Delivering Member Value: How Trade Associations Can Lead Through the Pandemic

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Originally published by the Ohio Society of Association Executives.

It is unknown what the next six months, or even the next couple of years, will look like, but business and organization leaders are going to have an important role to play in moving our economy forward. Trade associations that are strong conveners with clear missions are in the best position to help businesses navigate through this unpredictable journey. How these groups communicate and engage their community right now could have lasting impacts on the relevancy and viability of their industry well into the future.

Members are depending on timely and helpful information to get them through this period of uncertainty. Trade association leadership requires consistent delivery of member benefits and value. What should associations be doing right now to meet that objective?

Find your purpose

Be sensitive to today’s realities, but send a clear message that it is OK to keep working and that your industry is important, especially if you are a mission-based organization. Figure out what role your industry/mission will play in economic recovery and be laser focused on that purpose. Your members will benefit from motivation to keep planning and keep learning, as both they and their employees are grappling with new challenges such as juggling kids’ schoolwork, makeshift home offices, layoffs, worrying about loved ones and a host of other stressors no one saw coming. Work can be a positive place to focus energy and by providing a sense of purpose and importance, trade associations and other member-based organizations can help members and their employees stay engaged and prepared for what’s next.

Grow your virtual community

Many organizations rely on in-person events throughout the year as the primary way to convene their community, but smart associations recognize they can’t just cancel their events and hope members will still find value in their existing offerings. It could be some time before large gatherings and events make a comeback, so developing replacement educational content, a virtual event strategy and a strong online community for engagement is increasingly important, and it needs to happen quickly. Organizations that pivot to virtual now and invest in the right technology and marketing support will be best positioned to provide long-term value.

Interaction is critical to keeping your members engaged. If you don’t already have one, consider creating an online social hub (LinkedIn, Facebook, Slack, internal portal) where your members can interact directly and daily with your association leadership and with each other, and keep your website and social media channels up-to-date.

There is a lot of uncertainty and businesses across all industries are losing clients/customers or being forced to put projects on hold and/or make layoffs. Through compelling, relevant digital engagement, member-based organizations can show empathy and provide a sense of community that says, “we’re here for you, and we’re all in this together.”

Create thoughtful content

Be succinct and frequent in your content sharing and communication, but also humanizing. Your educational content needs to be fresh, and trainings that were developed to be in-person need to be adapted for a webinar or taped recording. Be the “go-to” industry resource by sharing timely and relevant policy, economic impact and local market updates; create checklists for goal setting and business planning; offer professional development trainings (like best practices for Zoom calls); and engage on a more personal level through live Q&A opportunities with your leadership team or setting up a virtual happy hour.

Your members rely on you, so do your part to show you care by providing the tools and resources to support both their businesses and their personal wellbeing.