COVID will end… someday.

While we await that day, we must deal with what’s in front of us. For many associations, this is the time of year when membership renewals go out, and there is much angst as to what impact COVID-19 will have on renewals.

This is not the first time that associations and their members have faced uncertain economic times (remember the Great Recession?).  Some associations may experience a significant decline in membership renewals. But the current situation also presents opportunities for those willing to see the possibilities and who are open to doing things differently. Lessons learned these past several months:

  • Associations remain valuable and trusted sources of information. In the early days of COVID-19, most associations experienced significant spikes in their website traffic as industry professionals and oftentimes the public turned to them for credible information and resources. Associations responded in kind, providing exceptional value to their members during this time of crisis while also raising their profile to thousands of new individuals.
  • There is growing demand for online content and networking. Let’s face it, not many of us heard of Zoom before this year. COVID-19 reminds us how much we need personal interaction and the value of relationships. It has made online engagement more acceptable and encouraged innovative and interactive learning and event experiences (i.e, less “death by powerpoint”, more group chats, breakout rooms and virtual happy hours).
  • The value of membership extends beyond in-person events. Even in good times, conference attendees represented but a small percentage of most association’s total membership. So there has always been an opportunity to retain and grow membership beyond in-person events. That has certainly been true with virtual events. As one example, ASAE’s 2020 virtual Annual Conference had 14,000+ registered attendees, more than double registration for their 2019 in-person event. And of those 14,000+, 71 percent were first-time attendees.

In planning your 2021 retention and recruitment strategy, use these lessons to refocus your value proposition as you also re-examine your business model for the future. Accept that things are not returning to normal (i.e., pre-COVID) and adjust your strategy accordingly. Finally, remain focused on your members’ emotions and feelings. As marketing guru Seth Godin reminds us:

“People don’t want what you make. They want what it will do for them. They want the way it will make them feel. If you can bring someone belonging, connection, peace of mind, status, or one of the other most desired emotions, you’ve done something worthwhile. Who’s it for and what’s it for are the two questions that guide all of our decisions.” Seth Godin, This Is Marketing: You Can’t Be Seen Until You Learn to See

Listen to your members (and prospective members). Empathize with them. Help them get through these challenging times. Do these things and they will reward you with their support today and for years to come.

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