Sector and AuSAE News

  • 26 Mar 2021 6:07 AM | Brett Jeffery, CAE (Administrator)

    “Why isn’t my membership growing?” We hear this question often in our consulting with associations.  When we investigate the concern, a consistent theme emerges. In most instances, the root of the problem comes down to issues with the membership recruitment program.

    That is why in the book, Membership Recruitment: How to Grow Recurring Revenue, Reach New Markets, and Advance Your Mission, Tony Rossell explores the impediments holding back associations’ membership.  Here are the most consistent challenges we find in developing a successful membership recruitment program.

    • Abandonment of Membership Recruitment – Perhaps the most significant problem holding back membership for associations is not consistently asking prospective members to join. An association may believe that they can grow their membership by merely increasing retention rates and that recruitment is too expensive or challenging. In reality, one of the best predictors of overall membership growth is a thriving recruitment effort.  Years of benchmarking data show a correlation between new member input and overall membership growth.

    • Excessive Planning – A good plan is needed to grow membership. A plan includes defining your value proposition, identifying target markets, and developing a schedule and goals. However, many associations spend so much time developing a plan to answer every objection and contingency that they delay selling memberships.  They end up with a book-sized document that is out-of-date when and if ever implemented. Instead, consider a “ready, fire, aim” philosophy and do something now.

    • Inadequate Special Offers – Membership is a push product. It is sold, not sought.  A prospect can likely join 24/7 on your website.  So, an incentive is needed to get someone to join now.  The fear is a special offer like a new member discount will lead to a less committed member.  But test after test by many associations demonstrates that a strong offer both in the near-term and long-term benefits membership growth.  For example, companies run sales promotions not because they like giving away money but because it grows the number of customers and their revenue.

    • Overreliance on a Single Channel – Many associations have been damaged by relying on a single tactic to bring in new members. Those groups that depended on an annual meeting to attract members each year were hurt by pandemic caused cancellations. Others that were reliant on email acquisition efforts have burned out their email lists through overuse.  The solution is to develop a marketing portfolio using an omnichannel strategy that uses a variety of methods like mail, phone, social media, paid digital ads, and sales efforts to get potential members.

    • Insufficient Frequency of Contact – Once and done is not an effective marketing strategy. Membership recruitment requires ongoing and consistent outreach.  Growing associations maintain digital ads throughout the year, consistently call members every month when they lapse, send out regular invitations to join, and build their prospect database with new content offers. 

    • Lack of Testing – When carefully measured, even well-run recruitment efforts show dramatic variance between their best list, offer, and message. So, structuring statistically valid tests can determine what is working and what is not successful.  Some test outcomes impact results – even with minor changes -- by well over 100 percent. Without a testing strategy, a recruitment program will substantially underperform.

    • Neglecting a Call to Action – The first questions someone asks when getting a promotion is “what is it?” and “what am I being asked to do?”. Fortunately, marketers are typically very good at describing the benefits of membership.  But they often fail at telling the prospect what to do with the information.  Defining a Call to Action (CAT) needs to be the starting point in planning a promotion.  Start creating your promotion with the action you want your prospective member to do or the place where you want the prospect to go to join and work backward.

    If membership growth is a goal for your association and you can identify with any of these missteps, there is help.  Membership Recruitment: How to Grow Recurring Revenue, Reach New Markets, and Advance Your Mission shares insights on the strategies and tactics that have helped many organizations trigger rapid and sustained growth. Use this link to learn more or purchase your copy.


    Marketing General Incorporated

  • 12 Mar 2021 4:38 AM | Brett Jeffery, CAE (Administrator)

    Associations had to adapt quickly over the last year, and learned some invaluable strategies along the way.

    As we approach the one-year mark of the pandemic and the shift to virtual, many associations have taken time to reflect on living and learning through this historic time. It’s these lessons that cleverly inform how to best plan ahead. In 2020, it often felt like there was little time to sit back and relax—the industry was undergoing a radical shift, and everyone had to scramble to master new skills and develop a roadmap.

    Now, they have roadmaps. They’ve nailed (or at least grown comfortable with) being productive in pixels. Personify, the leading technology provider for associations, spoke to several association professionals to meditate on a trying year and focus on the best ways to move forward on a journey ahead.


