While the current financial downturn caused by COVID-19 is new, lessons learned from previous recessions can help organizations survive. Finding resilient programs—including certification and microlearning—can help maintain revenue.
With the pandemic having put the kibosh on most revenue streams that require in-person attendance, associations should look for resilient programs to help them maintain a steady flow of revenue in these lean times, said two experts.
“Right now, we need to focus on programs that are most resilient,” said Sharon Rice, managing director of business strategy at .orgSource. “We need to sunset programs that were already on their way out. That sunsetting and managing our product lifecycle is critically important right now: Pulling our resources away from programs that are not resilient and pushing them toward programs that are.”
Rice, who spoke at the webinar “The Impact of a Low Touch Economy on Associations–What is Your Strategy in the New World?” said the programs that are resilient will be ones that are digital and data-driven.
“Resiliency essentially means you have programs that, as we see the economic up and downs, those programs stay important; they’re core to us and our members and people continue to engage,” Rice said. “In the 2008 recession, certification was extremely resilient. Not that we didn’t see downturns in revenue. We did. But it still held onto a pretty high percentage of total revenue in the association. It still contributed at a high level, so certification was resilient.”
After the webinar, I spoke with .orgSource Founder and CEO Sherry Budziak about what resiliency will look like in this pandemic-spurred recession.
“When we talk about resiliency, how do you take those rigid programs that don’t offer enough flexibility to create programs that do?” Budziak said. “Microlearning and micro-credentialing have become very resilient programs, instead of one-and-done programs.”
In general, products that help people improve their skillsets so they look more attractive to their current employer or prospective employers if they have to find a new job tend to be resilient.
“A lot of people are talking about reskilling,” Budziak said. “There are other industries with new jobs being created.”
During the webinar, Rice added that microlearning tends to be more affordable than certifications. “The great thing about microlearning is [that] it’s easier to get your volunteers, your members to develop those,” she said. “We recommend you give them a template, you give them guidance, maybe a little bit of training, and they can start generating those short programs that become super important to the membership base as they try to gain new skills.”
While products that allow for reskilling are a great place to start looking when it comes to determining which programs will be resilient, Budziak said each association is going to be different, so you have to take a holistic look at your programming. As other experts have recommended, Budziak said it’s crucial to cut out programs that are not bringing in revenue at times like this.
“Look at the ones that have historically not brought in the revenue,” Budziak said. “Look at the data, not only the financial data, but the staff resources and what does it take to manage them.”
Budziak said associations should also look at whether their current programs—especially those addressing COVID-19—can be marketed more broadly. One association she works with typically consults on workplace issues for large manufacturers. “They are doing a three-day virtual program on getting back to work,” Budziak said. “They are looking at an extremely broad audience now.”
Finally, Budziak says that if you have a product that members need, you have to make it available to them quickly. “If you’re not getting to market quick enough, they’re going to find what they need somewhere else,” she said.
Budziak noted this can be harder for some associations, depending on the governance structure, as they may need board interaction or approval before launching a product. She recommends minimizing this by putting in place a general framework that the board approves to allow for staff agility.
“You’re losing revenue if you can’t get to those decisions quick enough,” Budziak said. “Put in those guidelines. Say, ‘Hey, we’re having to move quickly on these decisions. Here is where the board will be involved, and here is where the staff will be involved and execute to move quickly to serve our members.’”
Which programs are you finding to be resilient for your association through the pandemic? Share in the comments.