Association Member Engagement Strategies for Running a Chapter in the “New Normal”

Updated: Dec. 8, 2020  |  Categories: Meetings/Events  

Association Member Engagement Strategies for Running a Chapter in the “New Normal”

Your association chapter members and prospective members correlate much of your chapter value with your in-person events, like continuing education, networking, and professional development. COVID-19 continues to present countless challenges to delivering that value; many chapters haven’t met consistently in person for some time. That disconnect makes engaging members a job that has always been slightly overwhelming, much more so. Now, not only do you need to figure out how to engage, but you also have to do it (predominantly if not completely) virtually and creatively.  

Chapters are figuring out what to do, for now and in the longer-term, as our current environment has the potential to become our long-term “normal.” Some chapters have jumped in, experimenting with new methods and succeeding, while others have tried and failed. Still others are taking a hiatus, stopping most of what they offer until things “go back to normal.”

Here are three association member engagement strategy areas Boards should consider in their association member engagement planning, to run their chapters more effectively now and create connections that will survive for the longer-term.

Virtual Events

Your association chapter members are probably being overrun with online meetings, but there are things you can do to make yours the ones they feel they need to attend.

Many chapters are actually holding more virtual events than they held in-person, giving members and guests more relevant options utilizing all the online resources they have available. Going from holding quarterly in-person meetings to monthly virtual meetings, for example, improves engagement while providing more frequent sponsor opportunities.

Speakers:  Utilizing virtual speakers provides a valuable advantage, with access to a much larger speaker pool. You’re no longer restricted to trying to find someone local you haven’t worked with before or spending money to bring in someone from out-of-state. You can find your speaker anywhere in the world, which if it’s the right speaker, can bring positive attention to your association chapter and engage members and potential members.  

Fundraisers:  We’ve seen chapters get really creative. In addition to food and wine tastings and live cooking demonstrations where attendees can have things delivered to them (or pick them up) before the event, hybrid golf events work well; chapters coordinate with courses to submit scorecards and announce the results in a virtual meeting. Ask members to share pictures of their attendance at the event and give your sponsors the exposure they’re looking for by including them in awards presentations.

Lower costs and higher revenue:  Virtual events can be a huge cost saver, which many chapters need now. Not only is a speaker potentially less expensive due to the lack of travel expenses, but there’s no need to pay for food, drinks, or a venue. You can even consider charging less to attend, and if your event is strong, you’ll bring in more revenue with more attendees.

Virtual, non-meeting engagement

Here are reminders of several effective ways to engage virtually with association chapter members and potential members, outside of meetings and events.  

Blogs:  Highlight bright spots of businesses in your industry. Interview companies making changes and share their best practices. You can also use your blog to disseminate information regarding policy changes affecting your industry, trends, and resources to help members overcome challenges they may be facing.

Chapter forums:  With the countless job losses and furloughs, many association chapters have approached us to add forums to their web platform, to give members a private, secure place to talk and support each other. Members can connect, network, and crowdsource information away from social media where it sometimes gets diluted and mixed with politics, puppies, and more. Forum content can also be restricted to members and give prospective members another reason to join your chapter. 

Event recordings:  This is a great way to extend the life of an event, by sharing recordings of it and facilitating discussion around the meeting topics; the event and its value live on well after the live meeting has ended. Earlier in 2020, we hosted a virtual conference with over 1000 registrants. Recordings were available during and after the event, and countless attendees and others actively participated in live discussions and discussions in forum threads, asking questions and connecting with each other.

Virtual Membership

You may never have thought about adding a virtual membership option, but you may want to consider it as part of your current membership strategy. People, including those from outside your geographic area, are looking for what your chapter offers, intrigued by what they’ve heard about the chapter or the topic of a specific meeting, but who won’t or can’t commit to attending in person. Positioning your association chapter as the virtual source and providing a lower barrier-to-entry virtual membership that is less expensive or shorter term, could be just what they need until they can get back on their feet and afford an annual, full membership.

It’s time for many chapters to adopt a “virtual first” mindset. They should find ways to make their association chapter stand out as a place for a strong, engaging virtual experience, which can be adapted for in person opportunities as they become available, versus adapting in-person events for virtual, which doesn’t always translate well.


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