    Associations quickly pivoted from massive in-person events to virtual gatherings last year. And it wasn’t just annual events, but also educational courses, smaller-scale conferences, board meetings, member meetings, and more. Associations should continue to show up virtually for members and staff to project that “we’re still here,” said Jerome Bruce, the director of meetings and exhibits for the Association of Government Accountants.

    Associations should also crunch the numbers and listen to their members, paving the way for a more data-driven and strategic future. Data metrics and key performance indicators (KPIs) illuminate what events and sessions are worth continuing to invest in during the coming year of virtual and hybrid events. Member feedback provides qualitative insight into what may or may not be working.

    “The most valuable lesson that I learned in 2020 is to stop and listen to the members regarding their needs,” Molly Hamill, the manager of exhibit sales at the Global Association for the Attractions Industry (IAAPA), said. “They can come up with ideas [to address them] that you probably didn’t think of yet.”


    Your members want to hear from you. Personify’s research found that associations tended to overestimate how much digital content to send to members, but that one in three wanted to receive something weekly or more. The sweet spot: weekly to monthly, with 81 percent wanting that frequency of communication from their associations.

    And associations shouldn’t shy away from the reality of the current climate—inform members about how they are continuing to adapt in the midst of the pandemic, how they are keeping members safe, in the know, and—most importantly—engaged. Chris Lyons, the associate executive director at the American Association for Laboratory Animal Science (AALAS), cited strategies such as video chat breakout rooms, question-and-answer sessions, virtual photo booths, and gamified session features. With a cautiously optimistic view of what lies ahead, transparency and engagement will be pivotal as you slowly transition back into a hybrid and in-person world.

    “We now know that virtual is a band-aid, a temporary thing right now,” Bruce said. “We need to keep the value of face-to-face [events] current and sustainable, so we have to perform a balancing act. We don’t want people to get so comfortable with virtual that they won’t be excited about face-to-face events. [This year represents] a challenge for us to make sure that face-to-face doesn’t die.”


    To keep people engaged and prevent “Zoom fatigue,” associations also need the right online platforms and services. That’s probably why, according to Personify’s research, nearly half of association professionals spent more on tech in 2020, specifically on community software, virtual event software, and member self-service tools.

    The key is to adopt services that can streamline most of your association’s needs within one platform. Examples include an association management system that can centralize data, integrate e-commerce needs, and manage web orders along with an online community that can drive engagement before, during and after virtual events.

    In what Mike Hiskey, director of IT at the American Water Works Association, characterizes as our “virtual everything” world, you want to invest in tech platforms that can streamline your needs and check as many boxes as possible. “We’ve got a good rubric set up to figure out what the right tool is to meet the needs of a particular event, but we are looking forward to consolidating that stack,” Hiskey said.


    Throughout this journey, teams reach across different departments to tackle issues with an interdisciplinary approach. Teamwork is essential—you don’t want one person playing point guard for everything, and no one has to figure out a new skill or strategy in a vacuum.

    It’s that transparency and generosity among association staff professionals that make the difference between burning out and thriving as they push forward.

    “Seeing people collaborate in new ways has made me proud to be part of this association world, and I’m looking forward to continuing to see people share,” Erica Holland, the assistant executive director at the Society of Interventional Radiology, said. “So I’m glad you guys are putting together this series of articles, and I’m sure we’re all going to learn a lot from it.”

    That’s why Personify is committed to partnering with associations to support long-term growth in their organizations. “Many of the trends that have emerged over the past year will affect how associations recruit, engage and deliver value to their members now and in a post-pandemic world,” Erin Sullivan, director of marketing at Personify said. This is supported by Personify’s research, which found that 85% of attendees want virtual and hybrid options in the future, even when it’s safe to resume in-person events.

    Finding the right strategy and toolbox is certainly not a one-size-fits-all approach, but professionals agree that future success requires keeping your eyes and ears open to what members and staff want and need. And that’ll require a solid foundation of open communication, reliable digital platforms and teamwork along the journey ahead.

    Personify - Tabea Damm 9 March

  • 04 Mar 2021 5:29 AM | Brett Jeffery, CAE (Administrator)

    A compelling value proposition demonstrates the unique benefits an association has to offer, how it can help members find the solutions they need most, and why choosing to be part of the community will benefit them. Here are six examples.

