3 Ways Associations Can Make Decisions Fast in a Crisis

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In the pandemic, every moment matters—and Indy is making moves.

It might be human nature to freeze in the face of crisis. But the only way for businesses to navigate through sudden upheaval is with speed and agility. Quick, data-driven decision making must lead the way for all aspects of associations—from meeting planners grappling with the transition to a virtual event, to membership teams struggling to keep members engaged.

Consider what’s known as the SODA loop. The acronym stands for scan (the circumstances), orient (to the changes), decide (on an effective response), and act fast to implement it. In crises, businesses that successfully tighten that loop will come out on top when the dust settles. Here are some tips for how to make it happen.

Organize a committee of experts.

When the pandemic began impacting events in March, the Indy Convention Center evaluated the situation and moved swiftly to adapt. It changed air filtration systems and sanitization protocols, revamped the floor plan for greater capacity, and invested more than $7 million in overall improvements.

“Indy was built to host major events. It’s what we do,” explains Roberta Tisdul, the director of convention services for Visit Indy. “After years of hosting Final Fours, large-scale conventions, and a Super Bowl, we have perfected the local organizing committee concept. By including leaders representing the full spectrum of the hospitality industry, we are able to form a united front.”

Adapting that organizing committee model, the team created the Indy Tourism Recovery Task Force, which provided a platform to orchestrate unified city-wide safety and hospitality guidelines.

Build and adapt infrastructure.

The ability to react swiftly in changing times is easier when a business already has some infrastructure in place to prepare for eventualities. But crisis can also be an opportunity to build upon or even set up new infrastructures that guide the business into a changed future.

Indy found itself well prepared when circumstances called to pivot to new space restrictions mandated by the city as well as an increase of hybrid and virtual meeting requests. First, the city had the space: The Indiana Convention Center and Lucas Oil Stadium, connected by an enclosed skywalk, combine for nearly 750,000 square feet of exhibit space, more than 80 breakout rooms, and three ballrooms. But the Indiana Convention Center also worked quickly to revise floor plans with built-in six-foot physical distancing measures. These new protocols allowed Indy to host more than 40,000 attendees across 18 events amid eased restrictions in August.

“Each of these meeting groups proactively worked with Visit Indy, the Indiana Convention Center, hotels, and the Marion County Health Department to have their health and safety plan approved,” Tisdul explains. “That’s the team mentality here in Indy.”

For hybrid meetings, and the need to connect virtual attendees with the destination, Indy has developed video content that can be customized for breaks—from zen time lapses to mixologist recipes to virtual workouts.

Internet bandwidth has also become essential to hosting large-scale streaming events. And the Indiana Convention Center and Lucas Oil Stadium offers 21 gigabits per second of bandwidth, more than 2,000 Wi-Fi access points between both venues, and free Wi-Fi available in public areas.

Communicate and collaborate.

A strong team can harness its effective collaboration and communication strategies to weather a crisis from a unified position.

“We’ve always known the hospitality community in Indy is one team, yet this pandemic solidified it,” Tisdul says. “From hotels, to A/V companies, to the city—we’re all working to find solutions to the evolving challenges. Indy was one of the first cities to resume hosting large meetings, and to do that safely required a vast amount of collaboration.”

But the midst of an emergency is not an ideal time to put that team framework into place; rather, teamwork should be a goal organizations strive to build every day.

“Quick decision-making is really indicative of the people and processes you have in place even before a crisis strikes,” Tisdul says. “Combine a productive, positive, and progressive attitude with a proven track record in hosting large events and you have a team that is ready to weather this storm and come out stronger than ever.”


Visit Indy proudly serves as the official sales and marketing organization for USA Today’s “#1 Convention City in the U.S.” Learn more at VisitIndy.com.

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How Associations Can Weather the Pandemic-Induced Storm

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To prepare for the future, associations must absorb the lessons of the pandemic.

While the COVID-19 crisis continues to disrupt the realities of doing all types of business, from both economic and procedural standpoints, few industries have been hit as hard as live events and travel.

A $400 billion decline in travel spending around the country this year will translate into a total economic loss of $910 billion in economic output, the U.S. Travel Association estimates. The group’s recent study also revealed 40 percent of excess nationwide unemployment is in the sector, although it accounted for 11 percent of total employment prior to the pandemic.

