Rooted for Success: A Fresh Approach to Understanding the Member Life Cycle

The field of marketing can be overwhelming with its ever-growing array of terminology and jargon. To simplify matters for my clients, I often use analogies and metaphors to help provide a memorable picture. One specific challenge is explaining the marketing funnel or target life cycle, as funnels and life cycles are not daily aspects in my life. If these concepts seem out of touch for me, it becomes even more challenging to convey their significance to clients.

However, during a recent gardening session, a compelling analogy struck me pertaining to the member life cycle. I am excited to share this analogy with you, as it has significantly enhanced my own comprehension of the member life cycle, and strengthen its strategic importance. It has been instrumental in my development of a revised take on member journey mapping, which I will be sharing soon.

The Lifecycle of an Association Member: The Apple Tree Analogy

Cultivating an apple tree and nurturing a member in a professional organization bear remarkable similarities. Both endeavors require care, attention, dedication, and a long-term vision to yield fruitful results.

Member Life Cycle - Apple Tree Analogy

Recruitment: Planting The Seed

Member Life Cycle - Apple Tree Analogy - Phase 1Just as an apple tree begins with planting a seed, the member journey starts with planting “seeds” of awareness. Organizations want to attract and recruit potential members who align with their mission, values, and goals. Effective outreach at the local level, highlighting the benefits of membership, and communicating the prospective member’s potential impact within the organization and the wider profession all play a key role.

Orientation & Onboarding: Nurturing the Seedling

Member Life Cycle - Apple Tree Analogy - Phase 2Once the seed is planted, the nurturing process begins of your first-year-members. For long-term growth, we want to ensure optimal growth conditions occur for the seedling. Upon joining, new members should particiate in orientation and onboarding programs designed to acquaint them with the organization’s culture, structure, expectations, and how they can contribute to and benefit from their membership. This phase is pivotal in fostering a sense of welcome, value, and connection. You can also see by their engagement who will likely become a renewing member by their level of participation, and who are likely to “fall off.” “Seedlings” especially benefit from mentorship programs, training, and engagement opportunities, allowing them to find their place within the organization.

Member Engagement & Retention: Strengthen the Roots


Remember at every phase of membership to provide the right elements to help members thrive.

Member Life Cycle - Apple Tree Analogy - Phase 3The subsequent stage involves deepening the roots, which correlates to engaging members and strengthening their ties with the organization. Similar to providing an apple tree with appropriate nutrients and conditions for robust root development, member engagement initiatives such as networking events and professional development opportunities foster a greater sense of involvement and commitment. Regular communication and feedback mechanisms address members’ needs and expectations, nurturing a sense of belonging and ultimately enhancing retention rates.

Member Development: Growth and Branching Out

Member Life Cycle - Apple Tree Analogy - Phase 4As the apple tree grows, it branches out. Likewise, as members acquire knowledge, skills, and confidence, they explore various areas within the organization. They may assume new roles, contribute to diverse projects, or provide guidance and mentorship to newer members. This phase signifies personal and professional growth, demonstrating the potential for members to evolve within the organization. Organizations should focus on retaining and nurturing members during this stage by offering on-going training, recognizing achievements, and involving members in decision-making processes.

Active Leadership & Contribution: Bearing Fruit

Member Life Cycle - Apple Tree Analogy - Phase 5Over time, a well-nurtured apple tree begins to bear fruit. In the context of a member association, this fruit-bearing phase entails members assuming active leadership roles, such as serving on the board, leading committees, or becoming spokespersons. They may also contribute to the organization’s publications, research, and advocacy efforts, thereby adding value to the organization and its mission. Similar to the fruits of an apple tree, these leaders symbolize the tangible outcomes of investments made in the member life cycle.

Legacy and Succession: Seeding New Trees

planting seeds with their legacy iconUltimately, a mature apple tree produces seeds that germinate into new trees, perpetuating a cycle of growth. Similarly, senior members within an organization shape future leaders, impart their wisdom, and leave behind a legacy that sustains the organization’s progress. They may also aid in attracting new members by sharing their experiences and the benefits derived from their membership.


In conclusion, nurturing a member’s life cycle within a professional organization mirrors the strategic and patient process of tending to an apple tree. It revolves around continuous growth, engagement, and nurturing. When managed carefully, it ensures the longevity and prosperity of the association, much like a thriving orchard.

The life cycle of a member in a professional organization is a widely discussed topic in association management. Too often, I see the customer life cycle repurposed for associations but it is never an optimal fit. I hope this analogy helps to break down the intricate stages of membership into easily comprehensible phases both for your team and others. Furthermore, I hope it offers a captivating way to communicate these ideas, engaging stakeholders in meaningful conversations about membership development and rendering the concept more relatable.

This is a work in progress for me so I will continue to discuss and refine. Love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

About Me

Hello, I'm Jeny. With more than 20 years of experience in marketing strategy, brand positioning, and content development, I collaborate with clients to develop strategies and action plans to streamline their marketing and achieve their goals.

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