    Will people renew their memberships this year? It’s hard to predict. So much has changed that will affect people’s decision to join or renew with their professional association in 2021. Added to that, associations often lack the most basic tool to foster the acquisition, retention, growth, and engagement of their customer base: a well-defined value proposition. When asked “why should I join?” associations tend to make two critical mistakes in answering: They list a litany of services and products they offer, and they define value from their internal perspective—basically rehashing their mission. So, if a well-defined value proposition isn’t a long list of benefits or a one-sided marketing slogan, what is it? And why is it important to have one?
    “Value” is defined as the benefits and solutions people can expect from joining, while “proposition” captures the commitment of the organization to deliver on its promise. Value propositions are unique to each organization, must be carefully crafted as part of a broader strategy, and should be periodically revised to remain relevant.

    Value propositions are unique to each organisation, must be carefully crafted as part of a broader strategy, and should be periodically revised to remain relevant.
    What makes a good value proposition? Here are some examples.  

    Demonstrate added value. Members and customers are attracted to organizations that bring them tangible added value and make their jobs easier, better, and more productive. At the Institute of Internal Auditors, the value proposition clearly spells out the added value of belonging: “Membership Means More: Connect More, Know More, Save More.” The services and benefits the organization offers are consistently grouped into these three categories to demonstrate the additional value of belonging.

    Focus on member needs. Members are more likely to join if an organization offers a product or service that fulfills their actual needs. A value proposition is best based on feedback from members—from surveys, for example—that clearly prioritizes their top needs. The International Franchise Association communicates value with a clear member-needs focus: “Gain visibility and build your business with an IFA membership. Together we will improve your profits and professional future by empowering you with access to practical resources and a strong community of professional peers.”

    Clarify unique benefits. What distinguishes your association from the competition? What makes you unique? When an association is the recognized authority or representative of a trade or profession at a local, national, or international level, it’s vital to highlight this as a unique value. At Meeting Professionals International, this unique position is made clear in the statement that “MPI is the voice of professionals around the world, advocating for the industry and its significant economic impact.”
    Establish a partnership. Demonstrate value by being a partner in your members’ journey.  The National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors tells members, “Together we can take on anything. … By joining NAIFA, we become your partner, elevating your performance while providing a greater purpose to your professional work. We help you advance your career. We protect your industry. We enhance your credibility.”

    Be exclusively inclusive. This may seem a contradiction in terms, but associations must learn to be exclusively inclusive. Advancing diversity and inclusion is key to ensure associations thrive, gain insights, and stay relevant. Offering access to a diverse community of peers who share common interests and passion for a profession, trade, or cause is a sound value proposition. It’s even more powerful when a member testifies to the value of belonging to the community. In a brief video, a member of the International Coaching Federation explains that ICF is a “wonderful community to be part of … a place where any coach can come and spread their coaching wings.”

    When communicating value, it’s equally important to differentiate the exclusiveness of belonging by making it clear which benefits are members-only. The Risk Management Society used an effective visual of a side-by-side comparison table during its recruitment and retention process that shows differences in product accessibility and price. A strong value proposition should include what is exclusively accessible to members, by tiers, or to those who pay a premium.

    Deliver on a promise. Finally, value should be articulated in terms of the commitment, the expectation, and the promise the association offers. What outcome can your members expect? What results can your organization help them achieve? It’s best to craft a unique value proposition from scratch, but here is a simple model to help you get started:

    Our member value promise:
    [Association name]
    Helps [who/audience/profession]
    To [achieve results/solve problems]
    With [services/products]

    In 2021, it will be essential to spell out your value proposition, make it visible on your public-facing forums, and use it consistently in recruitment and retention campaigns. And after all the transformative events of the past year, be sure to review your value proposition and update it if necessary to ensure that it reflects the current reality, even if your organization’s core value proposition remains unchanged.

    Sylvia Gonner, CAE

    Sylvia Gonner, CAE, is CEO of CultureWiz LLC.

  • 04 Mar 2021 5:20 AM | Brett Jeffery, CAE (Administrator)

    Associations can use a year’s experience mastering the virtual world to excel in future endeavors.

    Erica Holland says she’s been pleased to see the transparency of association professionals in sharing their experiences—both positive and negative—dealing with the pandemic.

    “Seeing people collaborate in new ways has made me proud to be a part of this association world,” said Holland, the assistant executive director at the Society of Interventional Radiology.

