Relationship Management and Member Retention: A Case Study of an Advocacy Organization

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2007-12-05

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Abstract

A case study of a grassroots advocacy organization was conducted to test and expand relationship theory and to explore perceptions about the relationship between members and the organization.

The case study included interviews with 39 staff members at national, state, and affiliate levels; 58 members; and 5 former members, for a total of 102 participants. Additional methods included 49 hours of participant observation and an examination of both internal and external documents.

The primary relationship type between the organization and its members was communal, and strategies were presented to cultivate communal relationships. This study empirically justified the critic's perspective for classifying relationship types due to one case in which three relationship types emerged, depending on whether the former member's, affiliate staff member's, or my interpretation was used, which also resulted in a new relationship type. Due to these differences in perceptions, this study used the terms intended and perceived when identifying relationship types, which is a clarification for future studies to use.

Cultivation strategies were organized in a new way by classifying them as either organizational management strategies or as interpersonal strategies. This study also discussed cultivation strategies by characterizing some as particularly important to either the early stage of the relationship or to the mature stage of it. Several new cultivation strategies were presented, such as priming, problem parking, and insulation.

This study also opened a new area for relationship theory through a conceptualization and exploration of relationship stresses. This category is organized by stresses that are internal to the organization and those that are external to it. Examples of relationship stresses include the emotion tax, relationship speeding, and relationship stalling. Cultivation strategies are suggested for mitigating relationship stresses.

In addition, this study produced significant insights outside of the research questions by identifying new relationship outcomes, such as co-production, and by claiming capacity to be a higher goal than survival for systems theory. Furthermore, this study clarified the difference between an advocacy and an activist organization. This study also provided rich insights for public relations practitioners, such as presenting strategies to diversify an organization's membership.

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