The COVID-19 pandemic has forced associations to improve their member value proposition, retain members, and attract new ones. With more software and digital platforms available, more than ever, association leaders are finding innovative ways to drive client engagement, increase retention, and provide more value through events, marketing, communication, and memberships.
During our last thought leadership event, Association Leaders: Leading and Managing in 2021, we learned how association leaders are successfully leading and managing virtual teams, managing change and keeping high morale through strategic alliances, and adopting new technologies such as Glue Up’s Association Management Software.
14 months later, work and engagement patterns continue to change even as members become weary of the ever-increasing number of virtual events, content, and other online activities. Additionally, more young people are joining associations, thus demanding that associations recalibrate traditional methods of engagement. How can association leaders offer members more value and drive client engagement to retain and attract new members?
Here’s what our panel of seasoned association leaders at the Community Experience Strategies for Engagement and Retention - Africa had to say:
The events industry was the hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. Similarly, event-driven associations that rely on events as a means of engaging with their members were also greatly affected. For the past 14 months, many members have been out of work and cannot pay membership fees or provide for their families. Additionally, with 65% of event professionals working on a freelance basis, a majority now lack a source of income despite government initiatives put in place to assist freelancers.
Consequently, members cannot prioritize paying their membership fees over bills and other responsibilities. This reality has created negative energy amongst our members, which further affects our association. The biggest challenges we have had as an association are maintaining our relationships within the community and creating an environment where we provide value and solutions to the challenges that they're experiencing in the marketplace.
In the last 14 months, associations of every kind have been experiencing similar challenges. This is even more so for association leaders who are leading in an environment where our members are experiencing truly difficult times and leading at a time where budgets have shrunk significantly. And therein lies the question: how do we engage with our members and provide them with meaningful solutions to the real-life problems they face now?
In Kenya, we have seen many of our members experience serious reductions in business while others shut down their offices for the medium and long term to work from home. As a result, we had to adjust our communication patterns and engaging members to fit the unique dynamics of how these members carry out business and relate with other players in the industry. As a result, we opened new channels of communicating with our members and understanding how we can reach out to them personally rather than sending out bulk communication.
The Institute of People Management is in the human resource or people management space. It’s an area wherein most of our corporate organizations first consider when looking to cut costs that directly affect revenue streams. This reality has trickled down to our individual members who are now conflicted about prioritizing paying their membership dues over survival during this time.
To mitigate this, we have tried to use different ways to find out how our members are fairing, support them, and give them more time to pay their membership dues. In addition, we reach out to our members through various platforms such as direct email and phone calls just to stay in touch and keep them informed about events and other upcoming activities.
Another challenge we have experienced is adequately representing all our members and the greater industry sector in which we are active. As a result, other stakeholders in the industry who are not members of our association feel they are not represented in engagements with government and other regulatory bodies. It is also difficult to engage with them and understand their needs because we do not know who they are.
The solution we employed to mitigate this challenge is that we've expanded our social media footprint to start engaging more actively with people. Particularly using platforms like Facebook that we weren't that active on before the pandemic came along. Naturally, our social media presence has opened our association to abuse and criticism from stakeholders that feel disenfranchised. Nevertheless, we remind ourselves of the mission we are working towards to keep us on track and understand that we can't be all things to all people.
Our transition to online activities was smooth thanks to the type of communication we could share with our members and the general public. Our main concern was how we could generate and manage quality content on the virtual platforms that have been adopted in the country. As we noticed that more and more people are experiencing virtual event fatigue with the increased number of virtual events, online communication, and content, we reduced our communication and begun producing personalized content targeting the different classes of membership and professions within our association.
In terms of virtual events, we reduced the number of free events to meet the costs involved in creating more quality events for our members, such as CPD events. We are still learning how to balance our member value during events with how much they are willing to pay to attend these events. This ensures we cover overhead costs and generate revenue while giving our members the engagement they seek.
Our engagement values include regular ongoing communication with our members through bulk emails and our social media platform. Member centricity is another important engagement value that helps us anticipate our members’ needs, understand the challenges they are facing, and provide solutions to these challenges. We also try to involve our members by collecting their feedback through surveys and engaging on social media.
Additionally, we try to be solution-oriented by listening to our members and providing value that automatically solves some of the challenges they are experiencing. Glue Up has been instrumental in achieving this because it helps our members communicate their needs, find solutions and answers to questions by engaging with other members on the platform.
We have also realized that, as an association, we are part of an ecosystem and are not in competition with other associations. We have adopted a mindset that associations exist to assist members who in turn help make their organizations better. This has opened us up to reaching out to more people within and outside the industries we serve to engage on how they are solving different challenges. I believe openness in another engagement value associations should implement in the future.
What we have done is leverage webinars and broadcasts extensively. We concluded that running regular webinars regardless of the low number of participants is the best thing to do. This helps us engage with people and allows them to engage with us, ask questions, and know of upcoming activities within the association. We record and post these webinars on social media to help further our reach.
We have also done many web-based broadcasts as we are fortunate enough to have the television studio facilities available to us at no cost. We have run professional-looking television broadcasts with great studio guests including high-level government representation such as the Ministry of Sports, Arts, and Culture. We have secured high-profile guests to engage with members, and in that process, they recognize that we're working with high-level government officials to find solutions to the problems they are experiencing.
