Brand Connection

4 Ways Resilient Associations Have Survived and Thrived in the Pandemic

/ Sep 23, 2020 (Personify)

What have resilient associations done to prioritize members, strengthen their mission and remain successful during the COVID-19 pandemic? Personify spoke with leaders across the industry to learn more.

Like all businesses and organizations, associations have been hit hard by the devastating physical, mental and financial effects of the coronavirus pandemic. From the biggest associations to the smallest, the lockdown put team members into last-minute scrambles to salvage conferences, to communicate constantly-changing best practices to members—in short, to find fast fixes to keep their organizations alive.

During this unprecedented time, Personify, the leading technology provider for associations, spoke to numerous associations in the industry to better understand what strategies and tactics allowed agile associations to not only survive this dark period in history but to thrive in it. Here are some of the common traits of resilient associations.

Empathy for members

Successful associations don’t simply see their members as sources of revenue, they see them as people. Genuine concern and empathy exhibited by associations fosters gratitude from its members, which according to the Harvard Business Review, is the most powerful way to create long-lasting loyalty.

Case in point: The American Health Information Management Association built a plan to support new members as soon as the pandemic hit. Vicky Betzig, Director of Meetings at AHIMA explained: “We’ve had a lot of people in our profession who experienced salary reductions or lost their jobs entirely. So at the association, there’s been a lot of advocacy around helping them find resources for employment.”

Betzig explained that the AHIMA offered “hardship discounts” for new membership and renewals, and also assisted out-of-work members in how to transfer their skills to other means of employment, like contact tracing.

The American Optometric Association took a similar approach. “When COVID-19 started sweeping across the United States, we knew instantly that the doctors we advocate for would take a hard impact,” explains Adam Reider, Manager of Technical Training & Support. “Overnight, they went from seeing their patients regularly to ‘emergency-only’ scenarios.” The AOA sprung into action with instructional webinars for their members and non-members alike, to help them navigate everything from telemedicine to PPP Loan applications. “We did not feel it was appropriate for us to throw up a giant firewall,” says Reider of this content. “We want to be able to look back after this crisis is over and know that we truly stood for this profession.”

Renewed focus on the mission

“During challenging times, it is not uncommon to go back to those foundational elements that serve as the core pillars of value for your members,” said Teresa Zimmerman, Vice President of Marketing at Personify. “Members look to their associations to connect them to a network of people and opportunities that help them advance their discipline, move forward their industries, expand their reach, support their community and create lasting impact.”

Organizations like the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development found that the pandemic re-energized and re-focused their sense of purpose. Citing the disparity that members reported in the quality of remote learning based on the socio-economic conditions of districts, CIO of ASCD, Fara Francis described a newfound urgency within the organization to help.

“We are tirelessly working to build communities that can connect, advocate and share resources with one another to make sure that no students are abandoned during this time.”

Data-driven decision-making

“Very few had a playbook ready to go for managing through a pandemic,” said Zimmerman. “We worked closely with our clients to help them better understand what their members needed so they could align experiences and connections through their technology stack and be successful and relevant to their members in this new digital-first world.”

“A mistake I’ve seen many times is an association will develop products and services and experiences in a vacuum, and then try to convince people why they need to buy it,” says Dennis Sadler, Deputy Executive Director for Operations for the National Association of Secondary Principals.

Angel Baltimore, Vice President, Digital Strategy and E-Commerce at American Pharmacists Association, agrees. Rather than guessing what their members needed in the initial days of the pandemic, she analyzed data collected by their AMS, Personify360.

“We’re able to segment and look at the analytics on session attendees to see things like who are members, who are nonmembers, who are repeat customers.” This, Baltimore says, allowed the APhA to focus their energies on the products and services their members wanted most, and which high-value users they should be targeting with their marketing.

A focus on innovation

The idea of going from in-person to virtual conferences seems commonplace now, but just a few months ago, it came with big unknowns. Namely, how do you execute a virtual conference and will anyone attend?

For the National Association for Home Care & Hospice’s annual meeting, Scott Baum, NAHC’s Senior Director of Meetings, the key to pulling off a dynamic experience that was more than a very long Zoom meeting was technology. “Utilizing Personify’s A2Z Events solution, we added a matchmaking suite that collects demographic information on our attendees and exhibitors,” he explained. “So instead of exhibitors fishing through the 500 attendees, they’re able to narrow it down to the 25 they really want to connect with.” Unlike in-person conferences, this cut down considerably on wasted time (not to mention aching feet.)

“My advice during these unprecedented times is to ‘embrace it’. Very rarely do you have an opportunity to rewrite the playbook for your organization,” said Zimmerman. “This is a career catalyst moment for those that take it and drive their organizations forward with technology transformations that strengthen their relationships with their members in our rapidly changing and always connected world.”


Personify—We know this challenging time has created new and unique challenges in engaging with members, managing financials and driving your organization forward. Personify is committed to helping you adapt and emerge from COVID-19 or any crisis, more connected and resilient than ever. Our trusted solutions help you manage during and through these times with digital connections, virtual programming, a single source of truth for your data, and peace of mind for your members.