Staying relevant in a digital world

Staying relevant in a digital world – how does your membership association rate?

If you’ve noticed that membership growth in your association has stalled, you’re not alone. Many membership organisations are aware that they need to do a better job of attracting new members but may be unsure of the best way to go about it.

Whether you manage a professional body or a community organisation, these groups can provide important services to members. However, to maintain relevance with existing members and deliver what a new generation of members want, associations need to evolve from their original form – and we’re not just talking about a simple rebrand!

Define your value

People join associations for a variety of reasons – traditionally, the two main ones were meeting people with similar interests and receiving properly accredited training or education.
But now, with the prevalence of online content, there is vast and often free access to the type of information such as research and training courses that professionals used to only be able to access via association memberships. Not only this, but the explosion of social media has provided an easy and free way for professionals to find each other and network. In order to appeal and compete, associations need to reexamine their ‘value proposition’.

Dominique Lamb, CEO at National Retail Association, who is speaking at this year’s Association Forum Conference says associations need to focus on the value they offer:
“There is a legitimacy challenge for associations today. With so much free information available we need to stay relevant. But a big part of this is ensuring we know what we are selling, what are our strengths, and what benefits are we providing members. We need to make sure we are providing value to members, not just be a commodity.”

A good starting point is to think of your organisation as a business. Consider what it is that you do well compared to other similar associations and the ‘unique selling point’ of membership? If your association was a product or service – what exactly are people buying and who are your ideal customers? Are you updating your products and services in line with the changing demands of those customers?

Keep in mind that these new customers, or members, may have different priorities and less available time than your more established membership base. For example, millennials may want to be involved with your association but are not keen to take on a long-term commitment. Perhaps you could create a new more innovative category of membership that allows these types of members to still contribute to your group such as “pay as you consume” or similar.

Take up technology

In a fast-paced digital world, and in a world where everybody is time-poor, people have an increasing number of competing demands and diversions. More of our time these days is spent online – whether that’s watching videos, playing games, shopping or participating in social media – and this is often all from a smartphone. All these online activities are competing for your members’ attention – and if you are trying to attract new members, are your messages even getting through the constant noise?

People of all age groups now use the internet routinely but this is particularly the case for the younger, more tech-savvy generation. If associations are not making use of technology then they can really fall behind – as their members age, new members simply won’t be attracted to join.

Dion Pretorius, Communications and Engagement Manager at Science & Technology Australia, a peak body representing more than 50 member organisations, who is also speaking at this year’s Association Forum Conference, says associations must keep up with new communication methods:

“A big challenge is keeping up with communication in the technology space. Some of our member associations are volunteer run and can struggle to adapt to new technology. Associations are so important and we need to communicate their value to potential members. If we embrace these new online tools, a whole spread of enhanced communication capabilities are at our fingertips.”

Resources are often stretched in associations with staff and volunteers probably more focused on looking after existing members rather than attracting new ones. Making the most of technology can help relieve both the administrative burden and create the conditions for a more sustainable membership.

For your association to remain relevant and thrive, attracting a steady flow of new members is vital. Part of this is about thinking in a different way about how to appeal to new members –understanding what drives them, their motivations, the value you provide and clearly explaining the value to them.

Hear from both Dion Pretorius and Dominique Lamb at this year’s Association Forum Conference – all details can be found on the website,

How we can help

Brennan can help you apply technology to more actively gain new members and bring your association up to speed. We can show you how to engage your members more effectively, gather important data about them and build an online social community where your members will want to stay.
Talk to us about our CAMS platform today.

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