Redefining Membership in a Time of Crisis

By William Hixson, CAE, Management Services Executive, The Core Management Company


2020 has challenged organizations across countless industries, and the non-profit association sector is no different. Many associations made membership gains over what has been nearly a decade of economic growth since the Great Recession, while other organizations experienced membership declines due to changing cultural dynamics and technological advancements. Now, as the pandemic has ushered in a new recession and limited our ability to gather in-person, membership has been pushed to the forefront of priorities for many associations. The Core Management Company team has developed ways to assist our partner associations redefine memberships.

To retain lapsed members and to attract new members during the crisis, associations have looked to develop new membership categories, specials or promotions. One of our partner associations opted to pause membership invoicing for 90 days at the start of the pandemic as a sign of support to its members during a time of economic uncertainty.

The association extended all current member expiration dates by 90 days, and also offered a complimentary membership to non-members for 90 days. This complimentary membership was a show of support to the industry at-large, allowing non-members access to exclusive information and resources that would assist their business during the pandemic. While the main goal was to support the industry, this was also seen as an opportunity to show non-members why involvement with an association is so important, and ideally to convert them to dues paying members.

Because many associations rely on in-person gatherings for engagement, membership organizations must take a look at what this new event landscape means for their value proposition. Associations have turned to online meetings and learning, which means they are now competing with many other organizations who offer the same that may have previously been geographically unavailable. One option associations may consider is offering a “digital membership” which would provide individuals with access to online resources and virtual learning opportunities at a discounted rate. Because expenses are drastically reduced by hosting events virtually as compared to in-person, associations may find that a “digital membership” may provide the same or more revenue than the traditional membership.

When it comes to innovating and adapting to meet an organization’s mission and to support its membership, the options are endless. This year has challenged membership organizations, but those that get creative will certainly have a better opportunity to survive and ideally to thrive.

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