2020 was an unprecedented year, presenting organizations with a previously unimaginable set of challenges that required them to transform their member operations and content. Many of the lessons associations were forced to learn during the pandemic have relevance enduring beyond this past year. The expectations of organization members across the board have changed forever. With the end of the COVID-19 pandemic finally in sight, associations are being called to develop sustainable methods of enhancing member experience in an entirely new industry climate.
In our latest white paper, “Ten Ways to Futureproof Your Membership?”, we highlight how the most successful associations are future-proofing their membership. Based on in-depth research with the most senior leaders of successful associations, we uncover the most impactful changes you can make for today and the years to come.
Read on to discover the most lessons from leading organizations who were able to successfully innovate and integrate a new-found entrepreneurial spirit into their operations in 2020.
This white paper highlights why you must:
Do Digital First
It’s not just about you doing different things, but about developing new capabilities so you can do new things all the time. Those who continue to treat digital experience as a nice-to-have have already been left behind. In the absence of in-person interactions, members crave digital engagement and many turn to their associations for information and professional connections. This shift is not just about doing different things, but developing the capabilities to do new things at all, along with an understanding that this shift is not short-term. It calls for an entirely new paradigm for digital membership, with great risks and equally great opportunities.
Crank up the Content
Members will expect nothing less from you than fast content cycles moving forward.
Many organizations that prided themselves on peer-reviewed, committee-driven, printed publications discovered that their content was ill-suited to member needs in 2020. They report intense pressure to generate more content on faster cycle times, redeploying resources, and collaborating across the organization to do it. Members will expect nothing less moving forward, and organizations will have to be able to deliver.
Embrace Your Scrappy Side
New content delivered quickly matters far more to your members than high production value.
The COVID-19 crisis has taught us that good content delivered quickly matters far more to members than high production value. This new, and often counterintuitive, dynamic has opened up a whole new world of opportunities and imperatives. It is thrilling for members and terrifying for organizations built for stability over speed. Organizations that can lower the cost of failure and empower fluid decisions will soar. Those that cannot will suffer.
What is an Event, Anyway?
Your ability to deliver non-traditional events is more than a question of skills; it is a question of creativity.
In-person events, the centerpiece of many association’s year, vanished overnight in 2020. Some, who were heavily reliant on event revenue to meet their budgets, faced existential crises. Across the country, desktop video became ubiquitous in the blink of an eye. This gave rise to a plethora of online event formats, some surprising and delightful. Yet the ability to deliver non-traditional events is still simply beyond the ability of many organizations. This is more than just a question of skills; it is a question of creativity. This is but one of many new capabilities that organizations will have to develop quickly to keep pace with the changing demands of members.
Help Old Dogs Do New Tricks
Many leaders in your position quickly came to realize they could do things they never could before — and that they would actually work.
Before the year 2020, the digital-only mindset was worlds away from the way most associations worked. Many quickly found there was no choice but to adapt and embrace technology, bust through obstacles, and learn to do things for themselves. After the initial bumps and bruises, it got easier. Then, they learned to love it. Many leaders report that they quickly came to realize that they could do things they could never do before, and that they would work. It will take leadership, skill, and attention sustained from the top down for associations to maintain this fluidity and not let it congeal again once the crisis passes.
Come Together, Right Now
Associations like yours will not be able to wait for content platforms to catch up to replicate the membership experience at a distance.
Membership at its best is not a transaction; it is a tribe. It is hard to replicate that experience at a distance. The elbow-to-elbow sharing and commiserating that many associations convene is a huge reason to belong and one of the most rewarding experiences we can provide. Community platforms have their place but are a weak substitute for the in-the-room togetherness. Content sharing platforms can be useful, too, but are mostly experimental and it remains to be seen how well they serve. Great solutions have not yet emerged, but associations will not be able to wait. Experimentation and discovery will win the day.
Everyone Has a Strategy Unit They Get Punched
The new ways of working organizations like yours adopt today will embed themselves into the “new normal”.
COVID-19 was not part of any association five-year plan. “Traditional” strategic plans with multi-year goals and objectives are now most useful as an aspirational statement of direction, used as a guidepost for in-the-moment decisions. The most effective plans are now emergent and scenario-driven. Updated often, even quarterly, decisions are triggered by results as they emerge. It is critical for organizations to understand that the new ways of working they adopt today will indelibly embed themselves into the “new normal”. These are much to be gained from this for organizations that are intentional about how they want to do strategy moving forward.
Keep Your Promise
Your association needs a powerful brand strategy to focus and energize you in times of crisis.
Purpose is not the same as mission. It is why you do what you do. How you show up in the world. Your purpose is your promise to your members. The for-profit world calls it brand strategy. All associations have mission statements, but few have brand strategies, especially the kind that can powerfully activate and energize them in times of crisis. Organizations that invested wisely in building their brand strategies before the crisis hit found it was crucial to their success when it did. Refining your promise to your members and investing in it moving forward will ensure your organization’s sustained flexibility and resilience when the next crisis hits.
Let No Good Crisis Go to Waste
The ability to plant the flag as things change will become a staple for your association, even when good times return.
The lessons of the pandemic will not soon fade. The ability to plant the flag as things change will become part of the core repertoire and a staple for associations even when good times return. One of the major enduring challenges will be disruptors. If we can succeed at becoming scrappy and virtual, so can a thousand start-ups in our space. One of them will get it right. We cannot be complacent about our newfound agility, nor assume that things will ever be the same again. We cannot take our space for granted. Crisis flings open a window for change. Now is the time to experiment when the window is still open, and to move quickly to protect your successes.
Build Capabilities and Outcomes Will Follow
Your organization will fare best going forward if you invest in building their organizational brains and muscles.
From meetings to content publishing to strategic planning, most organizations found themselves ill-equipped and well behind the commercial curve during the pandemic. The organizations that fared best in the crisis were those that had already invested in the right skills, technologies, capabilities, and strategies. They only had to turn up the volume. We’ve all had to learn the hard way that we cannot predict events or outcomes. What we can do is build the organizational brains and muscles to position ourselves to succeed, come what may.