Further, the American Society of Association Executives revealed grave survey data that showed many associations don’t have sufficient reserves to weather the pandemic without congressional action; 72 percent of respondents projected a loss up to half of their reserves.

But the critical importance of face-to-face interaction means this business will certainly rebound—and it’s those organizations that learn from the lessons of the pandemic that will flourish and endure. Here, Visit Indy C.E.O. Leonard Hoops shares three lessons associations can learn, turning this crisis into an opportunity to fortify a rock-solid foundation and prepare for any eventuality.

Be proactive, not just reactive.

Associations must not just sit back and accept fate as it is given. Rather than just doing damage control, they should own the crisis as a time to take action.

Since March, the Indiana Convention Center has made $7 million in safety enhancements to ensure it can responsibly welcome back groups. And in July alone, after health department restrictions began allowing events under strict safety guidelines, Indy hosted five events with 40,000 combined visitors. During that time, the city jumped to third in the country for weekend downtown hotel occupancy.

In April, the group launched the Indy Tourism Recovery Task Force, a team of more than 60 people and 50 organizations built on an organizing committee model learned from its experience hosting Final Fours, a Super Bowl, and large-scale conventions.

“Pulling this task force together will help us adapt to the inevitable bumps in the road yet to come, and gives us an effective model for addressing future challenges,” he says.

As challenging as the pandemic is, it can be an important wakeup call and a strategic opportunity to take stock and prepare to act swiftly and nimbly in the face of change—whether that may come in the form of another wave of COVID-19 or something else entirely.

“You can’t just wait out a crisis,” Hoops says. “You can’t just play defense; you’ve got to play offense. It’s something we’ve been doing for years—In the 1980s, Indy built a stadium without an NFL team commitment, then welcomed the Colts the next year. During the financial crisis of 2008, we began expanding the Indiana Convention Center. Over the past few months, we announced the sixth expansion of the Indiana Convention Center—a case of Indy betting on itself once again. While this strategy won’t protect us from every unknown, we’re confident we’ll be one of the very few cities with major new products opening immediately after our industry’s full recovery.”

Nurture a winning culture.

These bold actions emerge from what Hoops calls a “3P” culture: productive, positive, and progressive. Naturally, the productivity piece is key—but the critical importance of the other two pillars becomes abundantly clear in a crisis.

“Positive is about elevating the team environment instead of sucking the wind out of it,” he says. “And progressive is relentlessly seeking to improve, adapting to change, never being satisfied with the status quo.”

Indy’s elasticity is also the result of diligent disaster preparedness planning: When Hoops joined Visit Indy in 2011, the group had less than a month of operating income in reserves; by March 2020, it had six months in reserves. “Between our deeply rooted culture and our financial planning over the past decade,” he says, “we’ve been able to operate in a relatively calm and motivated environment given the circumstances.”

Understand your unique value proposition.

The entire meeting industry is confident a full recovery is coming, because there’s simply no substitute for face-to-face events. For Indy, this creates a powerful value proposition to acknowledge and advocate for.

“It’s what human beings do,” Hoops says. “The long-term upside for our industry of all this video conferencing and working from home is that while we’ve come to appreciate its benefits given the circumstances, we’re also fully experiencing its limitations to really connect and engage us.”

Indeed, he says, there is a palpable pent-up demand for travel and face-to-face experiences. That’s one reason why “a once-a-century pandemic can knock us down, but it won’t knock us out.” And that will be especially true for orgs prepared to learn and grow from this historic moment.


Visit Indy proudly serves as the official sales and marketing organization for USA Today’s “#1 Convention City in the U.S.” Learn more at VisitIndy.com.

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Creative Meeting Formats Flourish During COVID-19

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The pandemic has meeting professionals exploring new event formats. From drive-in meetings to year-round virtual convention centers, they’re doing what it takes to keep attendees safe and engaged.

COVID-19 has taught meeting professionals a lot of things. At the top of the list for many is that creativity is required.

And a lot of that outside-the-box thinking has come to life in terms of re-imagined meeting formats. Here is a look at how a few organizations—both inside and outside of the association space—have delivered new formats that work in the current environment.

