Top 2020 Membership Takeaways

Is 2020 ending with a bang or a whimper? Hard to say, but it’s almost over, and that is a good thing. The challenges of this year, however, were no match for the fortitude of associations. Here are some reflections.

There’s little chance of overstating what a chaotic and unsettling year 2020 has been. As difficult as it was, associations have exemplified the tenacity, flexibility, and ingenuity necessary to rise to many daunting occasions and continue to meet their members’ urgent needs.

I’ve talked to a lot of association professionals over the past nine months, and what I heard was: This is what associations do best. They are communities of problem solvers. Here are some examples.

Delivering Value Amid Crises

Associations faced many challenges in demonstrating relevant value for members during several crises, but there were still a lot of success stories. Many people I spoke to talked about how the crises made them move much faster—without a safety net.

The American Nurses Association responded quickly to get nurses what they needed most when the pandemic struck: an on-demand COVID-19 webinar series free to all nurses—not just members. ANA garnered 130,000 registrants for the series, and a targeted membership email to those registrants led to approximately 2,600 new members. ANA also extended their grace period for membership renewals and offered members a well-received monthly dues payment structure.

It makes sense that nurses would value information on responding to a global pandemic, but how else do you know what members value? A recent report, Association Trends 2020: From Disruption to Opportunity [PDF], found that despite the many challenges this year has brought, member engagement continues to grow and loyalty to associations is strong. Fifty-one percent of members surveyed said their association is more important to them today than before the pandemic.

Advocacy and meetings are often regarded as core elements of an association’s value proposition. But Tom Morrison, CEO of the Metal Treating Institute, said that as part of an exercise to determine value, MTI took advocacy and meetings off the table and discovered that sales forecasting, financial benchmarking, training, and professional development were important value drivers for members.

Virtually Engaged

Associations large and small found innovative ways to engage members, some on really tight budgets. The Council on Undergraduate Research developed “Five in Five,” videos that provide five tips, solutions, or answers to questions in five minutes. The staff didn’t have any video technical skills to speak of, so they used an inexpensive platform, Animoto, to produce polished videos quickly. CUR’s videos include ones on how to better leverage their online community platform and five tips for hosting a virtual symposium.

The American Concrete Institute also used videos to better connect with members, especially when they realized everyone was becoming a lot more proficient in a virtual world. The membership and marketing teams created short, one- to two-minute whiteboard videos to connect new, prospective, and longtime members with ACI’s benefits. The videos walk members through the benefit options and show them how to navigate different sections of ACI’s website where the benefits can be accessed.

Budgeting Membership Dues

2020 brought a lot of uncertainty, especially regarding finances. Associations struggled to figure out ways to factor membership dues into 2021 budgets. Christina Lewellen, CAE, executive director of the Association of Technology Leaders in Independent Schools, had some great advice.

Her team analyzed different levels of membership based on member engagement, looking at factors like longevity, volunteering, and participation in meetings. That helped them determine which members would be more likely to come back, and that’s how they built their budget.

And finally, how do you communicate with members in a crisis? A combination of empathy and some old-fashioned techniques are key, according to Sheri Singer, president of Singer Communications. She offered lots of practical guidance on ways to talk to members in difficult times. And—bonus—she explained why we all have Zoom fatigue. It’s because we’re experiencing “lizard brain.” Mystery solved!

As we head into 2021, it will be a relief to come out of survival mode and head into what I hope is recovery mode. It’s time to turn the page.

What membership strategies worked for you in 2020 that you plan to use in 2021? Please share in the comments or send me an email.


(zubada/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Lisa Boylan

By Lisa Boylan

Lisa Boylan is a senior editor of Associations Now. MORE

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