You Got Through 2020. It’s Time to Keep the Momentum Going in 2021.

2020 taught us a lot about strategic planning—this is what associations can do about it.

If you are an association professional, we don’t have to tell you that you’re working harder than ever before. When the pandemic hit, you scrambled, pivoted, learned new tech on the fly and did whatever needed to be done to keep your members informed and your organization alive.

Without question, associations big and small rose to meet this year’s unimaginable challenges. It was exhausting, at times frustrating, but you’re still standing. And now here’s the thing, a study conducted by Community Brands of over 1,000 association members says now is not the time to take your foot off the gas. If you upped your game in 2020, you’re really going to have to up your game in 2021.

More than 50 percent of our respondents said that they value their membership more than they did before the pandemic, and member engagement rates show that. Associations have always been important to the people they serve, but now members see them as absolutely vital, and with more online and virtual options more members are engaging.

So what can association professionals do in 2021 to meet the needs of current members, grow their membership base, increase revenue streams and not completely collapse from exhaustion? How do you meet big goals in a realistic and sustainable way? Our research has identified three key areas that truly matter to members, and that if executed thoughtfully, will make work for association professionals more impactful and more efficient.

Concentrate your resources on giving members what they want

Associations do so many things for their members, but our research shows that a whopping 87 percent of those surveyed pointed to virtual meetings and conferences as the most helpful channels for building community and sharing information. Whether attendees are looking for new job opportunities, networking or education, these events are seen as crucial for career advancement. Again and again, we heard that while big splashy events are great, members really want more frequency and intimacy. Every event is an opportunity for growth, so associations would be wise to invest in tech that makes hosting and streaming with add-ons like breakout rooms simple and easy. While 2020 was a scramble where glitches and sometimes lackluster events were forgivable because everyone was learning how to do them in real-time, 2021 will be different. Higher expectations have been set, you need to meet or exceed them to keep people coming back for more.

Get back your own time

Spending more time and energy on projects like these requires, well, more time and energy. While you can’t add more hours to the day, you can use technology to automate repetitive administrative tasks that eat away at your resources (password resets, dues reminders and the like.) Stealing back a few hours a day can make a massive difference to your workflow, and to your members. Assess what’s most valuable to your members’ in today’s environment, and focus there to make the biggest impact.

Follow in the footsteps of Netflix and Amazon

Our research shows that more members are joining as students or within the first five years of employment—these are young people so your technology had better be on point. They want the convenience and ease they get with Netflix, Amazon and all of the other digital platforms they use. There should be no reason a member needs to re-enter a credit card number every time they want to buy something. There should be no reason that they can’t auto-renew a membership, or make monthly payments. Your goal is to remove as much friction as possible. Giving people the seamless tech experience they’re used to will help you retain and recruit more members.

2020 was a year of unprecedented struggle. By taking strategic direction from the insights gleaned from our study, associations can make 2021 a year of unprecedented growth.

This article was brought to you by Community Brands, the leading provider of cloud-based software to associations. To learn more about the association business model of the future, watch Preparing for 2021 and beyond on-demand webinar.

(Handout photo)