Drive-In Meeting

Drive-in movies have been making a comeback this summer due to coronavirus, so it was only a matter of time before meetings were also held using a drive-in format. Back in April, Wisconsin’s Richmond Electric Cooperative held its annual meeting in the parking lot of its service center, where vehicles and equipment are typically stored. Members were invited to park and stay in their vehicles the entire meeting, while listening to the proceedings on their car radios. Another creative element: Voting was done by horn honks—short and quick for “Aye;” long and loud for “Nay.”

“It was pretty strange to have everyone in their cars and not have the chance to sit and chat with them,” said Amy Martin, the co-op’s chief financial officer, in an article posted on the NRECA website. “But it was so nice to still see everyone’s smiling faces through the windows. You can just tell everyone is happy to be here and together.”

Year-Round Expo

Due to the success of its United Fresh 2020 Live! virtual conference in June, the United Fresh Produce Association announced [PDF] that it would transition the platform it used for that meeting to United Fresh LIVE! 365. “We basically built a year-round convention center,” John Toner, United Fresh’s vice president of convention and industry collaboration, told Convene magazine.

Not only does the platform include an online marketplace where buyers can source new products and solutions from hundreds of vendors, but it also features ongoing education in the form of webinars, conference programming, and networking opportunities for the global produce industry. “It allows to have a place to interact, and have a voice, and do the social things that we can’t do together as well as have some education tied in,” Amanda Griffin, IOM, United Fresh’s vice president of education and program management, told Convene.

The Great Outdoors

The Tacoma Executives Association is a networking group for business owners and managers in Tacoma/Pierce County, Washington. Throughout the summer, TEA has been hosting socially distanced outdoor luncheons, as well as happy hours, for members.

Later this month, the St. Clair Beekeepers Association will also hold an outdoor meeting. Attendees will be required to wear face masks and are encouraged to bring a lawn chair, food and beverages of their choice, and most important—their “protective bee clothing to observe or help with hive inspections and demonstrations.”

Given restrictions in place due to COVID-19, what new meeting formats have you tried already or currently have in the works? Please share in the comments.

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Daily Buzz: When an Association Management Company Can Help

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Tap into the power of an AMC when you feel your organization’s resources and expertise are lacking. Also: Optimize content for voice search.

When do you know it’s time to to consider the services of an association management company?

“Couldn’t we all use help with association management to a certain extent?” asks MemberClicks’ Callie Walker.

While true, there are a few signs that it’s time to outsource some of your operations, Walker suggests. If a lack of resources to effectively manage all aspects of your organization is starting to affect the member experience, it may be wise to consider using an AMC to help pick up the slack. For example, nonprofits often struggle with retaining staff, which is something an AMC can provide.

An AMC can also help your organization if it lacks expertise in a particular area. Say you have a quality staff that works well with members, is skilled at fundraising, and plans memorable events, but falls short when it comes to marketing. That’s where an AMC can come in.

“Yes, you can hire an AMC to manage your association in totality, but you can also hire an AMC to perform certain job functions and/or complete certain projects,” Walker says.

Marketing With Voice Technology in Mind

Did You Hear? Your Brand Needs a Voice Strategy – https://t.co/IjdINlRUvp pic.twitter.com/vGng24KcNV

— Content Marketing Institute (@CMIContent) August 24, 2020

How is your audience finding your content? It might be through voice technology, like Siri, so keep voice search in mind when crafting content, suggests Christoph Trappe in a piece for Content Marketing Institute. For example, giving your podcast a name that’s easy to memorize and say will increase the likelihood voice searchers will find it.

“If you ask Siri for ‘Business Storytelling Podcast,’ my podcast is not the first and only result. (Remember many voice searches only show or say one result.) You need to say ‘Christoph Trappe: The Business Storytelling Podcast’ for it to be in the top position. That was my mistake when I set it up—long before I thought about voice strategy,” Trappe says.

Other Links of Note

How do you boil down your brand’s goals into a few sentences? A recent article from Sprout Social breaks down how to define your brand mission.

Say what? Active listening is a superpower, argues Association Chat’s KiKi L’Italien. She offers tips to be a better listener.

Effective hiring and retention practices are key to effective leadership, says Tanner Simkins in Entrepreneur. He provides five strategies for employee retention.

