Education Is the Smart Move for Associations in 2021

Making continuing education and certifications key benefits creates a win-win for members and associations.

Coming out of the pandemic, associations and members alike are searching for ways to rebuild, reinvigorate and grow. And while there are many areas that have the potential for positive impact, our member engagement study, Association Trends: From Disruption to Opportunity, found that there is one vertical that can simultaneously help members achieve their goals while boosting association membership and revenue: education.

While not a full-on replacement for a college degree, members have told us that they see certifications offered through their associations as a way to differentiate themselves from their peers, advance their careers, and attain higher salaries. Shawna Strickland, PhD, the associate executive director of the American Association for Respiratory Care (AARC) told us, “Many college degrees provide a foundation for careers, which is definitely needed. However, there are many nuances in each profession. For example, the AARC developed a certificate course in pulmonary rehabilitation,” she notes. “Members are using these programs to demonstrate that they are able to go above and beyond the traditional respiratory therapist and provide specialized care.”

Since the pandemic hit, 51 percent of our survey respondents said they value their association membership more than in previous years, citing continuing education and certification as the number one reason. Simply put, associations that aren’t engaging in these kinds of offerings are missing a huge opportunity. What is stopping associations from pushing further down the education path?

It seems daunting, but it is not. There is a misconception among some organizations that you need to have a certification program in order to offer CE credits or increase non-dues revenue from online continuing education events, but that’s not the case. And some also take the defeatist attitude that if you don’t already have a plan in place, you’re too late to the game. This, again, is not true. The reality is there is a low barrier to entry into the education space. By slowly introducing more and more learning-based content, and utilizing the right tech, associations can find themselves with a robust and financially-rewarding program before long.

Community Brands’ learning management system Freestone makes offering education in any format, from live to on-demand events, simple. The platform allows you to easily schedule, market and launch live webinars where presenters can address audience members in real time and, most importantly, track member engagement. Many accrediting bodies mandate that attendees need to interact a certain number of times throughout a program, and Freestone has a feature set that automates that, empowering associations not only to get the content out there but to also to satisfy their accreditation standards.

So how do you create and curate content in an organized way? First look at what you have. You can take any video from previous conferences and meetings you might have on YouTube, upload them to your learning management system, and use that content as building blocks to create a certification program, where you can add exams, interactivity, mix and match on-demand with live learning, and more.

If you don’t have a lot of content in the can and are starting from scratch, follow these steps to get started:

  1. Get a survey out to members to ask what they want to learn about. Members are never shy about sharing their opinions on what is valuable to them.
  2. Reach out to subject matter experts. Speaking engagements are as easy as turning on a webcam these days, so many industry experts are thrilled to have the opportunity to increase their visibility as thought leaders. Simply reach out and ask.
  3. Let members know what you’re up to and start building your library. Get a regular cadence going and use naming devices like “Webinar Wednesdays” so members know what to expect and when.

Associations that have established an education program with a consistent output of content report higher member retention, deeper member engagement, and an increase in non-dues revenue. Our research reveals that people are looking to make something good come out of this crisis. They’re optimistic, and they’re turning to associations to invest in themselves. By meeting these needs, associations put themselves and their members on a positive path for growth.

This article was brought to you by Community Brands, the leading provider of cloud-based software to associations. Click here to read more about our Association Trends 2020: From Disruption to Opportunity.

(Community Brands)