Community Brands recently conducted the 2021 Association Trends Study, which builds on previous surveys and provides valuable association insights. It dives into key questions around important topics, including:
- How are members feeling about their professional organization?
- What’s most important (and not as important) to members today?
- What’s happening inside associations, and what’s the outlook on their future?
- What do members and associations think these days about in-person events?
- How can associations provide their members with more value?
- What can association professionals do to deliver on today’s expectations for digital experiences?
Let’s take a look at four key findings from the study that associations need to know in 2022.
1. Professional organizations remain a beacon in uncertain times.
Members say the importance of their organization has grown – even more than in a similar study conducted last year. Loyalty metrics also remain strong, and younger and more diverse members are increasing their engagement.
Member engagement with organizations continues to climb. Nearly half of members say they are interacting with their organization more than they did in years past. Of those interacting more, a majority plan to interact even more in the future. More than half of association pros say their members interacted with them more in the last year than they have in years past. Most pros (88 percent) agree that virtual events allowed them to reach members who previously did not engage with the organization.
Want to dive deeper into member engagement and loyalty? Download the Member Engagement and Loyalty Study for a detailed look at the findings from this study plus recommendations on how to use the study’s data to deliver a better member experience.
2. Hybrid events are the future.
Members expect their organization to offer hybrid (in-person and virtual) options for all or most events and are more hesitant than pros about getting back to in-person this fall. Pros are embracing hybrid event models, but it is not without challenges.
More than a quarter of members say they have attended more of their professional membership organization’s events in the past year. Top reasons are: because the organization offered more events, to maintain a sense of community and/or network with fellow members, and because virtual options made it easier/possible to attend more events.
The shift toward sustained virtual and hybrid engagement presents a great opportunity for your association’s career advancement program. But how can you take advantage of this trend? Download our guide to learn how to grow your members’ careers and drive revenue through these events.
3. Associations are feeling more optimistic, but still face challenges.
Pros are more positive than they were in 2020: Their responses about acquisition, retention, and revenue have all improved, and forecasts for the future are positive. But this is not without challenges. Majorities of pros say they are working harder than ever and hope that technology investments will help with the increased workload. Across the board, time, member engagement, and money are the biggest challenges. Pros at smaller organizations list member engagement and finances as bigger challenges, while those at larger organizations struggle with business processes and operations.
4. Organizations still have work to do when it comes to technology.
While pros feel slightly more technologically prepared for the future than they did in 2019, half do not feel as prepared as they would like. Most pros (78 percent) say their staff is working more than they were a year ago, and 40 percent of those plan to invest in new tech to address the increased workload. Business analytics/intelligence tools are an emerging area for investment.
Associations should level up their technology around online training, certifications and credentials, and job boards to not only increase member satisfaction but also have the added benefit of driving non-dues revenue. Additionally, associations should emphasize mobile by offering the entire member journey on mobile and making sure that each experience is mobile responsive and works well on any device.
Discover how more than 1,000 association members and 400 association professionals feel about the evolution of association technology: Download Community Brand’s Digital Evolution Study.
So, where do you go from here?
Since members say the importance of their organization has grown – especially among younger and more diverse members – governance models must support the future of professional organizations. Ensure your board is reflective of your membership, has foresight and creativity, and operates within a model that focuses on strategy.
Even during a time of mass disruption, more than half of members say they attended more of their organization’s events in the past year than in years before. And while in-person events still have a valuable place in member engagement, nearly three quarters of members now expect their organization to offer all or most events in a hybrid format. Prepare to offer a great hybrid event experience for your members by putting in place the right tools and strategies to engage both in-person and virtual attendees.
Work smarter, not harder, to deliver greater member value. Results from this study suggest that pros are working harder than they were a year ago, with time and member engagement being the biggest challenges to achieving organizational priorities. One way to address these challenges is to focus on the return on member value from your programs. This means focusing more effort on those areas that will drive the greatest impact with today’s members – individual benefits such as training and certifications, and industry-focused benefits such as industry news and information, advocacy, and raising awareness.
While the association industry’s future looks bright, these are still uncertain times. This study’s findings suggest that the state of member data remains lackluster, and half of pros continue to feel technologically unprepared for the future. Considering member appetites for hybrid events and new learning options, combined with already heavy workloads for pros, it’s time to turn this around. For example, job board software from YM Careers allows associations to generate unmatched revenue, be a career destination, and propel members upward – without requiring extra efforts from association staff. Investing in this type of tool as part of a long-term technology strategy will provide a strong foundation to prepare your organization for what comes next – no matter what the future might bring.