When this happens, it's essential to maintain a supportive and professional demeanor. Members who feel respected and supported, even in their decision to discontinue membership, are more likely to speak positively about their chamber experience. They may even consider rejoining in the future if their situation changes.

Sometimes the best way to avoid a breakup is to spend more time recruiting your ideal members. While we want to believe that the chamber can help every business, some businesses seem to get more value and remain loyal members for longer. Professionals in some industries tend to be a “one-and-done” type of member. Let’s look at them next.

Chamber Peers Ring In

Several members of the Chamber of Commerce Pro’s Facebook Group shared their experiences with non-renewals and failures to pay. Because of the sensitive nature of the subject, we are publishing their comments anonymously.

Here are their suggestions on breaking up and winning them back:

"No amount of great work that you do as a Chamber will make up for people's personal grievances with others. We send a letter letting them know we have deactivated their membership, and they are no longer receiving chamber benefits. I also write a personal note on the letter letting them know that we will miss them and to let us know when they are ready to rejoin."

"Ultimately that (leaving) is their decision. We have a couple in my community as well. I have told them I am still a supporter of their business, and if they ever want to join again that's great! But can't waste more time courting them."

"We recently sent out a major purge letter and four of them immediately contacted us and wanted to renew--got lost in the mail."

"Our by-laws state you have six months to pay or we drop you as a member! When I took my position a little over two years ago, billing was a MESS! My membership coordinator and I straightened it out and now have a system. First month normal bill, second and third month past due notice, fourth month a letter from me telling them they have two months and a lot of times that’s when we make a call or visit. Then at the middle of five months, we give them a drop date in a letter if it’s not paid by that date! We’ve stuck to it firmly and in the last month had two members rejoin who realized we dropped them after multiple attempts! Both those members we had personally visited too, so they weren’t clueless! We keep it all on a master spreadsheet with notations of everything piece of correspondence and the date so that we have proof if anyone ever claims they didn’t know!"

"If they haven’t paid in two months past their renewal date they just aren’t going to. Why extend them the benefits?"

"If you have tried multiple times…just let them go. Send a quick email or give them a call to thank them for their membership, and say they'll be missed, and you'd love having them back when they're ready. Then take them off your mailing list and move on. Check in every few months to see where they're at. It's not worth the energy if the answer is always going to be 'no.'"

"After we go through the motions, we send an email thanking them and that we’re sure their decision to leave the chamber was well thought out. If they want to consider membership in the future we would be here. Attach a survey. In six months send a mailer with a list of incentives and a QR code to your membership application. People come and go and sometimes they need to cool off because their emotions ran high."

"I send a 'thank you for your past support -- here is what you are missing'….typically they do come back. FOMO."

"Your bylaws should indicate timing for a drop. 90 days is industry standard. Send an email letting them know you removed them from your list of business referrals and leave an opportunity for them to return when the timing is right for them. Allowing then to drag you on trains them to do it regularly. Its business, move on, you are wasting energy better spent on your supporting members."

"When we would send out our monthly letter, I would include new members and dropped members, sometimes you can use it as a guilt thing. I have also brought the dropped names to my board meetings and told my board members about the drops in the case they have a personal relationship with those members."

"We used to send (a letter) at my former chamber that reminded them that per our bylaws, we were required to remove them from the active membership and had it signed by all the members of our executive committee, many who were pillars in the community and with whom they did business. It was remarkably effective for renewal when they knew that all these individuals were aware of their failure to pay dues."

Recruiting Ideal Members

Sometimes the best way to avoid a breakup is to spend more time recruiting your ideal members. While we want to believe that the chamber can help every business, some businesses seem to get more value and remain loyal members for longer. Professionals in some industries tend to be a “one-and-done” type of member. Let’s look at them next.

Examine the members who broke up with you last year (or the ones you chose to say goodbye to). What do they have in common? Is there a profession or industry they share? Did the break appear to be financial? How involved were they? How many touchpoints occurred between the member and someone representing the chamber?

Prevention is often the best remedy for avoiding the pain of a breakup. By identifying and recruiting ideal members from the outset, chambers can minimize the likelihood of future conflicts, issues, or lack of interest.

You can do this by:

  • Knowing Your Ideal Member. Define the characteristics, values, and industries that align best with your chamber's mission and objectives. Create member personas.
  • Using Targeted Recruitment. Focus your recruitment efforts on businesses and individuals who fit the profile of your ideal member. This can involve targeted marketing, outreach to specific industries, or leveraging existing networks for referrals.
  • Providing (and Marketing Your) Value. Continuously assess and enhance the benefits and services offered to members to ensure they derive maximum value from their membership. Engaged and satisfied members are less likely to consider leaving.
  • ​​Leveraging Friendships. People are more apt to stay with the chamber when they have a group of friends in your organization. Creating a formalized referral program among your members can help.

As the song warns us, “Breaking up is hard to do.” But sometimes it’s necessary for the overall health and effectiveness of the chamber. By handling departures and non-payment issues with professionalism and by proactively recruiting ideal members, you can mitigate the need for future breakups and maintain strong, mutually beneficial relationships within the business community.


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