There are associations for pretty much anything you can think of. The National Pasta Association, Association for Astrological Networking, Association for Gravestone Studies, Association for Dressings & Sauces, Association for Learning Technology, and the list goes on. Most associations have (at least) one thing in common: they increasingly struggle to maintain membership engagement.
In a perfect world, a member joins your association and renews their membership forever and ever. But that’s rarely the case in the real world. Your members need to see the value they can get from your association and receive benefits like value-added services, status and community that engage them.
As such, building member engagement and staying relevant is at the top of the to-do list for many associations. But where to start, and how to succeed?
Associations in Today’s Environment
The word ‘association’ originates from the Latin word ‘associare’, which means ‘to unite, ally’. Associations were an integral part of society even before being part of a legal system. Nowadays, Cambridge Dictionary defines associations as ‘a group of people who work together in a single organisation for a particular purpose’.
Back in the days, associations were the place to go for continuing education. But today, they are increasingly struggling to attract new members. In fact, 54% of associations are seeing memberships decreasing or remaining static. As a result, associations are looking for ways to become more innovative.
In 1953, membership dues brought in an average of 95.7% of total association revenue. In 2016 the figure was only 45.4% for trade associations and 30% for professional associations. Membership dues seem to be playing a smaller and smaller role in association’s overall revenue breakdown. As such, merely charging membership dues doesn’t cut the mustard anymore.
As a result, association bodies are exploring other revenue streams to complement their decreasing membership dues. Non-dues revenue means all revenue that doesn’t come directly from membership fees. The sources include sponsorships, events, monetised educational material and accreditation programs, to name a few.
One such revenue stream is online learning. When done well, it can provide value for your members, increase engagement and create additional non-dues revenue opportunities. In fact, in 2017, learning programmes contributed 25% of the association’s average non-dues revenue.
However, associations that have long profited from membership dues tend to overlook revenue alternatives. It may feel unnecessary, complicated or even too demanding on your resources. But, let’s face it. Expanding and broadening income opportunities is one of the best ways to drive growth.
Change isn’t always easy. So, let’s dive deeper into the challenges associations are facing in the current climate and explore how learning technology can help!
The Challenge: Limited Face-To-Face Communication
There is no overlooking one of the major challenges associations (and society as a whole) have been facing in the past months. COVID-19 has had an enormous economic impact on the whole world, and the consequences are likely to be long-lasting.
The pandemic has put a lid on popular non-dues revenue streams as associations can no longer rely on face-to-face events, such as conferences and trade shows. By not being able to provide those experiences, association bodies cannot necessarily deliver the same value to their members. At the same time, 70% of surveyed associations wish to increase their non-dues revenue over the next year.
Members are also most likely to have emerged different needs during the pandemic. Your association has a critical role to play in catering for those newly emerged needs. Therefore, the need to innovate, adapt and experiment has never been more important!
The Solution: Virtual Learning and Networking
In response to the pandemic, associations are shifting to virtual networking. With virtual events, such as conferences or trade shows, you can attract new members and benefit existing ones.
You can reach members all around the world, and they can network with each other within the online community. Events are no longer limited by geographical constraints. Virtual events offer unlimited global networking opportunities.
Online learning offers a similar degree of flexibility. And by monetising your learning solutions, including seminars, courses, training content and certification programmes, your association can benefit from increased non-dues revenue. Employing online learning technology is also an excellent way to attract younger members and modern learners into your association, as they already live heavily digital lives and prefer mobile learning interventions.
Replacing more traditional (and somewhat insufficient) learning and networking methods with learning technology solutions helps you provide more value for your members. And pandemic or not, online learning is a valuable, and even necessary, companion in today’s digital world.
The Challenge: Lacking Member Engagement
Today’s trends change rapidly. What is trendy today might not be tomorrow. Information and content can become obsolete after just a few years. Your members won’t be interested in outdated topics. Instead, they want fresh content that helps them to gain professional advantages.
The needs of your association members also change over time, when they move into a different career stage. Your content and benefits must reflect this change, or your members won’t see the value of their membership. On top of this, you need to ensure that the benefits you offer are relevant for younger members with different needs and lifestyles.
As such, member engagement is essential for the success and growth of any association. Engagement leads to higher membership retention, increased satisfaction and more non-dues revenue. Lack of member engagement, on the other hand, can severely hinder the growth of your association.
Engaged members can also help your association via word of mouth. They will become vocal supporters of your association, which attracts additional memberships. But how can associations overcome the challenges of engagement and ensure that their diverse membership group is satisfied? The key is online learning!
The Solution: Learning Technology
When joining an association, members are looking for value, whether it’s personal or professional. The goal is to get your members’ attention and remind them how your association can add value to their lives. You then need to build a relationship that caters for that promise.
But engagement is always tricky! What works for one member may not work for another. And the current environment can make engagement even more challenging to get right, as face-to-face communication is limited.
Providing educational material that allows your association members to advance their own careers is a great way to convey the value of their membership. To do this, associations are constantly seeking ways to educate their members in the most efficient way.
Luckily, today’s mobile and digital environment offer various features association bodies can benefit from. Integrating a learning management system with your existing association management system (AMS) helps to provision accounts and access levels and maintain data across both software.
Let’s look at some key features learning technology offers that can help you engage your association members more effectively.
1. Certification and Accreditation Programmes
Job markets are becoming increasingly competitive. As a result, professional association members want to ensure they have the best credentials. Credentialing programmes advance the credibility and professionalism of the members of your association. Certification programmes are designed to distinguish members who desire a higher level of professional achievement and recognition.
Features, such as a variety of content delivery formats, assessments and certifications support moving the programmes online. Offering such programmes is a great source of non-dues revenue for your association. Online learning also helps to reduce administrative costs associated with certification and accreditation programmes. These savings can then be reallocated to additional opportunities.
