Top 2021 Membership Takeaways

Another tough year is ending—and this one came with a stealthy plot twist no one needed. Even so, associations stayed strong and delivered for members—no matter what. Here are some highlights from a year defined by tenacity.

“Watch out for that first step, it’s a doozy!”

That’s an easy bit of advice to remember from the movie Groundhog Day because it’s repeated often as the main character relives his worst day over and over again until he figures out how to be a better person. Based on that model of repetition, we should all be exemplary citizens by now.

Seeking advice in hard times is natural, and throughout this lengthy crisis, associations have been a place where members can come to find solutions, which is good because there has been no shortage of difficulties and challenges to address.

The events of the past 21 months have brought about a lot of change—and soul searching. Associations realized that the same old way of doing business wasn’t going to cut it in a reshaped world that is anything but normal. Here’s a look at how membership evolved in 2021.

This Year’s Model

The pandemic disrupted everything, but with disruption comes opportunity. One of the most important themes that emerged from Association Laboratory’s study, Looking Forward Solutions 2021, [registration required] is that associations are going to have to invest in understanding—or re-understanding—their members and other stakeholders.

“Membership as an offer is suffering because, overwhelmingly, most associations don’t have a different model now than they had a year ago, but their members’ needs are different,” said Dean West, FASAE, president and founder of Association Laboratory.

In many cases, membership models were stagnant and not responsive to member needs. The National Speakers Association analyzed its membership offerings and realized they were outdated and—even worse—confusing. After a lot of reflection and qualitative and quantitative research, the NSA team came up with a revamped model that is more inclusive and gives members a chance to engage on their own terms.

But before jumping into a new membership model structure, make sure you need one. “Because you obviously don’t want to fix what isn’t broken,” said Camille Sanders, CAE, director of marketing and membership at the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases.

Connect and Declutter

Giving members ways to connect—with each other and as part of an association—is key and helps with retention, according to membership expert Scott Oser, president of Scott Oser Associates. That’s especially important to keep in mind now, as we brace for yet another reset with a new variant. Members are still going to need their associations more than ever for guidance.

“The deeper the connection that your members feel, the more likely they are to renew,” Oser said. Because there is so much less in-person connectivity, engaging people online and providing a platform to bring those conversations together is proving to be “effective and important.”

But how can you effectively reach members when everyone has so much on their plates? Cut through the clutter. “The number one thing that associations should do is develop a much stronger data strategy,” said Alex DeBarr, president and CEO of Naylor. The best way to boost membership is with more intelligence and names to build up member files, and then market effectively to them.

Everyone is juggling an overload of challenges, distractions, and competing demands in their lives—especially now. Getting back to fundamentals, clarifying goals, working toward them, and recognizing the invaluable resources and opportunities for connection associations provide will continue to be a lifeline in hard times.

Even in Groundhog Day, after an endless series of todays, a new day finally does dawn.

(filipfoto/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Lisa Boylan

By Lisa Boylan

Lisa Boylan is a senior editor of Associations Now. MORE

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