A Surge in Members Is Great, But How Do You Keep Them?

Figuring out how to hold on to a record number of new members sounds like a good problem, but it requires a long-game strategy. The American Nurses Association shared tips during #ASAE21 about its success in crisis—and how to sustain it.

Crises are not one-offs. They never stop and—just to make it interesting—you rarely get a heads-up on when the next one will strike. This is why it’s good to always be prepared.

The American Nurses Association, like everyone else, had no idea what would happen when the pandemic hit, but a strong existing organizational foundation helped them innovate on the fly and meet member needs in a crisis.

“You can’t react quickly in a crisis if you don’t have the underlying infrastructure in place,” said Carol Cohen, CAE, ANA’s director of membership development. “If you’re trying to build that infrastructure during the crisis, you’re too late, so prepare for the next crisis by building that foundation.”

ANA’s membership team learned a lot during the pandemic and shared some top lessons in a learning lab, “Transforming a Crisis Into a Membership Growth Opportunity,” at last week’s ASAE Annual Meeting.

The strategies guided them through the hardest parts of the crisis and will galvanize them against the next storm. “While the COVID pandemic was probably a once-in-a-lifetime experience, there will almost certainly be other types of crises that we will face as association professionals,” Cohen said.

ANA had a decade of steady membership growth—above 5 percent since 2012—and expected that to continue. Then the pandemic hit. Nurses on the frontlines of the crisis needed information, stat. ANA wasted no time developing a COVID-19 webinar series free to all nurses—not just members. (Spoiler alert: The nonmember part is key.) They also repurposed existing webinars to deliver targeted content and then quickly developed new ones to address COVID-19.

This led to an unprecedented surge, with 23,000 new members joining during April and May 2020 alone. ANA capitalized on that access to new members and created a registration process that captured their contact information with an agreement that allowed ANA to reach out to them for more information. But how to sustain that growth?

Play the Long Game

A lot of ANA’s success was due to its rapid-response approach to helping members when they needed the organization most. But they also knew the demand wouldn’t last. Although ANA braced for a hit to retention rates, the group managed to sustain its retention rates at the same levels for all of 2020.

But there were still nurses who could not afford to pay annual renewal rates. One solution? In 2020, ANA accelerated its long-term strategy to drive new members by offering them the ability to make smaller monthly payments, not one larger annual one, which led to a record percentage of nurses who opted to pay monthly.

Playing the long game and thinking ahead is essential for setting yourself up for future success, said Stephen Fox, ANA’s vice president of membership and constituent relations. And that means working on behalf of an entire profession, not just current members. For ANA, doing that in a crisis amplified the value of the association and caught the attention of its prospect bubble.

“There’s an opportunity to specifically connect the relevance of your work to support the profession that benefits the welfare of each person in that profession,” he said.

Having high-profile engagement for nonmembers and connecting with the entire market—through free education, or accessible information on the organization’s website—engages the entire profession. This was critical for ANA: It showed both members and nonmembers what ANA could do for them, not only in crisis, but for the long haul.

“Every association must provide a compelling answer to the question: Why should I join?” Fox said. “If you can’t answer that question effectively in a crisis environment, you probably never will.”

(Galeanu Mihai/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Lisa Boylan

By Lisa Boylan

Lisa Boylan is a senior editor of Associations Now. MORE

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