    She said the biggest lesson she learned last year from an organizational perspective is to be “nimble and willing to experiment and try things” because there wasn’t a road map for 2020. And since Holland’s association works with medical specialists, during the early stages of the pandemic information was flying at her members “at breakneck speed.”

    And so, it was exceedingly important for SIR to get its members the most relevant and pertinent information to allow them to continue their work while also understanding how the pandemic affected it. That’s still important.

    Ensuring you keep your members in the know is a significant factor in planning for the year ahead. But it’s just one piece of the puzzle—below are insights from Holland on how 2021 is all about building on the template you created in 2020 and leveling up.


    That’s what Holland said, adding that this didn’t just apply to getting COVID resources to their members—they designed web-based solutions to help them curate that information quickly—but also to other types of clinical education.

    She said there was a “real appetite for information,” so they learned how to quickly deliver webinar programs that in pre-COVID times might have taken months but that now are put together in just weeks.

    Over the last year, they developed the framework for their association’s now all-virtual world as they went along. Now, with that roadmap in place…


    The transition from in-person to virtual work has served as a catalyst for what many of us have come to know as “Zoom fatigue.” Holland says that over the last year, experimenting and building out SIR’s roadmap, her team learned what engagement can look like in this digital ecosystem.

    That meant answering questions like: How do you keep your online meetings fresh and relevant? How do you provide the right amount of pre-recorded content? Holland found balancing pre-recorded segments with live moderation and discussion worked best. She said it created a structure that wouldn’t spiral out of control timing-wise but still let people communicate with each other in real-time.

    Associations also now have a better sense of financial commitments and expectations for navigating this new world—which types of investments yield more positive results. You know what is truly valuable to your members. And you know which resource-intensive activities aren’t so valuable and can be scrapped. As Holland pointed out, associations have had a year of experience to assess these things.

    “I think seeing members continue to renew even during difficult and uncertain times reassured us that we were doing the right things,” Holland said. “And they see the value of their participation, which was a real positive during a difficult year.”


    Internally, it’s also been quite a transformative year for learning how to deliver content and communicate as, essentially, a pixelated head. That includes everything from conducting everyday business to educational webinars and committee meetings.

    “Everyone had to become masters of new trades,” Holland said. “Some of the tools we are using today were just completely alien and unknown to us [a year ago].”

    Holland’s association has adopted a 100-percent telework model, and they rely heavily on their Association Management Software: Personify. Through this crisis, they maintained all of their member communications and leveraged features like auto-renewals, accounts payable and receivable. “It really minimized anyone’s need to go into our physical office space.”

    SIR also integrated their online community with Personify to let members communicate amongst themselves in discussions and forums. While the traffic on these types of forums has always been high and discussions quite vigorous, it’s been a feature that members really needed in this socially sequestered time.

    It’s more important now than ever for associations to give members access to one another, “to share their experiences and ideas in a time that is very socially isolating for many people,” Holland said.

    It’s also important to approach this transitory period with an inventive mindset.


    SIR’s members, interventional radiologists, are by nature on the cutting-edge of medicine and tech-savvy. They have “a willingness and appetite to pilot and trial new programs,” Holland pointed out.

    That spirit allowed for honest feedback, an innovative attitude and staff working together to deliver an improved and imaginative journey ahead.

    “I think that carried us through beautifully,” Holland said. “We’re not out of the woods yet, none of us are, but we are well-positioned in 2021 based on what we learned last year.”

    This series by Personify is intended to serve as a guidepost for associations that are reacting to fundamental market shifts and proactively building a better future for their organizations

  • 18 Feb 2021 8:20 AM | Brett Jeffery, CAE (Administrator)

    Your organisation’s employees and members can contribute a lot to one another’s professional development. Here’s how to make that happen.

    Professionals have many educational resources at their fingertips. But when they need to learn something new, they are more likely to ask their colleagues for recommendations than they are to search the internet.

    Professionals crave peer-to-peer learning opportunities, and they can be highly effective. This type of learning can also break down barriers by encouraging connection among people who otherwise wouldn’t cross paths. And during the pandemic, when loneliness and isolation are common, a peer-to-peer learning program offers a way for employees or members to interact regularly with one another and establish community.

    If you’re ready to tap into expertise already within your organization, consider these strategies as you implement peer-to-peer learning for your staff team or members.


