Membership Tips for Challenging Times: Keeping Connections

Members need their association when times are tough, but they may be facing hardships or other impediments to staying connected. Here are three ideas for keeping your members close and engaged with your community.

Associations are based on connections. It’s why people join: to find their people and their place, and to benefit from being with like-minded individuals who share a common purpose and interests. COVID-19 threw a major wrench into togetherness, as we all know. It also magnified how important community—every aspect of it—really is.

Last week, I shared some ideas from a small-staff association executive whose organization was finding creative, low-cost ways to engage and retain members. Continuing the theme of membership tips for challenging times, here are three more membership strategy ideas, with a focus on staying connected with members.

Build Virtual Connectivity

Recognizing that its members and nonmembers need a sense of community more than ever, the Council on Undergraduate Research opened up its online member community from April 1 to May 31 to nonmembers so they could participate in sharing information, asking questions, and learning from each other during a critical period, especially as campuses were switching to virtual teaching.

“We converted a high percentage of those members from people who were leveraging the community at that time,” said Lindsay Currie, CAE, CUR’s executive officer. “They got behind it and saw the value and were able to connect with the community.” It didn’t cost any money, and it was an easy lift technologically.

Extend member Grace Periods

In March, the International Society for Pharmacoeconomics and Outcomes Research experienced a lag in membership renewal. Instead of dropping members, ISPOR allowed members to remain, even after the 60-day grace period expired. Staff continued to reach out to let members know what they were doing for them in light of COVID-19 “to foster that sense of connectivity and a sense of loyalty,” said Jason Cohen, ISPOR’s senior manager of member services.

Rather than sending out typical renewal notices, Cohen worked with the membership team to tailor their messaging to show that ISPOR was mindful of the times and aware that members were struggling and wondering how they would pay their dues.

“Understanding who your members are and making sure you are tailoring your messages is part of building loyalty to the organization,” he said.

That extra few months of grace period helped stabilize ISPOR’s membership. “It also showed good faith,” Cohen said. While ISPOR offers a fee-waived membership option for those residing in a qualifying country, it is not otherwise waiving membership dues. ISPOR is exploring changes that would address the concerns of members who want to keep their memberships but who have budgetary constraints.

Create A Pandemic Field Guide

The National Business Officers Association was able to hold its in-person annual meeting in February, before the storm really hit, and dues renewal began July 1, so the organization was lucky financially—this year.

Knowing that challenges will continue next year, NBOA—whose members are business officers in independent schools—decided to invest in member resources, specifically a 150-page pandemic field guide, “Operating Guidance for Independent School Pandemic Management.” NBOA developed the guide with an engineering firm that has done a lot of research on how schools can operate safely amid COVID-19. The guide is free to members, but nonmembers have to pay a fee. It was released on September 1 and has already been downloaded 700 times.

NBOA announced the upcoming release of the field guide in a renewal email at the end of its grace period, August 31, as a powerful and timely reminder of the value of membership.

“During times like these, associations need to show their value,” said Barry Pilson, CAE, NBOA’s vice president of membership and marketing. “This new environment pushes people to do things we should have been doing and never did.”

What is your association doing that is working right now to engage, retain, and recruit members? Share your thoughts in the comments or send me an email.

Editor’s Note: This post has been updated to clarify that ISPOR offers a dues waiver for members in qualifying countries.

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Lisa Boylan

By Lisa Boylan

Lisa Boylan is a senior editor of Associations Now. MORE

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