5 Ways to Foster Successful Associations That Thrive During Tough Times

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I recently attended a Membership All Stars panel of three thought leaders in the association world – Mary Byers, Sheri Jacobs and Sarah Sladek.

Sponsored by the Australasian Society of Association Executives, the virtual event provided a temperature of what associations worldwide are experiencing as a result of the pandemic. The panel provided a variety of membership ideas to inspire, encourage and grow associations during these challenging times. Some of the ideas shared required out of the box thinking, but as we’re learning from these times, unique ideas and perspectives are in order to overcome some of the obstacles we’re facing.

We’ll be looking at:

  • Member engagement
  • Innovative dues models
  • Strategies for successful virtual events
  • Innovation
  • Collaboration

How to engage your members in thoughtful ways

  • First, determine how your members are engaged. Are they reading a publication? Attending a webinar? Volunteering on a committee? There are various levels of engagement today so make sure your membership levels reflect this. Consider offering a tiered membership model like the Colorado Veterinary Medical Association with three engagement and price point levels.
  • Don’t forget your Millennial and Gen Z generations. They want to be invited to join your association. Does your marketing and outreach include a personal invitation in your messaging? They are also looking for opportunities to make a difference and get involved. Remember: A happy member is an involved member.

Throw your old dues models out the window

  • Reconsider your annual membership model to include a lifetime model. Want to build lifetime relationships with your members? Consider offering a lifetime or recurring membership model that doesn’t expire and renews from year to year. Most associations operate on an annual renewal model and that creates a disruption in their membership benefits if a member forgets to renew or gets busy. By creating a lifetime or recurring membership model, you avoid a disruption in benefits and build long-term value. 

Set up your virtual events for success

  • Think outside of the box to expand your reach. One association went from 8,000 attendees at a previous paid live event to 24,000 attendees by offering free conference registration at its virtual event. By tripling its reach, they’re expanding their influence and building relationships beyond their normal audience base. 

    This also creates new opportunities to work with sponsors and exhibitors to offset your virtual conference costs. Sponsors can help introduce sessions or speakers or even provide virtual “breaks” in between sessions to deliver announcements. Check out Meetings & Events under COVID-19: Helpful Resources for Associations to get more ideas.
  • Build value for your virtual event before, during and after. Before the event, provide bonus material on your event topic(s) and after the event, provide a group coaching session on the topics to extend value and provide accountability on the learning and application.

Innovate like never before

  • Foster a culture of innovation throughout your association. All panelists agreed the global pandemic has sparked innovation like never before. Associations are using technology in new ways to create content and change how they serve members. 

Challenge your staff and leadership to regular brainstorming sessions or even hackathons to serve members in new and thoughtful ways that drive value.

Reach beyond your normal base

  • Collaboration is in and boundaries are out. More associations are collaborating with new partners to stretch resources, budgets and talent. As a result, there will be more opportunities to serve a greater reach of members. To deliver value to a diverse audience, it’s important to develop Buyer’s Profiles so you understand your audience and what their needs are. The more you know about the different segments of your membership, the better you will understand what their needs are to deliver relevant content and solutions.

Special thanks to Mary Byers, Sheri Jacobs and Sarah Sladek for sharing their wonderful ideas! There were so many other topics that they addressed but these are the ones that stood out to me the most. During these new normal times, associations have greater permission than ever to branch out and explore new ways of serving their communities and members to set themselves up for the best possible success.

Tell me: Which idea you’ll be implementing for your association or business?

Know Your Ideal Members/Customers

If you’re like most organizations today, you serve a variety of member types – from Matures and Baby Boomers to Generations X, Y and Z. But how do you know which type of content to serve to which member type? We do the research into who your ideal customers are by creating Member/Customer Profiles. These profiles help you better understand your target audience/customer. The more you know, the better you can speak their language and tailor content to meet their buying needs. Let’s get you closer to creating better value for your membership through your content. To learn more about our process, please see Planning and Building Your Content Calendar on our Services page or don’t hesitate to reach out.


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