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Three New Skills Event Pros Must Develop in the Wake of COVID-19

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Coronavirus has forever changed the meetings industry. As a result, event professionals need new skills to best navigate this new environment. Three to consider developing.

The COVID-19 pandemic rapidly changed the meetings industry. As event professionals were tasked with transitioning in-person conference to virtual ones—sometimes in a matter of days or weeks—they often had to develop new skills they may have never considered to be a job requirement previously. Here are three skills that will benefit meeting professionals as they move forward in this new environment:

VX manager. I’m sure you’re familiar with terms like UX (user experience) and CX (customer experience). As more associations host virtual and hybrid meetings, I believe event professionals will have to give much more thought to what I’m calling “VX,” or virtual experience. Virtual meeting platforms and other tech tools must be selected with the attendee experience in mind. For example, are they easy to use? Do they integrate well with other tools your attendees are already using? Since many of your attendees are relatively new to online events, you don’t want them to feel overwhelmed and intimidated. And, as virtual events become the norm, your attendees will expect you to deliver an exceptional experience that’s on par with your in-person events.

Risk assessor. As an article posted on MeetingsNet discussed, COVID-19 has laid the groundwork for event professionals to get buy-in for developing a comprehensive risk management plan for their meetings. “Your organization and events team must understand its duty of care for participants, how to assess and minimize risk, what to do in emergencies (and how to train for them), and the right way to transfer or mitigate risk through contract language and, for some events, meeting insurance,” wrote Sue Hatch. Event professionals must be knowledgeable about how things like force majeure clauses, attrition, and event cancellation insurance works. After all, having that know-how could help your association remain financially stable should future in-person events need to be postponed or canceled.

Online education expert. Keynotes, panel discussions, and interactive education sessions are staples of in-person association meetings. But how can you best translate these experiences into a virtual space? Event professionals must be willing to be creative and take risks in order to deliver education to their virtual attendees that meets their needs. This may involve training speakers on how to deliver their content effectively in an online environment. In addition, planners will have to give some thought to how they will help create interaction in the virtual space that goes beyond a chat box. After all, your attendees don’t just want to learn; they also want to connect with their colleagues and ask questions or get clarification from speakers.

What new skills do you think will be important for event professionals to develop in the wake of COVID-19? Please share in the comments.

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Low-Cost Ideas to Engage and Retain Members

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Associations are rallying and coming up with solutions they might not have thought of before the pandemic. Here’s a look at what one small-staff association with a tight budget is doing to keep its community close in difficult times.

In a recent article, I covered member engagement strategies some larger associations with deeper pockets were using. I also wanted to see what smaller associations were doing to engage and retain members with fewer resources. I spoke with Lindsay Currie, CAE, executive officer of the Council on Undergraduate Research (CUR), who shared four ideas.

Talk it out. People are lonelier and more isolated than ever, she said. They don’t have typical pathways to interact with colleagues in their own organizations, and they aren’t meeting new people at in-person conferences. Recognizing that members were missing the connectivity of community, CUR established CUR Conversations, a low-cost way for members to connect on a video-calling platform.

Any member can propose a topic for the call, which is limited to a specific number of people. Members can join the casual forums to discuss hot topics, issues they are struggling with, success stories, and more. The calls connect members who don’t know each other, which eliminated a stumbling block for members who didn’t know who to contact, Currie said. CUR sends out an email inviting members of the community to get together and share ideas for an hour on the video calls.

“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,” she said.

Take five. Knowing that people are short on time and overloaded with emails and articles, CUR developed Five in Five, videos that provide five tips, solutions, or answers to questions in five minutes. The association recently created a Five in Five video on how to better leverage their online community platform, and a member provided five tips on how to host a virtual symposium.

Since CUR’s small staff doesn’t have any video technical skills, Currie said they use an inexpensive platform called Animoto to produce polished videos very quickly. The videos are uploaded to CUR’s YouTube channel and then shared on various communication platforms, which allows CUR to find members where they are.

“We wanted to focus on things that would support our members when they had time and bring them together. They’re the experts. We’re the facilitator of the conversation,” she said.

Welcome aboard—again. Many of CUR’s members have been with the association for a long time, so they realized they needed to launch a re-onboarding campaign to update members on new benefits they might have missed.