    You may not have the time or organizational resources to create a robust employee learning program with a clear curriculum. However, setting up a dedicated channel for peer-to-peer learning on your workplace collaboration platform (Slack or Teams, for example) can encourage casual knowledge-sharing that employees can contribute to on their own time. To stimulate regular conversation, you might designate a “conversation starter” who drops prompts into the chat every so often. Messaging channels have worked as educational tools before—some universities have used them to facilitate distance learning initiatives.

    If you want employees to continue the conversation with professionals beyond your organization, take to social media and start a conversation with a prompt about a specific topic and a hashtag to go along with it.


    For more pointed one-on-one learning experiences, establish a mentorship program—something that is particularly helpful during the pandemic—in which senior employees take young professionals under their wing to help them develop. By pairing a junior employee with a more experienced one, your young professionals have an internal resource to turn to in bolstering their professional development.


    Members are also looking to learn informally from each other at association events. For example, the Faculty Association of California Community Colleges did away with experts and keynote speakers for its California Great Teachers Seminar. Instead, it started operating on the principle that its members—all teachers, after all—are experts in sharing knowledge.

    This approach works particularly well for an organization of educators, but every association is rife with experts in their fields. One way to shift future events to be more focused on peer learning is the fishbowl method, developed by Adrian Segar of Conferences That Work, designed to facilitate more discussion.

    MICHAEL HICKEY - Michael Hickey is a contributor to Associations Now.

  • 12 Feb 2021 5:59 AM | Brett Jeffery, CAE (Administrator)

    Looking for simple, inexpensive ways to keep members engaged in a virtual world? Here’s one solution.

    How does it work? Recognising that its members were lonelier and more isolated than ever without the typical pathways to interact with colleagues at in-person meetings—an ongoing issue—the Council on Undergraduate Research established “CUR Conversations,” a low-cost way for members to connect on a video calling platform.

    CUR sends out an email inviting members of its community to get together and share ideas for an hour on the video calls. Any member can propose a topic for the call, which is limited to a specific number of people.

    Why is it effective? Members can join the casual forums to discuss hot topics, issues they are struggling with, success stories, solutions, and more. The calls often bring together members who don’t already know each other, which helps them widen their circle and build bonds with new people in a virtual world, despite the lack of face-to-face events.

    What’s the benefit? “We don’t have to develop any content, and it’s not a heavy lift for us, but members are getting a lot of value out of being able to connect with their colleagues,” says Lindsay Currie, CAE, CUR’s executive officer.

    LISA BOYLAN - Lisa Boylan is a senior editor of Associations Now.

  • 08 Feb 2021 9:40 AM | Deleted user

    AuSAE Business Partner, Enterprise Care has released its 22nd annual Not for Profit Remuneration data as a fully interactive digital portal. The first in Australia, this interactive NFP Remuneration Portal enables you to review and compare the data whichever way suits you, in real time.  The portal includes:

    • Benchmarking & Trend Data - Given our long history in market, we're able to provide up to 10 years of trend data for each role level.
    • Dynamic & Interactive Reporting - All control is in your hands. Make unlimited selections to review all relevant parameters to you.
    • Accessible Any Time, Anywhere - Available on desktop, tablet and mobile devices.

    If you are an AuSAE financial Member, you can access the report at a discount. Head to Member Resources > Benchmarking Reports > Not-for-Profit Remuneration Portal.

  • 04 Feb 2021 3:18 AM | Brett Jeffery, CAE (Administrator)

    A glossary of common terms related to membership that will help you keep up in conversations with colleagues, volunteers, and members.

    Do you speak membership? As an association professional, you’d better—and you probably are comfortable with a lot of the common terms that are bandied about in the association community every day. But membership has a cross-discipline jargon of its own that can get extremely specific, and it can catch newbies and even old pros off guard.

    Consider this list of membership terms your go-to resource the next time you find yourself struggling to distinguish your retention rate from your churn rate or keep your member segments straight. Like our “Tech Talk” glossary, we hope it comes in handy as you build your association language fluency.


    Chapter organization: A break-off organization, tied to either a specific region or an organizational niche, that is affiliated with an organization but brings together a narrower body of members.

    Churn rate: The opposite of member retention, this term refers to the percentage of members who have lapsed over a given period.

