Your Association Has an Opportunity to Demonstrate Its Value. Here Is What Your Members Need to Hear from Their Board of Directors.

Trade associations and professional societies face challenges and uncertainties they haven’t experienced in at least ten years—if ever. That’s the bad news.

The good news?

Associations have an incredible opportunity to prove their value to members.

At their core, associations are resource banks and support networks for individuals and companies within specific professions and industries. In the era of coronavirus and COVID-19, members need those resources now more than ever. Members need and want to hear from their association’s board of directors. They want to know more about the challenges ahead, and what their association and its board are doing to help them succeed in a moment where success is harder to come by.

Here are a few things your Board can do to strengthen its relationships with members, improve member retention, and become an integral part of the industry or professional community the organization serves.

1. Establish direct communication.

Your association needs to make sure every member knows they have a partner during these difficult times. Find ways to directly connect with individual members. Right now, an empathetic ear may be the single most valuable benefit associations can provide—especially if that ear is connected to a highly respected industry leader and association board member. Interact with members on social media, listservs, and other communication platforms.

If your board hasn’t already, begin developing new ways of communicating with and engaging members, including creating webinars and virtual happy hours, to retain a sense of association community in the era of limited travel and social distancing. Now is the time to write a thoughtful blog post or article, or simply call or email a handful of members. It may even get your mind off your own worries and offer a feel-good way of contributing to your community.

Direct communication is also critical to retaining vendors and sponsors. Reach out to those vendors—but remember that your vendors also face significant challenges, including potential furloughs and layoffs of their own.

Check-in on stakeholders as human beings first, and as dues payers and sponsors second. Make sure your renewal messages and sponsor pitches are appropriate for the moment and do not come across as tone-deaf.

2. Create a new member-focused, short-term board strategy.

Boards of directors cannot run on autopilot right now. There is a significant amount of work that needs to get done, and it needs to get done quickly. Craft mini strategic plans on a quarterly basis, focused on short-term accomplishments and serving as an invaluable resource for members. Depending on the association’s industry, the conditions facing members are likely changing so quickly that anything longer than a quarterly strategic plan risks becoming irrelevant quickly.

One way to implement a short-term strategic plan is to work outside of a typical committee structure and instead establish small, nimble teams designed to address specific challenges and opportunities. Directors should lead these teams while incorporating the leadership skills and talents of members who have not had the chance to step into a leadership role. Those new opportunities are their own form of member retention.

Conducting these meetings—and all meetings—via Zoom or other videoconferencing platforms will help retain (or even strengthen) a sense of community among association leadership and members.

3. Remember: Flexibility, empathy, and focus on retention.

The fastest way for an association to become irrelevant is for associations to treat member retention like a given, rather than a decision every member makes based on their individual circumstances. Every member faces unique challenges. Place empathy at the forefront of your quarterly plan. This might include flexibility in dues structures and payment plans, with an eye toward the lifetime value of a member, sponsor, or vendor—as opposed to their value over the next three months.

Members need to know their association and its board of directors understand their pain and sense of uncertainty.

No matter how challenging the road ahead is, members will value their association and appreciate boards of directors that communicate clearly, demonstrate empathy, and are courageous enough to be flexible and innovative. Boards that deliver on those promises will lead their association to a better tomorrow while serving as a shining example of how to lead in uncertain times.