What have I learned during March and April amidst the global economic pause and stay at home orders? I’ve learned that despite legislated closures, jobs lost, and event cancellations, association members are engaging with their associations more than ever! They want to be engaged and connected; they want to participate in something. How is this different from what association members wanted in 2019? What actually changed? Is this engagement just an effect of the COVID-19 pandemic?

Our role as an association management company and my role as an association executive is to figure out what is working to engage members and why it is working so well right now. The next step will be determining how to keep this level of engagement beyond the challenging times of this pandemic. Member engagement may have increased for the moment, but how do we keep it this way? Associations must work on new strategies that incorporate and consider all different types of members, whether it be those see their membership as “transactional”, those infamous “never-members” or the keeners who want to be involved in any way they can.

Transactional Members

For the last decade, association leaders have been talking about a growing number of association members who were simply customers. These members bought “stuff” from associations in a very transactional way. These members may find value in some of the products and services offered by an association, but they do not have a strong sense of attachment and they certainly do not brag about being association members or having not missed an association conference for a decade (or several!). Since this group of members continues grow, their engagement will be key in reaching all members.


We have also had a growing number of professionals who are sometimes called “never members”. These are transactional customers of an association who don’t ever plan to be members. Frankly these people have missed the value of belonging to an association. This audience is a little harder to reach when discussing member engagement, but with a strong social media and marketing strategy, these never-members may finally be convinced to join. For some social media tips, read my colleague’s article.

Associations bring a sense of community that these two groups of people may be seeking during these times of social distancing. After reeling them in and catching their interest, the true challenge will be keeping them curious and engaged. I will discuss how my association management firm has been keeping members engaged shortly.

Our Increased Engagement

Over the last few weeks, we have noticed a major increase in member engagement throughout the associations that we manage. One client now has almost 50% of their members as part of a private Facebook group; this number has doubled from the beginning of 2020. That same client is now attracting up to 25% of its members to weekly webinars. Another client who struggled with member participation beyond trade shows is now seeing a growing number of members participating in webinars and quick growth of new online community. It is thanks to our new strategies, programs and increased communications that members have become more active association members.

Increasing Member Engagement

We have quickly developed new strategies to interact with members and to encourage professional development and growth during a time when we are not allowed to host in-person events. I have worked with many of our boards to set up new webinar programs and online social nights to keep members engaged. If you have the resources, now would be an excellent opportunity to create a member engagement task force; learn more about association task forces in my colleague’s article.

The associations that we manage as an association management company are communicating more than ever with their members. This increased communication has been the foundation of increased member activity. Many of our associations are also receiving regular updates regarding government policies and new programs; we are working hard to ensure that members also receive profession/industry-specific information.

The curation of content has been the key to success for several of our clients. We have been getting a lot of praise from members about the information we have been sharing on socials, through email updates and even through video updates. Finding new and different ways to communicate is crucial for maintaining interest.

It is the positive feedback, and unique and specific requests for help, coming from associations members that is demonstrating the value that members place in their associations. It is also showcasing that members see their associations as trusted sources. As association leaders, we have always worked hard to be a trusted source of information for members, but we have not always felt that members saw us that way. They are now!

Challenges Ahead

The challenge that some associations will face is that many have launched free or almost free web-based educational events. These events have, in many cases, replaced in-person or online events that have traditionally come with a price tag attached. Demonstrating value for these when the time comes to charge will be a great challenge. Associations will have to ease back into charging; going from zero to $100 for a webinar overnight will not work, just like flipping a switch to end social distancing is not going to happen.

The only way that many associations will keep members for the longer term is to keep them engaged, now more than ever! Continue to engage members by educating them, keeping them connected and providing information that they cannot get any where else. Read another article about engaging members to continue learning.