NEW PUBLICATION: Associations Evolve: 2022 & Beyond

Forty-six association experts from around the world have collaborated to produce a collection of articles showcasing contemporary thinking on governance, membership, revenue, events, and much more.

This is a great resource for those looking for inspiration and motivation to make 2022 your best year ever. It makes great holiday reading for those who are feeling particularly enthusiastic (tip: this publication pairs well with red wine and cheese).

Download “Associations Evolve: 2022 & Beyond”

This publication is part of our Associations Evolve project which looks for ways to help associations to thrive into the future. 

Thanks to Beau Cummin from Visual Traffic for his fabulous work designing this publication, Northern Territory Business Events for their great support of this project, and all our wonderful contributors.  

We hope you will find this collection of articles from experts in the association space as informative, inspiring, and motivating as we did. 

All the best for a fun and relaxing break over the festive period. I hope you arrive back at work refreshed and ready for an awesome 2022.

Warm regards,

Association Hackathon Outputs Released

The outputs of our recent association hackathon have been released.

A hackathon is a great way to generate a solution to a problem in a short timeframe. We worked with hackathon specialist Joanne Jacobs from Disrupters Co to develop and deliver a online hackathon for associations.

Thirty amazing association professionals volunteered. They split into six groups who each addressed a specific challenge. You can check out the interesting outputs they generated in the resources library of the Answers for Associations community. Just look for:

• Choosing an Association Management System.
• Creating a Minimal Budget Public Awareness Raising Campaign for Associations.
• How to Successfully Launch and Develop and Online Community.
• Monetising Online Communities.
• Shifting Member Engagement Frameworks from Traditional to Contemporary Operating Models.

Thanks so much to everyone who participated. It was great to see such stimulating and interesting conversations and solutions generated. This is something we would definitely do again as it was an opportunity to intensely address very specific issues so stay tuned for other opportunities to get involved.

If you are interested in running something similar for your organisation, I recommend reaching out to Joanne from Disrupters Co on She was great to work with.

Associations Evolve Update

We are proud to be coordinating the Associations Evolve research project. This project is bringing together passionate association professionals and thought leaders, to answer burning questions, create practical solutions, and build useful resources.

This project is an extension of popular whitepapers produced by SMS including the Association Apocalypse and Associations Evolve whitepapers.

The purpose of this project is to provide associations with the inspiration, motivation, and insights needed to successfully adapt to the rapidly changing operating landscape.

The output of this project will be useful ideas, concepts, templates, and practical that stimulate useful conversations and drive action.

Already we have:

  • Conducted a survey to identify the key issues facing associations.
  • Triaged those questions into different types of research projects.
  • Run a hackathon to address 5 of key challenges (output will be issued late April)

You can keep up-to-date with upcoming opportunities to be involved by subscribing to our e-news.

WHITEPAPER: Associations Evolve

In an uncertain world, the need for associations is greater than ever. The COVID-19 crisis has been a powerful reminder of the value associations can deliver for members. And the ability of associations to adapt quickly when given a compelling reason to do so. Even still, Associations cannot reach their full potential while shackled by operating models that are no longer effective. The evolution of society to an ultra-connected environment now requires a similar evolution in associations. 

Associations must rise to meet the needs of contemporary members. Some associations may need only minor changes. Others must transform to shed the detritus built from many years of inertia. Our new whitepaper, Associations Evolve, provides insight into how associations can find a pathway forward. 

The whitepaper is just the start of a broader discussion. Over the course of this year we are running a research project to bring together passionate association professionals and thought leaders to answer burning questions, create practical solutions, and build useful resources via the Associations Evolve Research Project. 

This is an exciting year for the association sector. We are looking forward to seeing the positive impact we can make for the sector.

The Walking Dead: Beware the Zombie Member

(By Colin Perry, Optimum Contact) When COVID-19 hit in March this year, many Australians were forced to change the way they live due to increased financial pressures as a result of losing their job or taking a pay cut. For some, this may have meant cutting down on extra luxuries but for others, it might also mean they reconsider renewing   membership to their professional body.

Many Australian businesses who might normally sponsor membership and ongoing professional development for their team members have “pivoted” away from that support or expense. While the Government has injected a considerable amount of financial assistance to businesses, those funds have, in the main, been utilised for job retention, not discretionary spending.  

Further to this, the recent Association Economic Outlook Report published by Marketing General Incorporated discovered that 69% of associations have seen an increase in engagement from their members following the recession/pandemic, yet 39% of associations are still anticipating a decline in membership over the next 12 months. The decline is likely due to these businesses no longer funding memberships for their staff.

So, what does this mean for your association when your members are relying on the government’s financial assistance payments?

Who is a Zombie Member?

A zombie member is a member who hasn’t renewed their membership but are technically still members for a grace period or, in some cases until they resign in writing. Their membership still exists but isn’t active, (alive but dead if you will).