    Code of ethics: A set of conduct standards that association members are expected to follow, based on the association’s core values. Many associations have been challenged to keep their ethics codes up to date as social media has made negative and unprofessional behavior more public.

    Dues: Revenue raised directly from membership. Although dues are an important part of many associations’ bottom lines, a key goal of many organizations in recent years is to diversify their revenue streams beyond membership (see “nondues revenue”). Many associations have favored dues on an annual cycle in the past, but monthly or installment dues are becoming more popular.

    Exit survey: A survey given to members as they leave the organization. This type of survey is important for improving future offerings.

    Net promoter score: A measure of a member’s loyalty to or satisfaction with an association. A term that originated in the business world, net promoter score measures a member’s willingness to recommend your organization, and its products and services, to others.

    Nondues revenue: Revenue raised from areas other than membership dues. Associations often generate this revenue through events, learning opportunities, and services targeted at members beyond what a membership covers.

    Passive member: A “member in name only” who is disengaged from the association. Membership teams look for ways to encourage participation by these members to demonstrate membership value and increase the likelihood of retaining them.

    Retention rate: The percentage of members who have renewed their membership over a given period.

    Segmentation: The process of dividing members into groups based on common characteristics so organizations can market to each group effectively and appropriately.


    Baby boomer: A term describing people born between the post-World War II years of 1946 and 1964. For many associations, these members make up their oldest demographic, with many in senior roles and some nearing or at retirement age. A concern associations face regarding baby boomers is “brain drain”—or the loss of institutional knowledge as older members leave.

    Generation X: A term describing people who were born between 1965 and 1980, generally representing a middle-age tier of members in an organization. MultiBriefs describes this group, the smallest of recent generations, as hardworking, individualistic, and valuing efficiency in their association relationships.

    Generation Z: A term describing people born between 1997 and 2012. This demographic tier is only just now breaking into associations as its oldest members graduate college and enter the workforce. Despite their reputation for heavy social media use, it’s widely believed that Gen Z-ers join associations for face-to-face interactions.

    Millennial: Also sometimes referred to as Generation Y, this term describes people born between 1981 and 1996, and it represents people in the early to middle parts of their careers. This generation is considered the first tech-native generation, and associations have faced many challenges reaching this audience over the past decade.


    Content marketing: The process of creating and strategically structuring content (an information resource of some kind) to target a specific audience. This tactic is often used in member contexts to attract and engage new or existing members.

    Crowdsourcing: A member engagement tactic that describes a resource, such as a piece of content, that has been collected from a group of people. This approach works particularly well for highlighting member success stories and raising member voices.

    Engagement: The process of interacting with a member in order to produce ongoing value for that member. This is a perennial challenge for associations, but it’s a key to attracting and retaining members.

    Influencer: A prominent, high-profile voice in a community or field (also see “thought leadership”). The rise of social media has increased the use of influencers for marketing and messaging purposes. Within an organization, individual members can become influencers on a smaller scale; those members are often called “micro-influencers.”

    Onboarding: The process of introducing new members to an organization and getting them up to speed. Onboarding is important to ensure members feel equipped to gain maximum value from an organization.

    Thought leadership: The concept of introducing and promoting ideas of high relevance to a specific member community. These ideas can be advanced by an organization, through content marketing, or by a leading voice within the community.


    Association management system (AMS): A technology tool usually comprising a mix of management elements, such as a membership database, a website builder, communications system (email), finance and payment system, event platform, and more. In recent years, the AMS has become a dominant technology supporting association operations.

    Customer relationship management (CRM) software: A technology for managing all of a company’s relationships and interactions with customers and potential customers. Designed to improve relationships to grow a business.

    Drip campaign: An email campaign that helps ensure engagement with members over a long period by sending a series of messages to their inboxes.

    Learning management system (LMS): A software application providing the framework that handles all aspects of an organization’s learning programs. It’s a place to house, deliver, and track an association’s training content.

    Private community: A forum or similar digital discussion hub where association members can engage with fellow members on issues relevant to their field or organization. Unlike more traditional social networks, a private community tends to be tight-knit. It’s a key example of a member benefit in the digital age.


    Ernie Smith is the social media journalist for Associations Now, a former newspaper guy, and a man who is dangerous when armed with a good pun.


    Michael Hickey is a contributor to Associations Now. 

