The American Society of Journalists and Authors knew its members were busy reporting about the impact of the pandemic. So, the group focused on that, and created a new awards program that brought in nondues revenue and increased engagement.
When the pandemic forced associations to shut down last year, many had to find ways to make that dreaded “pivot” that allowed them to continue to serve members and bring in revenue. One organization managed that change by leaning into what was going on around them.
The American Society of Journalists and Authors is a 75-year-old organization that serves both freelance and industry journalists and writers. ASJA knew its members were busy telling stories of the pandemic and was looking for ways to provide support for them.
“When COVID hit, the association asked: What could we provide to our members that is going to add value and also bring in revenue?” said Holly Koenig, ASJA executive director. The answer came in the form of a new competition, the ASJA Crisis Coverage Awards.
The awards were designed to highlight the coverage their members were doing in the moment. “We asked what articles they had published from January to June related to COVID, and we created six to eight categories,” Koenig said. “The articles were about social—virtual weddings and funerals; they were about parenting and homeschooling. All kinds of topics about how our world changed.”
Adding a new awards program as a new revenue source was not a hard shift because ASJA built on the experience it already had. “The structure of the COVID awards program was mirrored from the existing [awards] program,” Koenig said. “We had the example, in terms of how many categories do we do, how many judges do we need. We already had the structure in place.”
While ASJA suspected its members would want to enter the competition, the group had never launched a new prize during a pandemic, so it wasn’t sure what to expect. “We set the bar very low,” Koenig said. “We said, maybe 50 people will enter the awards. We put the price tag on the awards; we were giving money out, so we needed money in.”
The response to the awards, because it was in the sweet spot of what members were doing at that moment, was overwhelming. “We had triple the amount of entries as the normal awards,” Koenig said. “Entries were coming in from around the world. We had to spend money on it with the awards and the technology, but we still probably made $10,000 on the awards program.”
In addition to the awards generating revenue through entry fees, they were also able to provide help to members. “We were able to take a piece of that [revenue] and put it toward a grant, an emergency fund for struggling writers who lost their work because of illness,” Koenig said. “It came full circle. It was a valuable benefit, and it brought in revenue. It wasn’t all just money that we put into our coffers. We paid it out to the community.”
While Koenig thinks of them as the “COVID awards,” one of the most helpful things ASJA did was to choose a name that positioned the awards to be something that could be used even after this crisis ends. “We called it the Crisis Coverage Awards program, so that it doesn’t just have to be about now and COVID,” Koenig said. “We can come up with anything. It could be about political crisis, or about anything in the moment, and we can institute it.”
Since the board approved the awards program, Koenig said staff doesn’t have to “re-sell” the board during the next crisis. They have the framework and tools to act and refresh the program.
While members were drawn to the award, so were nonmembers, Koenig said. The program introduced ASJA to an array of journalists. While some joined, some also decided to enter the association’s regular contest.
“There’s been a 50 percent, if not more, increase in paid support this time because so many new people entered into that COVID award and they’ve now also entered into that regular scheduled awards program,” Koenig said.
How has your association been able to introduce new revenue sources during the pandemic? Share in the comments.