They highlight one area of CUR benefits each month and explain how members can access the benefits and use them. They recently launched the first in a six-part series, and Currie said the click-through rate was very high. “We’re really trying to reengage our members and remind them of the benefits we have right now,” she said.

A month of thanks. In November, CUR will launch a month of thanks with a Twitter takeover. The association will ask members to share positive stories to provide an opportunity to celebrate within their community and exchange ideas.

The silver lining in all of this tumult, Currie said, is that associations are coming together and finding new ways to share. Another positive is that people are much more willing to test and try new things. “None of us are experts in this environment,” she said. “Being willing to test is critical.”

What is your association doing that is working right now to engage, retain, and recruit members? Share your thoughts in the comments or send me an email.

 

 

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Two Essential Tasks for Board Chairs

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Board chairs help set an association’s strategic vision, but they also manage the board itself. When chairs think like managers, not just stewards, they can have a profound impact on the board’s health.

There’s a problem with some of the words we use to describe board chairs. The post is often described as an “honor,” which it is, but the term gives the impression that being a chair is an award—and that the tenure is a victory lap. It’s also called a “role,” which emphasizes how a chair relates to the staff executive. But the word diminishes what being a board chair actually is, or ought to be: a job.

Of course, it’s not a job in a traditional sense. Even if you do it well, you’ll likely have to leave it after a year or two, and it’s not (usually) compensated. But thinking of the board chair position as a job might help stress the point that chairs have management tasks to take care of just like any other kind of leader. It’s typically said that staff leaders deal with operational, day-to-day matters while boards handle strategy, but board chairs have day-to-day responsibilities too when it comes to ensuring the board’s long-term health.

In “How to Be a Super Board Chair,” published last month in the Stanford Social Innovation Review, nonprofit leaders Jon Huggett and Mark Zitter get into what that job entails, particularly when it comes to managing other board members. The chair is the head of a “decision-making team,” they explain, and much of their advice is of the good-governance variety: set clear directions, run meetings well, be a good listener, be a good partner to the staff leader, get plenty of feedback. But they also spotlight two underappreciated job tasks for board chairs.

A buttoned-down process increases the chances of finding and attracting good board candidates.

One is a short-term task, bluntly stated: “Pare deadwood.” Just about every board has its share of less-engaged or disengaged members, and many simply let such situations go; short of serial absences that trigger removal clauses in the bylaws, many chairs avoid confrontation on the matter. Huggett and Zitter demand more from a chair and suggest that they lead assessments just like any boss would: Have written expectations of board members and follow up to see if they’re meeting them. Those who don’t, Huggett and Zitter write, should be required to either step up or resign. Either way, the governance team becomes more focused.

The second underappreciated task is to think strategically about the future of the board, not just the future of the organization. That includes succession planning for the board and its committees, and Huggett and Zitter encourage board chairs to think about good fits that go beyond how long candidates have served as committee members or in other volunteer positions. “The ability to lead a board is paramount,” they write. “Experience on that board is secondary.” (See the point about deadwood above.)

But beyond simply sorting out the question of who’s going to serve as treasurer next year, board chairs need to lead on the question of what the board will look like in the years to come. Succession planning for new and emerging board members who think strategically requires some proactive searching; that’s especially true if the board is working to diversify itself. Whether you hire somebody to assist with that or take it on yourself, Huggett and Zitter stress that it should be treated professionally.

That’s just good governance, but it also has a multiplier effect: When you show that you think succession planning is important, the high-quality board candidates you want will be more likely to emerge. “A buttoned-down process increases the chances of finding and attracting good candidates because it creates a first-class impression of the organization,” they write.

Luckily, board chairs have a CEO’s support to lean on. After all, the staff leader is just as invested as the chair in having good board members, and though CEOs have to be mindful of overstepping their bounds, they’re valuable sources of support and information. “Both the chair and the executive director should work to design the relationship in a way that works well for the organization and sets up the executive director for maximum success,” Huggett and Zitter write.

That kind of symbiosis doesn’t happen by accident. It’s the result of board chairs recognizing the responsibility they’ve been given—and getting to work.

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Will Attendees Be Asked to Screen Themselves for Symptoms of COVID-19?

