The storm of COVID-19 is not over—far from it—but now is a good time to see what associations have achieved in demonstrating relevant value for members as the crisis continues. Here are a few success stories.
A recent ASAE webinar, “The Impact of COVID-19 on Membership: A CEO Dialogue,” featured three association leaders sharing their successes in engaging, retaining, and recruiting new members amid an unprecedented crisis. Their experiences provide takeaways for all associations to use as they continue to chart a course, often without a map, for the months ahead. Spoiler alert: Taking risks is key.
When COVID-19 led to office closures, the Greater Washington Society of CPAs was in a good position to transition to remote work. They had begun the shift in August 2019, gave up their long-term lease, and their seamless switch to remote work allowed them to jump on member issues quickly.
They were already about 75 percent ready to launch a new online member community. Because they knew members needed to connect quickly as the pandemic spread, they accelerated the last phase of the project and launched it ahead of schedule in March.
“Taking that risk and jumping into something wouldn’t have been our preferred way of launching it, but I think taking that risk was very important for us,” said GWSCPA Executive Director Kari Bedell.
Make It Personal
Like many others in the travel industry, American Bus Association members took an enormous hit because of COVID-19. ABA immediately shifted to communications focused almost entirely on COVID-19. They also took a strong personal approach and reached out to each of their more than 3,000 members. Making personal connections was important, said Lia Zegeye, ABA’s senior director, because it acknowledged the pain and the struggles each member was facing.
The direct communications also gave ABA a better understanding of what members actually needed during the crisis. “This is a time for associations to lead,” Zegeye said.
Meet Member Needs
It’s not a surprise that the American Nurses Association experienced a dramatic surge in new memberships because of COVID-19. ANA’s membership grew 12 percent in April and May, and over 23,000 new members have joined.
Carol Cohen, CAE, ANA’s director of membership development, said nurses had an acute need for information and support because of the pandemic.
“We have managed to meet those needs in a meaningful way,” Cohen said, “and that has generated this unprecedented engagement.”
ANA developed an on-demand COVID-19 webinar series free to all nurses—not just members. They repurposed existing webinars to deliver targeted content and then quickly developed new ones to address COVID-19. ANA garnered 130,000 registrants—cumulatively—for the series. A targeted membership email to those registrants, likely more receptive to a membership ask, led to approximately 2,600 new members.
“The key is the speed with which we were able to pivot to change topics and deliver relevant and timely content when the demand was at its peak,” Cohen said, acknowledging that the current demand will not last forever.
Throw Out the Playbook
ABA and ANA have both extended their grace period for membership renewals and have each had success with a monthly dues payment structure. ANA’s Cohen said new members, who skew younger, are opting for monthly payments and like it better because it mimics other subscription models in their lives.
There is a risk to all of these steps, she said: “We’re usually more careful but made all kinds of changes without testing them. We felt we had no choice given the circumstances.”
Thriving associations will be the ones who tap into what’s happened and go forward with the lessons they have learned in a crisis instead of waiting to go back to things the way they were before, Zegeye said. “The way we do business has changed forever.”