Five Ways to Make Your Association Stronger in 2023

Tight resources and smaller teams might not seem like a great starting position going into next year, but focus and flexibility could help your association come out ahead.

The past couple of years have put many associations in a tight spot. Smaller staffs, shrinking budgets, and the disruption of traditional revenue streams have made events, programming, and engagement more elusive.

But through the upheaval lies optimism that the lessons of the early 2020s have coalesced into focused marching orders in 2023. Some of those ideas are found within Association Adviser’s 2022 Association Benchmarking Report, which could be a map forward in the new year, according to Sarah Sain, CAE, Naylor’s senior director of content services.

“This year’s report really highlighted for us how associations of all kinds are learning lessons from the last few years and evolving their engagement strategy to meet the pace of change,” she said.

With those takeaways in mind, here are some of the most important lessons from the report—and how you can apply them to your organization’s 2023 strategy.

1. Build Strategies to Strengthen Member Value

One of the starkest findings of the benchmarking report is that the ability to communicate member benefits effectively is associations’ biggest challenge, as cited by more than half of the associations surveyed.

A lack of internal resources is a heady obstacle here. But as Sain noted, there’s always value to be found in your member base.

“Members are an association’s most valuable—and often most underutilized—asset. An association’s members are where the expertise of an industry lives,” she said. Nurturing venues for members to interact and build relationships with one another—whether through member-to-member educational content, mentorship programs, or other means—leverages that expertise.

“Members are going to be more likely to be engaged if you are recognizing what they bring to the table and giving them opportunities to make a difference,” Sain added.

2. Look Beyond Your Staff to Help Generate Nondues Revenue

If maintaining member value is the biggest headache going into 2023, nondues revenue is not far behind, something that the report explicitly connects to understaffing. As she explains in the video above, Sain characterized the situation as a problem—and an opportunity.

“The biggest barrier for associations to earning nondues revenue is, unsurprisingly, time and resources,” she said. “But what they’re not doing enough of is looking outside of their own teams—which are understaffed—to the degree that they could be.”

Sain recommended that associations “build outside of their team,” generating a bench that can support the organization in the long run. That bench can include a redoubled base of volunteers, outsourced partnerships, and technology investments. There’s plenty of room for these areas to grow—per the report, less than a quarter of associations surveyed embrace the outsourcing of key functions that drive revenue.

3. Consider a Fresh Embrace of Print Content

Associations that see their print publications as a relic might find print’s recovery surprising.

In 2022, the benchmarking report found that the average number of monthly member touchpoints fell to 30.5, the lowest since 2019. However, print communications specifically rose to 2.7 times per month, the highest rate seen since at least 2015 and a sharp comeback after years of decline. Along with high engagement in video, this trend reveals a new emphasis on quality-driven content.

“Associations are finding that print really does have a strong value, often a longer shelf life, and an ability to cut through the clutter in a way that digital does not,” Sain said.

4. Don’t Fear Social Strategy Tweaks

If you’re still posting on Facebook when much of your audience has moved on to Instagram or LinkedIn, you could be missing key engagement opportunities.

The report found that legacy outlets such as Facebook and Twitter were seeing declines, while LinkedIn remained dominant for associations. Instagram continues to grow, while TikTok and Pinterest have quickly emerged as alternatives.

Sain said it’s important to understand where your members are most engaged on social media, while also anticipating generational preferences that can allow you to build a social media content strategy that speaks to different groups.

“For many associations, it’s really going to be figuring out where and with what types of content your members most want to connect with you now—and into the future,” she said.

5. Pursue Growth Opportunities Through Customization

Personalized messaging has long been perceived as a member value-add—but some members are more likely than others to receive it. The report found that new members were most likely to receive customized experiences (70.8 percent), while veteran members (39 percent) and student members (42.5 percent) were least likely.

Sain sees this as an opportunity to tailor your approach to subgroups of members.

“The benefit of customizing your messaging is that members feel like you’re speaking to them and taking the time to understand their challenges on a deeper level—no matter where they are in their careers,” Sain said, noting the potential to target based on a member’s longevity or industry segment.

Helping line up this opportunity, she said, is a technology stack that can adapt to different messaging and organizational needs.

“The more of those customized touches you can get in place—or the more you can partner with groups that have that type of technology to make it easier to do so—it’s going to allow you to make that personalized connection even stronger,” she said.

Naylor Association Solutions is devoted to building stronger associations by delivering solutions that strengthen member engagement and generate nondues revenue. We offer unified solutions including member communications, event management, career and database software, and full-service association management. Our expert combination of customer service and integrated services fuels our purpose to help associations succeed.