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Why Driving Renewals Will Be More Difficult Going Forward

2020 was a challenging year for associations. That’s hardly news, but what may surprise you is the pandemic’s long-term ...

2020 was a challenging year for associations. That’s hardly news, but what may surprise you is the pandemic’s long-term impact on your association’s ability to drive membership renewals.

While the worst is, hopefully, behind us, the last year has cast a bright and unflattering light on the cracks in the foundations of organizations everywhere. Nowhere has this been more visible than when it comes to benefits and the member experience.

You might think this doesn’t apply to you. Maybe you managed to transition to Zoom just in time for that big event, or perhaps you think post-COVID everything will return to normal, but the story here isn’t about how you and your members dealt with, and survived, these inconveniences in 2020, it’s about why these inconveniences arose in the first place, and what that says about being a member of your association.


What’s the Point of Association Membership in 2021?

Unless association membership is a requirement in your industry, you understand how critical it is for members to understand the value they’re receiving from your organization when it’s time to renew. If they’re not getting much out of it, why should they share their hard-won dollars with you?

Convince Your Members to Renew

This year's renewal conversation is about to get a lot more challenging.


How you navigated 2020 will make or break how members answer the question above, but there’s more to it. For many of your members, this is more than just a question of if they want to stick with you this year, but if you’re even still relevant.

Let’s look at a few common areas most associations struggled with this year, and how those struggles could translate into a decline in renewals.


Challenges Faced by Associations in 2020 

Events - This is the big one, any association that relied on in-person events and meetings to facilitate member networking and provide other benefits (like training), faced a major crisis this year. Some successfully moved events online while others cut events all together.

Yet, even those that managed to get everyone together on Zoom noticed the shortcomings of this response. Many virtual events platforms, especially the free ones, aren’t built to support the unique needs and services associations require to serve their members. Breakout sessions, training workshops, hallway conversations, and even expo halls fell short of expectations for almost everybody. These lackluster experiences really pushed members to ask, were these events even worth it to begin with?

In-Person Events Suffered During COVID-19

In-person events will never be the same. Are you ready?


Collaboration - Cross-member collaborative efforts also took a hit. Networking opportunities were few and far between, and for many associations, the online tools provided to members to connect started to show their age.

Listservs and ancient forum software were barely hanging on before, but they should be dead and buried after this year. Unfortunately, many associations learned the hard way how ill-prepared they were when these avenues became the only real lifeline for their members in the midst of the pandemic. Difficult to navigate interfaces that lacked the capabilities necessary to foster meaningful and effective communication between members had users throwing up their hands and walking away. Even worse, some associations saw their members leave and start their own industry-focused LinkedIn and Facebook groups.

The Sponsor Experience - Got sponsors? Maybe not anymore. The loss of events has highlighted for many sponsors just how little they’re getting out of their associations beyond a booth or signage at the yearly conference.

While this won’t impact member renewals, sponsor renewals can be just as critical, and are just as at risk after this year. Not only have sponsors likely had to pull back on their own promotional budgets due to COVID, but a lack of events or other meaningful sponsorship avenues in 2020 saw sponsors committing their advertising dollars elsewhere, and it could prove a challenge to coax that investment back - especially if the results of those new investments look promising.


Locking In Renewals for 2021 and Beyond

Obviously 2020 was bad, but what can we do about it?

The answer is a lot, and you’ve likely already made moves to address the challenges above and other deficiencies that came to light last year. Still, here are three things you should give some thought to right now that will not only help you patch the holes made by COVID, but give your members a stronger incentive to renew now and in the future.

Notes on Driving Association Renewals

Three tips for driving membership renewals this year.


  1. Evaluate Your Collaboration Tools - Your membership experience is only going to become more virtual, 2020 only sped up the timetable. Ask yourself, are you ready? Can a virtual member get as much value as a member that can engage with others regularly face to face? If not, why? If you’re still working with just a website or a listserv, it’s time for a change. Start thinking about ways you can expand your digital resources. For some, a LinkedIn group or regular virtual happy hours might be a good first step, but ultimately you’ll want something more scalable and tailored to your association’s specific member needs.

  2. Expand Your Sponsor Benefits - If you think events, website banners, and newsletter links are the only tools at your disposal for rewarding your sponsors, think again! New technologies abound when it comes to tools that allow you to provide sponsors closer access to your members in a controlled way. Your membership platforms may already have these capabilities, and if not, it’s time to look for solutions that do.

  3. Modernize Your Event Strategy - Like it or not, virtual events are here to stay. Even if you plan to move back to in-person events, there are many folks who may now prefer the flexibility and cost-effectiveness of attending virtually. Consider a hybrid event plan, and understand what resources you might be missing to create a seamless experience for both in-person and virtual attendees.

2020 was a tough year, but 2021 doesn’t have to be. Associations are in a great position to revitalize their industries and provide critical and immediate value to their members. COVID was a wakeup call to everybody; use this moment to help your members and sponsors understand that one of the best investments in their future is membership with your association.

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