Associations responded remarkably well to an onslaught of challenges in 2020. A membership expert offers suggestions for navigating the start of a new year with your members in mind.
I don’t know about you, but in times of uncertainty I like to talk to experts, so I reached out to Scott Oser, president of Scott Oser Associates, to find out his thoughts about membership for the upcoming year. Nothing like the hot seat.
“The number one thing associations need to do is understand the state of their membership and their industry,” Oser said.
As gratifying as it was to wave goodbye to 2020, changing the date on a calendar unfortunately does not automatically erase all the difficulties of the past year. People are still being affected by the pandemic, racial injustice, and political and financial instability, to name a few of the ongoing challenges we face.
Understanding the state of the industry and where members are can mean many different things, Oser said. Some members might be strapped for money, while others might need their association now more than ever for career resources. Or you might need to communicate with members differently because they are bombarded with information.
Tweaking and customizing messages is just as important now as it was at the beginning of the pandemic, when every association was putting COVID-19 resources at the forefront, he said. Staying on top of what your industry wants and needs will help you fine-tune messaging and offerings to better communicate with and serve members.
“We can’t go back to doing business as usual because we are definitely not in business as usual,” he said.
An ongoing communication stream that shows members your value—either through social media, newsletters, or member-to-member communication—is necessary, Oser said. And these ongoing communications need to do two things: Address member needs and show how your benefits and services are meeting them.
The messaging should be bite-size, he said, not a list of 30 member benefits. Concise, easily digestible messaging is essential because, in many cases, people are busier than ever before because they’re home, juggling kids, pets, spouses, and everything else on top of trying to do their work.
“You need to focus on one or two things that will prove to be valuable in the moment,” he said.
Keep Sending Renewals
It’s a challenging time but renewals still need to go out, using slightly different tactics, Oser said. Some industries were particularly hard hit by the pandemic, so you might need to reduce dues or extend membership terms. But, overall, he recommends tweaking your messaging to show that your offerings can help members with what they’re going through.
“There are industries that are thriving and there are industries that are suffering, but people are still renewing because they find value in their membership,” he said.
Having a hardship plan in place is also a good idea, so every staff member at the association knows what they can offer if a member comes to them and says they can’t afford dues. But you don’t have aggressively promote it, Oser said. You can add it to the fine print of every invoice you send out stating that if a member is having financial trouble because of the pandemic or other issues, they can contact the association for other options.
“You can’t leave money on the table because not everybody is being impacted by COVID and not everybody needs a reduction,” he said. “Associations are a business.”
Going forward, Oser predicts that associations will continue to be strapped for resources, so they’ll need to make sure that everything they do is effective and efficient.
“There’s not going to be a lot of ‘nice to do’ anymore,” he said. “There’s going to be a lot of ‘need to do.’”