It’s important to monitor Zombie memberships closely because:

  • They are not normally active or add value to the community
  • They may present to the general public as active financial members using association logo’s and expired post nominal which could damage the associations hard won professional reputation.
  • They do not participate in professional development to maintain standards which could reflect poorly on the sector
  • Their behavior or non-committed attitude can be infectious. 

Preventing Zombie Members

As an association, it’s important to remember that you exist for the good of the members and the sector. Strong support and advocacy, an active engaged community and strong values proposition will help ensure success for you and your members and generate the much-needed revenue to help to keep those important wheels turning.

Therefore, in order to keep your members interested, you need to give them a reason to continue with their membership, even when they’re cutting other expenses out of their budget. Your membership, your community and their connection to it, is paramount, not ‘a nice to have’ – be relevant.  

At Optimum Contact, we help associations find meaningful solutions to maintain active members – How do we do that?

Optimum Contact’s Top Tips:

  • Focus on loyalty

Consider providing special options for longstanding members to maintain their loyalty and to show yours. These might include flexible payment plans, a hardship discount, negotiating shorter membership terms, or placing memberships on hold for a period of time. You can also recognise their contribution and off-set membership fees with value-added activities such as writing for your magazine, presenting a webinar or other CPD options that allow for participation, recognition and continuance in the community as well as mentoring of less experienced members.

Some people forget that membership to a professional association, peak body or union that is directly connected to their primary job is tax deductible – a really valuable thing to remind members of when they are weighing up their options.

  • Maintain the connection

Even if a member chooses not to renew their membership right now, that does not mean never again. Associations should seek an opt-in for future communication so that they can keep their finger on the pulse and continue the valuable membership conversations. Members may quickly realise that they miss the association, the resources and connections to like-minded people – a well-timed “we miss you” call campaign and offer may be able to revive a zombie member.  

Remember, it’s best to maintain the relationship with an active member than to revive a Zombie. Member care calls, especially at this time when many are feeling isolated can mean a lot to members and avoids the “I only hear from you when you want money” stake to the heart.

Optimum Contact can assist your association with member outreach and report back to you with the information we receive.

  • Consider their true needs

In order to maintain loyal members, you need to consider what their priorities are and what they want from their association. A broad-brush approach to a 10% discount or theme park passes in a state they can’t travel to is not going to be valuable to your members.  

When was the last time you asked members what they really want?

Taking the Next Step

Optimum Contact can assist in strengthening your connection with your members and retaining loyal customers. Our team love to have meaningful conversations with members and know how to build the rapport that will secure the outcome your association needs.

By Colin Perry Managing Director of Optimum Contact, an Australian-based company that helps connect professional associations, not-for-profit organisations and unions with their members to drive engagement, value and revenue. Contact Colin Perry and the team from Optimum Contact on 1300 017 293 or Read more at

Association Event Trends

Following is a summary of a recent presentation I delivered on Association Event Trends

When COVID-19 hit most associations responded by replicating their existing events online. Most had a very positive experience and intend to integrate online events into their regular programming. 

However, many also realised that most face-to-face formats don’t lend themselves to an online format. Some of the key challenges include:

  • Engaging attendees effectively (overcoming the “Zoombie” effect)
  • Demonstrating compelling value to sponsors.
  • Differentiating in a highly competitive market (where free content is easily available.

To overcome these challenges, many associations are experimenting with different online delivery formats to determine those that work best for their members. These are now evolving rapidly to create entirely new types of events.

Online events are a powerful activation tool that can be used as a pathway to generate more delegates to face-to-face events. Many association staff are now reviewing their entire event strategy to determine how to best integrate online and offline to create a seamless ongoing experience for members. It’s a shift from having a number of one-off events towards a 365-day-a-year calendar of engagement opportunities.

Associations are keen to run face-to-face events again and will do so once the COVID-19 crisis is over. However, these will look somewhat different than before as associations will be looking to:

  • Construct an events schedule that integrates online, face-to-face and hybrid events,
  • Overcome delegate concerns about COVID,
  • Ensure their face-to-face events create a delegate experience that far exceeds what they could get online, and
  • Generate a surplus to ensure online and offline activities are sustainable.

There is no question that navigating the COVID crisis has been enormously stressful and challenging for many. However, the innovations required during this time have led to fundamental changes to the way associations structure their event programming.

These will have a long term and highly positive impact on the quality and variety of events available for members – and the ability of associations to create a tangible, positive and compelling impact on those members.  

Free Sponsorship Webinars

Since the COVID-19 crisis began the landscape for sponsorship and events has completely shifted. Scenarios that would have been unusual last year are now commonplace. Some we are seeing frequently include:

  • The potential sponsor wants to partner but supply chain disruptions mean they have no stock to sell and therefore cannot proceed.
  • Sponsorship don’t understand how they can achieve value without any live events.
  • Due to redundancies within the potential sponsor there is no clarity around who is dealing with association partnerships so the association cannot progress.
  • The potential sponsor is reviewing all partnerships and only continuing with those that will generate tangible, short term, returns.

