2020 was a year of disruption. Now what?
According to a recent survey of 200 associations around the world conducted by ICCA, 66% believe that COVID-19 has fundamentally impacted how they operate. The global pandemic and digital revolution have forced associations to rethink their value proposition, engagement strategies and ways of doing business.
And despite their reputation of being slow adopters, associations, like every other organization, have had no choice but to embrace the digital revolution and optimize the numerous advantages and opportunities they offer to build sustainable engagement models with their communities.
The community-building mindset
How satisfied are your customers? Associations tend to overlook the large number of customers interested in their offerings, products or programmes. Just because they are not interested in paying for a membership does not exclude them from your association community. You should adopt the mindset of building community and consider your association as an open professional community rather than a closed membership organization. Every customer has a role to play and contributions to make, and should be considered a valued ‘member’ of the community. “Projections for 2021 are changing as our world is changing so quickly. We’ve taken a customer-focused approach, looking at the community and how we can provide connection with our member, build relationships and share knowledge,” said Amy Burke, MA, CAE, Executive Director of the Special Libraries Association (SLA).
In a recent study of association members conducted by Community Brands, 50 percent of respondents said they value their membership more than they did before the pandemic. Members see their associations as increasingly vital, and with more online and virtual options, they are engaging. In another survey, 75 percent of nonprofits reported an increase in demand for their programmes, and a whopping 85 percent agreed that technology is the key to future success. Do associations have a choice? Not really. The traditional one-sizefits-all approach to membership is over. Today’s members and customers want customized and personalized experiences — and digital solutions offer endless opportunities. “It was a step into the unknown, but we were willing to explore another way of going about our processes that may lead to more efficiency, time and money savings in the long run. It was an opportunity to tap into digital technology to see how things can be done better,” Ronnie Tan, President of the Singapore Institute of Landscape Architecture (SILA), said regarding the organization’s move to a cloud-based digital platform.
Like any other business, associations must listen to their members’ and customers’ needs, expectations and values. In our highly viral environment and interconnected world, perception matters, and Gen Z, the next generation of customers, craves trust and transparency. Building trust with stakeholders is key. “We had to be very maintained in our communication. We had to be careful not to over-promise, and always do what we say we are going to do. We knew we would build that trust if we stick to our commitments,” said Mark Cooper, CEO of the International Association of Conference Centres (IACC). “We provided interpretation and meaning behind every action throughout that journey. That’s key! It is almost like we were prepared with every decision that we made and communicated about it to provoke excitement.”
Traditionalist, transitioner or future-oriented?
There are different types of organizations. Depending on their size, maturity, sector or even geographic location, associations will approach the ongoing volatility and increased digitization of the engagement experience differently. Those associations that have a more traditional approach to member engagement most likely will face difficulties in embracing their stakeholders’ changing needs. In this new normal, traditionalists will suffer from lack of agility and their financial status will suffer over the long term. Those in the transition phase have begun to address some of the critical components related to member engagement, relevance, agility and financial management, but there is much more to do. Future-oriented organizations have already addressed some of the critical factors to ensure relevance and value. However, the need for greater agility and digitization is challenging even the best of associations.
Making tomorrow possible
What will help associations thrive in this new world? The first step is to understand what is and is not working. More than 80 percent of associations have been forced to cancel one of their flagship meetings due to the pandemic, according to a survey by Association Meetings International. The financial result of these cancellations has placed a significant burden on associations— and also shows that they are relying too heavily on their event as the main source of revenue, above subscriptions.
Tradition isn’t good enough anymore. Today, associations need to have a real purpose. Association leaders need to rethink their fundamentals and provide more meaningful engagement and value for their members, customers and stakeholders. They must ensure future-proof and sustainable revenue growth and at the same time maintain relevance for their community. Is your association ready for tomorrow? F.A.S.T.© is designed to guide associations through a tailored roadmap for resilience and growth. To learn more, visit www.fastbymci.com.