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Once in-person meetings and conferences begin again, some associations may ask attendees to answer a daily health questionnaire or undergo some type of symptom screening for COVID-19.

Over the past few weeks, kids in many parts of the country have been returning to school after six months away. Getting kids back in the classroom safely—if only part-time—has required detailed planning and coordination.

Earlier this week, I was talking to a friend of mine who lives New York City about her son starting kindergarten. Standard guidelines to stop the spread of COVID-19 will be in place (masks, temperature checks, and social distancing). But in addition to that, his class will be held outdoors, and parents are required to do a health check every morning. After answering a few questions online, parents are given either a smiley face, meaning they can bring their child to school, or a sad face, which means they need to stay home or provide additional information.

Last week, I wrote about how convention centers are preparing for the eventual return of attendees by adding new technology like thermal imaging cameras that will take the temperature of conventiongoers when they arrive onsite.

In addition to technology offered by meeting venues to help monitor attendee health, associations—much like schools—may consider asking participants to fill out a daily health questionnaire before they arrive for their day of learning and networking.

That’s exactly what the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association did for its 2020 Cattle Industry Summer Business Meeting in July, a hybrid event with an in-person component in Colorado. According to an article posted on PCMA.org, NCBA asked its in-person attendees to use a COVID-19 symptom screening tool.

Developed by 42Chat, HealthShield allowed attendees and staff to respond to a three-question survey via text, which could be completed in less than 15 seconds. After taking the survey, attendees either received a valid green check mark to enter, or a red or yellow mark restricting their access or asking them to take additional steps before entering.

NCBA didn’t require attendees to be screened via the text tool, but those who used it and received a green check mark were able to move quickly through the doors by showing their phones. For attendees who didn’t complete the survey online, NCBA had staff onsite to conduct the screening in person.

Tradeshow service provider Fern also recently announced that it was partnering with ShareMy.Health to launch Fern Health Check, a digital platform that allows tradeshow and event organizers to collect self-assessments from attendees, staff, and other participants.

“The return to live events is going to be about shifting the mindset of attendees, exhibitors, venues, and local jurisdictions to a place where they are again comfortable hosting and attending events,” said Jim Kelley, Fern’s vice president of marketing and industry relations, in a press release. “We believe Health Check is a key tool that will help this occur.”

As your association plans for the eventual return of in-person meetings and conferences, what type of health checks do you anticipate asking attendees to take part in? Please share in the comments.

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Tips for Growing Membership in a Pandemic—and Beyond

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Bringing in new members with a health crisis in full swing and the economy reeling sounds pretty daunting. But it is possible, according to an expert who sees hope for associations amid adversity.

A couple of weeks ago, I reported on some good news from Marketing General Incorporated’s Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report, which showed promise for ongoing membership growth, even in a pandemic.

In a session at ASAE’s 2020 Virtual Annual Meeting & Exposition last month, MGI’s Elisa Joseph Anders followed that report with some action items associations can consider right now to increase membership growth—or to set the stage for growth once the economy rebounds.

“Investing in membership recruitment should be a top strategic priority,” she said.

The years following the 2009 recession produced the best new-member recruitment numbers to date in MGI’s research. In 2013, associations reported that new-member acquisition was at an all-time high. While many associations are seeing a drop in membership now and anticipating challenges going forward, the historical data following the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression provides hope for the future, Anders said.

Be a Go-To Resource

What can associations do now to minimize membership loss and rebound as quickly as possible? Anders recommends doubling down on marketing efforts as much as possible.

“Organizations that stay active in the marketplace during tough economic times are among the first to come out on the other side,” she said. Understanding member needs and showing how you can meet them will create mutually beneficial short- and long-term relationships that will increase loyalty and value.

Anders touted the American Nurses Association as a prime example of an association that has focused on informing and supporting its members during the pandemic. ANA’s strategy has been to conduct research to understand its members’ needs and engage as many members as possible. ANA is delivering trusted information and free COVID-19 resources to help nurses stay informed and help them do their jobs better during an unprecedented health crisis.

It’s a good time to do research so you can understand your prospects’ challenges and what you can do to support them, Anders said. Knowing what obstacles prospects are facing will allow your organization to position itself as a reliable, trusted place to come in a difficult time. It will also make your messaging more meaningful and resonant because it will be targeted and informed.

