Help Members Cope with the Economic Impact of COVID-19

In the association community, talk of a recession had crept up a few times in the past year. Now, it’s at the top of the agenda. Many industries, including associations, are already experiencing recession-like conditions as revenue streams are cut short by cancellations or government mandates. How can your association help members cope with the economic impact of COVID-19?

Steps for helping members cope with the economic impact of COVID-19

Assess the damage

This economic downturn could mean the end to many businesses. Ask members about their biggest challenges and needs right now, and ways you can help. Email them a survey and post it as well in your online community and on your website.

In last week's post on the new set of member needs due to COVID-19, we also suggested using virtual town halls and smaller virtual meetups to ask members about the impact of COVID-19 and their need for resources. Meet online with survey respondents to brainstorm ideas for leveraging the collective power of your association to help your industry or profession.

Provide recession-focused information and education

Triage immediate challenges and focus on the ones that are do-or-die for members. For example, members need to figure out how to pay bills in the face of revenue loss. Host virtual panels with members whose businesses survived the 2008 recession and have advice to share.

Your members may benefit from other topics, including.

•    Leveraging online options to keep in touch with their market
•    Understanding the requirements of federal and/or state COVID-19 response legislation
•    Marketing during a recession
•    Bringing their banker to the table
•    Exploring the pros and cons of bankruptcy

In the ASAE Collaborate forum, an executive from the Biotechnology Innovation Organization described their Coronavirus Business Resource Center. The resource center provides remote working guidance as well as other critical information. She said they’re collecting response plans to post on the website as a set of models and samples. They’re also “launching a page with information on COVID-19 related services that member companies are providing (cleaning services, webinars from law firms, etc.).”

Take a look at these examples of COVID-19 resource pages:

•    RIMS
•    ISACA
•    CUPA-HR
•    Industrial Designers Society of America

Consider partnering with an allied or industry-related organization. What can you do better together by splitting up the work? If your memberships can benefit from the same type of information, then consider pooling resources.

help members cope with the economic impact of COVID-19

Help members deal with tough times

Business data collection. Become indispensable by doing for your members what they can’t do on their own. Collect data that will help your association lobby for financial and/or regulatory relief for your industry.

On ASAE Collaborate, an executive from the International Association of Tour Directors and Guides said, “We've considered a survey that would track lost work for our members in the hopes this might highlight the impact and better support funding for individuals.”

Connection and community. In last week’s post, we emphasized the increasing member need for connection and community. Promote the benefits of participating in your online community and virtual events. Even better, give members the opportunity to see each other’s faces in virtual meetups hosted on web-conferencing platforms.

Career resources. With layoffs in the future for many, help members prepare for the next step in their career. Ramp up job board promotions to both employers and members. Include resources on your career site that will help members find a job, for example, resume and job interviewing tips.

Credentials. Remind members about the market value of having a credential beside their name. Design learning pathways that can help members earn certificates or digital badges.

Membership dues. Consider offering a transitional membership level for members who find themselves unemployed or unable to afford dues. You might also consider extended grace periods or payment plans.

It might be a good time to rethink your traditional membership tiers. You could offer a less expensive digital membership, maybe even one that includes a limited number of e-learning credits. These options could help members get back on their feet so they’re able to repay you with a full membership later.

Another option is hybrid memberships. Give companies the option of paying for one organizational membership instead of relying on individuals to make their case for membership to their employer. However, make sure your AMS can handle these types of membership structures.

Develop talking points that help different member segments make a case for professional development and/or membership.

Put e-learning front and center

Education is never more needed than in times of change. Members must deal with new challenges alongside the impact of a recession. If they’re a victim of layoffs or closures, they must prepare themselves for the next step in their career.

Take advantage of this opportunity to introduce your members to online learning—a sustainable source of education for them and revenue for you. If you had to cancel an in-person event, shift those resources into online learning. Repurpose the content for webinars, podcasts, or online courses.

E-learning expands your audience for education. It gives you something to offer people who could never take time off to travel to events or couldn’t afford travel expenses—a large percentage of your membership and market.

A recent Collaborate discussion provided anecdotal and evidence-based data on the low percentage of members who attend annual meetings. Discussion participants from national associations said only 16 to 27% of their members attended their annual event. A survey of 12 state society of association executives (SAEs) found that only 41.5% of their members attended their annual event, despite not having to travel far.

help members cope with the economic impact of COVID-19

Pricing considerations during a recession

Here’s the conundrum: everything you want to do to help members has a cost in staff time or a budget for new technology. But, if you’ve had to cancel an event, you’ve seen your revenue plummet too.  

You need to keep earning revenue from education, no matter the delivery format. Yet, your members’ ability to pay depends upon how badly their industry has been affected by COVID-19.

What are your options?

•    Split the costs (and revenue) by partnering with another organization.

•    Ask sponsors to underwrite program expenses. Consider giving them an opportunity to participate in the design or delivery of the program.

•    Provide sponsored scholarships to members.

•    Offer three pricing tiers: free for members in hardship, a suggested member price, and a non-member price.

•    Barter: members can earn promo codes by volunteering on specific tasks that would otherwise be done by staff.

Tips for marketing online learning during a recession

Tweak your marketing messages. Sell education as a form of career insurance. Education increases a member’s value to their employer. If they lose their job, their pursuit of professional development demonstrates their commitment to growth and better positions them in the talent marketplace.

In many professions, credentials result in higher pay. Do you have industry research to support that?

You could use a variant of the old networking trope… this is where the winners hang out. In tough times, successful people and businesses seek opportunities as well as the support and resources they need.

In program descriptions, describe the value learners will receive. Highlight the impact the program will make on their business, career, and job.

Although what we’re experiencing now is nothing like business as usual, in a sense, business must still go on as usual. Remind members that your association never stops working on their behalf—whether it’s lobbying, providing information, hosting discussions, and/or educating. No matter what’s going on, you continue to fulfill your mission and membership promise to them.


member engagement
membership benefits
professional development
career resources
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