Two membership professionals describe three benefits associations must have in a largely virtual world to give members what they actually need without making assumptions. Focusing on staff needs in the remote environment is also part of the equation
.A year ago, the word “pivot” was not part of association membership lingo. Membership professionals were used to talking about ROI, retention, recruitment, engagement, member offerings, and so on. Until the pandemic struck, membership work didn’t require much pivoting.
But when COVID-19 arrived, membership professionals suddenly had to provide benefits and show the value of membership in a virtual world. Most associations had an annual meeting, congress, scientific sessions, and other events where they could showcase value by talking to attendees and introducing new member benefits at a key session—in conjunction with press releases, social media posts, and articles. Oh, the good old days!
The past year has shown that members need their association more than ever, and associations have to be able to serve them through virtual channels. Organizations have been doing that in many different ways, but these three are must-have benefits in today’s world:
- An online networking tool. This forum should be exclusively for members. Not only does online networking facilitate a free-flowing exchange of information and job openings—and provide a place to vent frustrations—from anywhere in the world, but it also provides valuable insights that can be used to create new offerings based on actual member needs, not assumptions.
- Relevant and free webinars. It might sound like a given, but you would be surprised at the number of associations that stick with webinars on core subject matter for their industry and will not consider other options. Associations need to provide free, relevant webinars on topics such as career development, presentation skills, and other professional competencies. Webinars do not have to be live with a Q&A session; they can also be prerecorded and sent out to the membership. An additional benefit of webinars on business skills is that they tend to have a longer shelf-life than a typical core-subject-matter webinar.
- Mentorship program. Many members have a vision of where they want to be in their career in five or 10 years. How do you continue to show that your association will be there for them as they grow in their careers? This is an opportunity to keep more seasoned members involved with younger members by mentoring them.
Providing the benefits that members need in a virtual world is essential, but so is fostering a supportive virtual environment for staff. How do you connect with colleagues when in-person meetings and water-cooler chats are no longer an option?
Online networking provides valuable insights that can be used to create new offerings based on actual needs, not assumptions.
We’ve all grown accustomed to virtual meetings. But it’s possible to make working from home even more comfortable by allowing staff to bring their computer set-up, screens, or chairs from the office home with them. Holiday parties and summer picnics can be replaced with virtual happy hours, coffee breaks, and other virtual get-togethers. Sending small gifts to staff can make a big difference and go a long way in boosting morale.
Managers who reach out to staff regularly can help alleviate that feeling that staff members are isolated at home. It’s just as important to make sure staff can chat with each other, as it is to provide networking opportunities for members. Also ensure the virtual meeting software your office use is intuitive for staff.
Keeping lines of communication open while staff is working from home will bolster staff connections, even if they are miles away from each other. While you’re actively considering how to engage and keep members during this challenging time, don’t forget to think about how your organization can continue to guide and support staff, too.
Kristen D. Erickson, CAE
Kristen D. Erickson, CAE, is manager of professional and community engagement at the College of American Pathologists, and a member of ASAE’s Membership Professionals Advisory Committee.