Stay Ahead of the Curve

“Without innovation, membership stagnates,” Anders said. Sometimes that means broadening your tent. She cited the National Retired Teachers Association, which was founded in 1947 and a decade later expanded its membership to all retirees. That huge market expansion created AARP. In 1984, AARP lowered its membership eligibility age from 55 to 50, boosting its membership again.

Does your association have market expansion opportunities? For example, Anders said, if your association represents doctors, could nurses join? If your organization is domestic, could it expand internationally?

New membership models are also worth investigating, she said. Creating a tiered membership that offers a low price point could be particularly inviting to professionals and organizations experiencing financial hardship. Prospects have different needs and budgets, so a tiered membership structure would allow associations to meet those varying needs with greater flexibility.

What if all of this seems too overwhelming to consider right now? Anders recommends setting the stage now in anticipation of better times ahead. Being a go-to resource for members, developing new membership models, and expanding your market are among some good options to consider and plan for once things do improve.

“There is light at the end of the tunnel,” she said. “There is hope for associations coming out of the pandemic and the recession.”

 

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Can YouTube Help Associations Better Communicate with Members During the Pandemic?

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COVID-19 has made face-to-face communication with members nearly impossible. The American Forest and Paper Association is thinking outside the box and upping its YouTube game to reach members and other stakeholders.

While YouTube has been around for many years, it hasn’t always been high on the list of tools that associations use to communicate. But one group is turning that notion on its head. As the pandemic has stopped most face-to-face interactions, the American Forest and Paper Association is leaning into its YouTube channel to make video a stronger part of its communication strategy.

“AF&PA has maintained a YouTube presence for several years, highlighting the industry, our members, and our advocacy efforts, but we’ve been pushed to use video in new ways more recently,” said Heidi Brock, AF&PA President and CEO. “Since we cannot be with our members or stakeholders in person, I wanted to find a way for people to see and connect with me and the great work of our association virtually. Video helps fill this void.”

To do that, Brock has been recording videos from her home office since the pandemic began. “It doesn’t replace face-to-face engagement, but these videos, I believe, deliver a personal touch, emphasize a key message for a particular point in time, and offer support and reassurance through what, I think, has been a very challenging time for many people,” she said.

The videos have been used showcase both short-term messages and long-term projects, like AF&PA’s Better Practices, Better Planets 2020 sustainability initiative.

“My recent video address reported on the progress we’ve made on our comprehensive set of sustainability goals,” Brock said. “It was a moment to reflect on accomplishments and goals we’ve either met or exceeded, including reducing workplace injuries, decreasing greenhouse gas emissions, and improving energy efficiency in manufacturing facilities.”

And while the videos are on YouTube, AF&PA also shares them on other platforms, including Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter. “That’s helping to amplify the reach of each video message, and it’s easier for our members to view and share with followers,” Brock said. “These videos also get shared in our member e-newsletter, Topline. Using video in this format is an excellent way to add variation and creativity to member communications you’re sending by email.”

 

For example, Brock said a video was shared widely that thanked workers at paper plants this spring, as it “came at a time of unprecedented demand for paper products, including toilet paper, paper towels, and tissue products.”

You Can Do It, Too

For those looking to ramp up their video use, Brock had a few suggestions. “I’ll admit there is a learning curve to video,” Brock said. “You want to plan out what you have to say and make sure you—or whoever is in front of the camera—feel comfortable. That might be something you have to ease into and practice before hitting record.”

Associations should also be mindful of how long their videos are. “Many people are short on time and overwhelmed with content,” Brock said. “We try and keep our videos brief to quickly engage members from whatever device they’re on, wherever they are.”

As the videos can help amplify that personal connection during this time of separation, Brock suggested making sure you convey your organization’s heart and authenticity.

“The key to any video you create is to make sure it conveys a human dimension,” Brock said. “I look at each video as an opportunity to engage, but also to connect with peoples’ feelings and emotions. Use words that resonate with your audience and seek to build connection and understanding. Be as transparent and candid as possible, seek to inspire, and layer in a compelling call-to-action to keep your members and stakeholders engaged and energized by the message. The bottom line is to be authentic.”

How is your association using YouTube or other video during this time? Share in the comments.

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