By Tony Rossell, Senior Vice President
For all of us, our lives are in a state of disruption. This is no less true for our members and prospective members. That’s why there is no more important time for associations to boldly communicate with members about the practical assistance that they can provide to them. It is a time for associations to empathetically and proactively demonstrate the value of membership. As the saying goes, “A friend in need is a friend indeed.”
This help can come in multiple forms. Here are some ways that you can reach out and engage members right now.
Provide Community – Many associations have the opportunity to help members connect electronically like never before through private social networks and social media. This may be particularly important in our current situation. During the 9/11 crisis years ago, people had the opportunity to congregate in their neighborhoods, places of worship, offices, and public places to share and process their thoughts and anxieties. Today with social distancing these outlets are not readily available. However, association online community platforms allow members to post questions and share challenges. As I have monitored these platforms for some of my clients this week, I see enormous amounts of activity and much helpful guidance being shared.
Drive Advocacy – Whether your members and their companies are in the airline industry, restaurants, or the service industry their jobs and the survival of their companies are threatened. Additionally, those in healthcare need a voice to support them in the enormous challenges they are facing. Professional and trade associations are perhaps the members’ best hope of getting the message of their needs and struggles in front of government officials and others that may be able to provide help. Ideally, associations can also get a seat at the table as decisions impacting their professions and businesses are being made.
Offer Online Training – Conferences and in-person training are no longer available for the immediate future. However, members have an immediate need for specific presentations that speak to the questions that they are facing right now. Additionally, members continue to have the desire and often the budget to grow their expertise and knowledge. Many who are working from home may also have time to pursue training and certification. An association can offer its learning platforms or commercially available conferencing tools to present online classes and webinars to fill these needs.
Encourage Networking – Many associations have chapters, sections, and divisions that can provide immediate connections to members. Longer-term your members who were employed at the start of this year may be looking for work by the end of the year depending on the economic impact of the current situation. I remember an association colleague sharing with me during the previous recession that many members that he knows who lost a position found the network that they had built through the association the most productive source for finding their next job. An association’s career center can further support members looking for a new position.
Share Critical Information – Whether it is fake news or simply inaccurate data members have a critical need for a trusted source of specialized and current information about what is going on in their profession and industry. Associations are best positioned to provide this timely information through regular updates and links on the website through newsletters and with breaking news via email.
Disruption causes people to look for solutions to help them manage change. Whether the focus is on engaging and retaining members or recruiting new members associations now have the important role of presenting the valuable resources and tools that they have to help meet today’s very present challenges.
In our most recent edition of the Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report, respondents highlighted the top reasons why prospects join an association and why members stay. The main reasons were networking, learning best practices, accessing current information, advocating for the industry or profession, and advancing their career. With our current challenges, all of these are heightened needs for members. By speaking to these needs associations have the opportunity to build long term-relationships with their members and prospects.