  • 21 Jan 2021 4:46 AM | Brett Jeffery, CAE (Administrator)

    Associations responded remarkably well to an onslaught of challenges in 2020. A membership expert offers suggestions for navigating the start of a new year with your members in mind.

    I don’t know about you, but in times of uncertainty I like to talk to experts, so I reached out to Scott Oser, president of Scott Oser Associates, to find out his thoughts about membership for the upcoming year. Nothing like the hot seat.

    “The number one thing associations need to do is understand the state of their membership and their industry,” Oser said.

    As gratifying as it was to wave goodbye to 2020, changing the date on a calendar unfortunately does not automatically erase all the difficulties of the past year. People are still being affected by the pandemic, racial injustice, and political and financial instability, to name a few of the ongoing challenges we face.

    Understanding the state of the industry and where members are can mean many different things, Oser said. Some members might be strapped for money, while others might need their association now more than ever for career resources. Or you might need to communicate with members differently because they are bombarded with information.

    Tweaking and customizing messages is just as important now as it was at the beginning of the pandemic, when every association was putting COVID-19 resources at the forefront, he said. Staying on top of what your industry wants and needs will help you fine-tune messaging and offerings to better communicate with and serve members.

    “We can’t go back to doing business as usual because we are definitely not in business as usual,” he said.


    An ongoing communication stream that shows members your value—either through social media, newsletters, or member-to-member communication—is necessary, Oser said. And these ongoing communications need to do two things: Address member needs and show how your benefits and services are meeting them.

    The messaging should be bite-size, he said, not a list of 30 member benefits. Concise, easily digestible messaging is essential because, in many cases, people are busier than ever before because they’re home, juggling kids, pets, spouses, and everything else on top of trying to do their work.

    “You need to focus on one or two things that will prove to be valuable in the moment,” he said.


    It’s a challenging time but renewals still need to go out, using slightly different tactics, Oser said. Some industries were particularly hard hit by the pandemic, so you might need to reduce dues or extend membership terms. But, overall, he recommends tweaking your messaging to show that your offerings can help members with what they’re going through.

    “There are industries that are thriving and there are industries that are suffering, but people are still renewing because they find value in their membership,” he said.

    Having a hardship plan in place is also a good idea, so every staff member at the association knows what they can offer if a member comes to them and says they can’t afford dues. But you don’t have aggressively promote it, Oser said. You can add it to the fine print of every invoice you send out stating that if a member is having financial trouble because of the pandemic or other issues, they can contact the association for other options.

    “You can’t leave money on the table because not everybody is being impacted by COVID and not everybody needs a reduction,” he said. “Associations are a business.”

    Going forward, Oser predicts that associations will continue to be strapped for resources, so they’ll need to make sure that everything they do is effective and efficient.

    “There’s not going to be a lot of ‘nice to do’ anymore,” he said. “There’s going to be a lot of ‘need to do.’

    LISA BOYLAN - Lisa Boylan is a senior editor of Associations Now. 

  • 21 Jan 2021 4:36 AM | Brett Jeffery, CAE (Administrator)

    As associations adapt to challenges ushered in by the global pandemic, new research by Personify provides a guidepost for strategic decision-making.

    Looking at 2020 in the rearview mirror, it’s easy to see that associations faced unprecedented changes, disruptions and threats to their operating models. (Understatement of the century, anyone?) But gazing into a crystal ball at 2021 and beyond, it’s difficult to determine what shifts are permanent and what newly adopted practices and behaviors are here to stay.

    To better understand what may lie ahead, Personify conducted a survey of nearly 1000 association and nonprofit members and staff to learn how they are adapting to these shifts. In a series that begins with this article, we’ll highlight key areas of concern with both the short- and long-term in mind.

    Here are some of the high-level takeaways from Personify’s research:

    Your digital networks are more crucial now than ever before. 

    More than half of all survey respondents shared how important it is for their associations to provide both digital networking and a digital community for its members. While associations have historically leaned on routine in-person meet-ups to court potential members, a successful association has to explore new avenues, such as networking in the digital space.

    While productive and meaningful connections can take more time to navigate and nurture in a virtual world, people are adapting and finding themselves more engaged than before. According to Personify’s research, 48 percent of members said they were more engaged in 2020 than in 2019.