Additionally, we have made a concerted effort to ensure that we take advantage of things happening in our marketplace by positioning ourselves as the go-to source of information and making sure the media perceives us as such. The past 14 months have been about making sure that we keep a high profile. We also want to be seen actively engaging with the government on behalf of our members and the communities we are serving.
Technology remains the key tool we want to use to engage with our members. Like many associations, we are fairly thinly staffed and technology has helped us improve efficiencies. We now spend more time reaching out to members rather than dealing with administrative matters that can be managed by these technology systems. In this regard, we are building an app for the association that will act as an interactive tool of engagement with our membership.
We are also looking to expand our offerings especially the CPD points by building an online reserve of CPD programs. For example by inviting experts to make one or two-hour presentations that we would later upload and grant access to our members. This will create a rich source of information freely available to our members at a cost.
I believe technology is the way to go as we are using several tools to improve our membership services. For example, our financial management system is now web-based, and we have improved our record-keeping system. Additionally, technology has helped us put in place systems that have enabled us to collaborate while members work from home. These systems have improved our quality of service to members and have made information readily available to them. Therefore, technology is a key element and investment our association will make long term.
We have embraced technology and the digital era, but we are not yet fully transformed. After 63 years of hosting our live annual conference, we hosted our first virtual conference last year using Glue Up’s Membership Management Software. With Glue Up, we are becoming more virtual in membership management and events, and moving into using apps is also within our pipeline.
It has become easier to host meetings and other activities using Glue Up in terms of education and networking. Running our branches and networks centrally has become easier but is still a work in progress even as we try to cater to each group of members within our association, such as our young members. The COVID-19 pandemic has had adverse effects on the world, such as loss of life, but it has also pushed us into the digital era where technology is helping us reap benefits such as getting the best speakers for CPD events from any part of the world.
As it’s unclear when we will enter the post-pandemic phase, the first step is to ensure all our members survive until then. We will wave membership fees for unemployed or underemployed members and continue to represent them in exchange for participation and access to information. However, this poses a challenge as transitioning members back to a paid environment after the pandemic can be difficult.
We found the solution to a smooth transition is constant communication with members and embracing radical transformation. This means being open and radically transparent with members to engage with them on a more meaningful level because they appreciate the value of the services we offered on an individual basis during difficult times. It is all about providing value and getting members to buy into our long-term vision so that when things are back to normal, they maintain their memberships.
By looking at the demographics of our association, we are now getting a larger percentage of younger members as the older generation is starting to retire. Additionally, we are seeing new patterns of working due to the pandemic, such as working from home and digital nomads where people are working on the move. These new patterns will create new memberships with a different dynamic of engagement. The younger generation consumes information faster and is adopting new channels of communication faster than other age groups. This will call for restrategizing for how we address this demographic of members using technology.
We will also see a change in the needs of members. For example, our members will need more than the CPD programs we run. They will need to network and build partnerships that will translate into additional benefits for them. We are looking at expanding our service offering beyond the traditional CPD programs and advocacy we have been doing for many years to generate additional networks and partnerships that will create more value for our members.
There’s going to be a long-term change in how we do things around the world, which we will experience in working patterns and engagement. Therefore, we must also evolve with these changes to stay ahead in the industry.
As we hope to enter the post-COVID-19 period, we are reflecting and reviewing our mandate as an association to see if it's still relevant in the new world of work. We are also looking at our business model to give our members a better value proposition in terms of how we are going to operate and engage with them. As our members are looking for solutions and convenience, we understand that our ability to provide these solutions and answer these questions will ensure that we stay in business long-term. We are also building a solid pipeline to ensure we grow and retain our members. We are supporting members who are unemployed but have a lot to offer to our association in terms of skills and knowledge.
We ensure we have different communication tools at our disposal that serve different age groups of our association. For example, we have maintained physical newsletters, which we send to our members from time to time. We also send emails while others find information on social media. In addition, we have a web channel with one of the members at no cost where we invite different guests and celebrate both young and older leaders. This is something we have seen our older demographic enjoy.
We have a membership class called the College of Fellows, which includes the more experienced members of the association ranging from age 50-90. We therefore already have a structure for the older members within the association and we leverage the leadership of the College of Fellows to encourage our older members to participate in online meetings. We also have specific meetings for this membership class. This structure reduces the abrasion between the older and younger generation when it comes to arranging meetings.
Our older members have proved to be very competent on IT platforms. We have had no issues getting to participate in webinars and other meetings. I believe that a value proposition exists with the older generation where older members can act as mentors and guides to the younger generation, such as first-generation students. We try to set up on-campus chapters to create opportunities for students to engage with experienced and participate in work-integrated learning programs. There is a lot of value our older members can provide to our associations in the area of mentoring our younger generation.
In a nutshell, associations can improve their member value proposition and drive engagement by leveraging their members’ experiences, challenges, needs, and other important characteristics such as age, preferred communication channels, skills, among others.
Furthermore, by tailoring experience strategies to solve problems, answer questions, and create additional value using technology and digital transformation, association leaders can not only retain their members but streamline their membership and organizational processes.
Digital platforms and software such as Glue Up’s Membership Management Software are helping associations worldwide focus on and empower their members to network and build relationships that benefit them and their individual organizations. Book a demo of our Association Management Software and learn more about how Glue Up can help you drive client engagement and retention through events, marketing, memberships, and communication.