Transitioning certification programs online does not only help your association but members too. By completing a certification, or accreditation programme, your members can improve their skills and career opportunities and open up new networking avenues. As you are providing clear value, this will also help to increase member engagement.
Your members’ learning and development programmes do not exist in isolation. As such, learners need to be able to track the progress of all learning credits. Integrating external training with your learning technology solutions creates a cohesive experience for your association members.
In addition, recognising learning activity on your platform helps to reward members appropriately. Rewards and credits can be attached to, for example, content completion, assessments and attending classroom events.
By automating the required amount of experience points or repetitions needed for credits, you eliminate resource-intensive manual tasks. Therefore, having both internal and external, online and offline learning achievements in one platform makes it effortless to track and follow members’ progress.
While association management systems usually support purchasing products like memberships and event registrations, the eCommerce functionality doesn’t typically extend to learning programmes. With learning technology, your association can do both!
Integrating an eCommerce feature into your learning technology solution will help monetise your content and accreditation programmes. Selling your learning content and certification programmes is a great way to increase non-dues revenue.
It also makes the whole process more streamlined. Members no longer have to switch between multiple platforms. You can even create stand-alone catalogue pages, where customers don’t need to log in to the software to view your marketplace.
As such, your members get a seamless and user-friendly buying experience with added security. The administration process is also simpler and more straightforward when all the information is in one place. You can analyse what kind of material your members are looking for and find value in.
The flexibility allows you to create different pricing models based on membership levels and purchasing patterns of individual members. For example, you can apply discounts or set up unique pricing plans for specific members. As such, you can get the right product in front of the right member for the right price.
Consumers, learners and members alike expect personalised experiences. In fact, 79% of association members say it’s very or somewhat important to get targeted and valuable content. As a result, providing meaningful and relevant information is one of the most important value-added services an association can offer. So, it’s time to say goodbye to the old one-size-fits-all approach.
Personalisation requires an in-depth understanding of what your members want and need from your association. By collecting member data, your association can deliver a more targeted and personalised experience. Luckily, with learning technology solutions, it’s not just possible but also affordable and easy!
By understanding your members’ career stages, interests and behaviours, you know what kind of content and value your members are after. You can also survey your members to get better insights into their needs, wants and opinions on the benefits you offer.
And by providing customised experiences based on the data, you’re letting your members know that you understand them. This, in return, results in a more meaningful relationship with your members. By kicking off the relationship with personalised experiences, your members are more likely to stay engaged and continue exploring your messaging in the future.
4. Fresh Content
By utilising learning technology, your association can build high-quality content courses for your members quickly and cost-effectively. Authoring tools like Genie provide a great way for you to do this. And even better, you can easily tweak content and update it when it becomes outdated! As such, you can still benefit from your older content without having to break the bank to update it!
Your association should also take advantage of the experts within the association to create quality content. User-generated content means that you benefit from your most valuable asset: your members. It improves engagement, lets you capture informal learning and improves organisational knowledge. Benefitting from your members also strengthens the authority and branding of your association.
Establishing partnerships with external subject matter experts can also be a viable option. By creating a relationship with other authorities, you can create more diverse and valuable content that is up-to-date and relevant for your members. Educational blog posts, videos and other content show your existing and prospective members that your association knows what it’s talking about.
5. Social Learning
According to the 2018 Member Education and Career Development Report, individuals have new reasons for joining an association. In the past, associations were mainly for professional development and responsibility. Today, many seek a place for networking while building and developing their careers.
COVID-19 has accelerated this need, as people are craving more connection (or we are, at least!). This may vary from professional in-depth discussions to relaxed fireside chats.
As connections are one of the top reasons for joining an association, you can maximise membership value by providing members with networking and discussion opportunities. Digital tools can help you achieve this even during a global pandemic. You should seek to create a digital space for engagement, knowledge sharing and discussion spliced with relevant and personalised content.
Learning technology, such as our learning management system (LMS), is loaded with social features. We don’t just offer live chats, but Groups and Clubs where your members can link with likeminded people. In the Experts Area, your members can ask questions from, you guessed it, experts to gain more in-depth knowledge. And like the 70:20:10 model highlights, 20% of what we learn we learn from social interaction. So, we think we can all agree that social learning is a pretty big deal!
In addition to social elements, with learning technology, your association can emulate the in-person training experience with webinars, online networking and even gamification elements. And that brings us nicely to our next topic!
Gamification, as a business strategy, uses game-based elements in a non-game context. It is an excellent way to drive motivation and engagement as the purpose of gamification is to tap into our competitive natures. As such, associations that struggle with member engagement can certainly benefit from gamification.
You can increase membership engagement by incorporating game-based elements within your online learning platform. Your members can gain Experience Points and Badges by completing content and interacting with the platform or each other. The more points they get, the closer they are to accessing the next learning Level, or a higher spot on a Leaderboard.
So, with gamified learning technology, you can provide a fun way to recognise the members that engage with your association and other members. And who doesn’t love a good old shout-out?
That’s exactly why gamification works! Your members get recognition while advancing their knowledge in a fun and engaging way. This, in return, encourages your members to participate more. And the more time they invest in learning, the more engaged they will be with your association.
Associations around the world are experiencing decreasing memberships and member engagement. Solving the engagement problem may seem like an impossible task. But it’s a necessary one. Providing clear value to your members will drive this engagement and create a bounty of other benefits.
Transitioning to learning technology can help association bodies who are seeking to improve their member engagement. With a social, gamified and personalised online learning platform, your members can get the value they want. You can guarantee fresh and up-to-date content, networking opportunities, virtual events, certification programmes, and much more.