Despite this, there are many associations still closing high value sponsorship and partnership deals. There are still funds available for those willing to adapt their approach and offering to the new landscape.

To help you make the necessary changes to your sponsorship program, we are running free 30-minute sponsorship masterclasses sharing tips for overcoming these issues. Delegates will have their videos and microphones enabled to allow discussion with the presenter. The first of these is running Friday…

WEBINAR: How to Create a Strategic Plan that Really Works

A great strategic plan conveys a compelling shared vision of the future of your association – as well as a clear pathway to get there. It is a fabulous tool for motivating your Board, staff, members, and other stakeholders. It also ensures your strategy creates a tangible and long-lasting positive impact. For more than 25 years, Belinda has been refining a process for association strategic planning. In this session, she will share her bespoke process and provide you with all the information you need to run the most successful strategic planning session ever. This session is great for those wanting the insights necessary to run their own plan, or those seeking to better understand modern strategic planning processes so they can better direct their facilitator.

Click here to Watch the Webinar.

Click here to Download the Slides.

ARTICLE: COVID-19: A Catalyst for Positive Change

Associations are a critical element of a successful democratic process. They are a useful mechanism for people to act collectively to achieve shared goals. The specific goals vary from association to association but include outcomes such as:

  • Proactively influencing their legislative landscape.
  • Accessing services and support specific to the needs of the collective.
  • Enhancing the skill and education of people within the collective.
  • Connecting with the rest of the collective community for mutual benefit.
  • Advancing a positive impact on a cause shared by the collective.
  • Delivering or facilitating services on behalf of the collective.

For this reason, a strong association sector has a direct impact on the success of the economy as well as the livelihood and well-being of many Australians. It is important that associations themselves are strong so they can continue to nurture the professions, industries, and causes that will drive the recovery and help those affected.

Yet many of these organisations were already struggling prior to the advent of the COVID-19 crisis.

Over the past 15 years our society has been transforming in ways that have fundamentally altered the operating landscape of associations. The rapid evolution of technology, the fragmentation of communication, and major generational shifts to name just a few. 

Prior to the crisis there was already a desperate need for associations to innovate – not just to thrive but to survive.

Unfortunately, many associations have been hindered by internal inertia, legacy issues, and change-resistant organisational cultures. The fundamental changes required were stymied and many associations were already struggling to varying degrees. As associations started to lose sight of their core purpose – and how to fulfil this – competitors began moving in to fill the emerging gaps that associations were not nimble enough to fil. 

The COVID-19 crisis created a catalyst for change that could not be ignored.

For many associations, the crisis has provided an opportunity to rapidly overcome internal or perceived barriers and create fundamental positive change within their organisations that will enable them to create a much higher level of positive impact on their members into the future.

The idea that the long-term impact of this crisis will be positive for the association sector is backed up by new research.

A comprehensive report on the current and future impact of the COVID-19 crisis on the association sector found more than 50% of the 426 associations surveyed believed the impact would be positive over the medium to longer term.

Many respondents reported they were already seeing positive results due to the significant innovation required by associations to adapt.

COVID-19 has been an opportunity for associations to gain a clarity of purpose that has enabled many to quickly enhance their relevance to members.

While not all associations will survive this crisis, those who have taken the opportunity to adapt will emerge stronger and better positioned to create a positive impact on members than ever before. 

Other findings include:

  • There will be permanent changes in the way associations run their events with a significant shift to hybrid and online events, as well as changes to the way face-to-face events run.
  • Many reported their virtual and hybrid AGMs were more successful than their previous face-to-face meetings and they would now be looking to retain that format into the future.
  • A skilled leadership and staff team, supported by a nimble organisational culture, were the three most powerful contributing factors to an associations’ ability to navigate the crisis effectively.
  • There is a permanent shift to remote working models with only 10% of respondents intending to revert to how things operated previously. The vast majority indicated they would be more amendable to working from home arrangements in future. 4% of those surveyed said the shift to working from home would be permanent and they would not be returning to the office.
  • Associations operating in industries and professionals badly affected by the crisis are expecting a negative impact on member retention this year.
  • Despite most associations having reserves sufficient for at least 3 months, Jobkeeper was an important factor in the ability of associations to adapt during the crisis. Many respondents are concerned about the impact of the removal of Jobkeeper on their members, the economy, and their associations.

You can download a full copy of this free research report at

RESEARCH: COVID-19 and Beyond: Lessons for Associations from the COVID-19 Crisis

426 associations participated in this comprehensive research project that provides insight into the current and future impact of the COVID-19 crisis on associations. Learn what associations did, what they learned, and what insights we need to integrate into our future planning processes. The report includes a “what did we learn” section to enable you to gain a quick overview of what you need to know when planning for the future.

Download your PDF copy at COVID-19 and Beyond: Lessons for Associations from the COVID-19 Crisis Report.

Click here to Watch the Webinar Here.

Click here to Download the Slides to go with the webinar.