    “That feeling of being seen and understood gets worse when you’re working remotely, so companies will compensate for that; they’ll start ramping up their recognition and rewards programs,” David Johnson, the principal analyst for employee experience at Forrester Research, told Fast Company. “Companies are going to invest quite a bit in up-skilling managers and investing in technology that will help them better understand employee engagement when working remotely.”

    Similarly, investing in tools that complement virtual planning and events can benefit people not only in the interim but in coming years when many might opt into remote gatherings as a choice, rather than out of necessity. And with the adoption and application of these new services and skills, planners can empathetically and productively launch hybrid in-person/virtual member engagement.

    Virtual engagement is here to stay. 

    Even when it’s safe to return to in-person events, only a minority of members surveyed want to engage in them—merely 15 percent of members said they would want a mostly or entirely in-person event (under the assumption that it is safe) in the second half of this year, with 50 percent of members preferring a mostly or entirely virtual event, and 33 percent preferring a combination of virtual and in-person for 2021. This could be attributed to the fact that virtual engagement is seeing a more widespread and welcome adoption.

    Once we can safely return to in-person gatherings, the digital shift won’t disappear. It’s going to remain a constant within networking communities. Rather than focus on ways to phase digital settings out, a forward-thinking association will discern how to maintain its online presence while still conducting in-person happenings in the months and years to come.

    “Anyone who is planning to host an in-person event in 2021 should also be prepared to have a virtual back-up plan, or plan a hybrid event, as there will be many unknowns throughout the year and no guarantee that events will be safe by 2021,” Gianna Gaudini, Director, Global Head of Events at Softbank Investment Advisors (Vision Fund), wrote for Thrive Global.

    “Smart planners will communicate early and often with attendees to get an idea of attendee sentiment around live vs. virtual gatherings, and what will make attendees feel 1) safe and 2) part of a communal experience.”

    Career skills and certifications still matter. 

    This was cited as the top reason among members to continue to engage with their association (46 percent very important for members), followed closely by being able to network with others (45 percent) and belong to an organization that advocates for their industry (44 percent).

    LinkedIn reported that in the first week of April 2020, people watched 1.7 million hours of content designed to teach a new skill on LinkedIn Learning, compared to 560,000 hours watched during the first week of January 2020, before the pandemic hit. That’s triple the amount of time spent watching skills-centered content once people were isolating. It’s evident that people are gravitating toward learning new skills and achieving certifications. Associations should tap into this by finding out what content members are interested in and providing relevant programming.

    “Most of us have new skills we aspire to learn, but chipping away when we’re stuck at home requires a superhuman act of willpower,” Taylor Jacobson, founder and CEO of Focusmate, told Fast Company. “We’re used to relying on in-person structures—go to a dance studio, take a yoga class, meet your guitar teacher. These structures provide the accountability to actually show up, invest time, and make progress.”

    Association membership remains valuable. 

    Many members said that belonging to an association has either become more important (44 percent) or is as important (48 percent) as it was pre-pandemic. Associations Now reported that a study published in April by strategic research firm Association Laboratory, Inc. found that 57 percent of association leaders reported more investments in online education, 52 percent reported exploring virtual conferences and 62 percent reported plans to digitize their content.

    Dean West, FASAE, president and founder of Association Laboratory, told Association Now that the concept of digital membership is hardly new, but interest has accelerated because of the pandemic. He suggests analyzing membership, cost and returns on investment for programs, dropping the ones that don’t yield meaningful results.

    “You can’t look at a crisis only as a threat,” West said. “You have to consider it as an opportunity to create energy toward strategic change, because we know the crisis will eventually subside.”
    In short, it’s not about sitting on the sidelines and waiting for this to pass, which could lead to associations running the risk of losing their relevance in their members’ professional and personal lives.

    Stay tuned for the remainder of our series, where we highlight how smart associations are preparing for the journey ahead. And while we can’t predict the future, we hope this series will be a good starting point for making lasting improvements.

    This article is the first in an 8-part series focused on studying the shifting association landscape and how smart organizations are planning for both short- and long-term challenges–and solving them. Backed by original research conducted by Personify and brought to life through the stories of association leaders who are meeting these challenges in real-time, this series is intended to serve as a guidepost for associations who are reacting to fundamental market shifts and proactively building a better future for their organizations. Sign up for Personify’s webinar on Jan 27 that will walkthrough this research in detail.

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