Post-COVID Association Trends

Since COVID began, the pace of change in associations has accelerated. I’ve been documenting these shifts and here are the 11 major shifts I’ve noted so far …

1. The Pace Of Change Isn’t Slowing.

Associations had to make significant changes when COVID struck. Necessary shortcuts were taken. They are now working to ensure the foundations to support these changes are in place. A classic example of this are events … 

2. How We Run Events Has Changed.

When COVID hit, associations recreated their face-to-face events in online formats. While this was great as a stopgap, it became evident that online events are not a direct replacement for face-to-face. Online events are a different beast. Combining both formats creates an opportunity to deliver greater value to members. Associations are updating their event calendars to capitalise on this.

3. Focus on Fostering Engaged Communities.

The idea of building online communities is appealing, but the reality is often challenging to execute. Building sustained momentum within an online community takes considerable skill, resources, and focus. Associations are making significant investments in specialist staffing, training, and technology to ensure success.

4. Adaption to Changing Community Lifestyles, Habits, and Preferences.

COVID has caused people to reassess their lives. Work from home opportunities have enabled people to relocate outside capital cities. The crisis has precipitated significant shifts in habits, lifestyles, and engagement preferences. This affects how members engage with all touchpoints including events, training, conferences, publications, online communities, and communications. Associations are reviewing touchpoints to ensure they align with these changes.

5.    Competition Is More Intense.

Associations are experiencing the erosion of their value proposition. Competition is coming from for-profit companies, other associations, and informal groups. Competitors may compete with some or all products the association offers. Associations are overcoming this “death by 1000 cuts” by focusing where they can deliver the most powerful impact. They are also using collaboration and partnerships to gain (or maintain) a more secure position.

6.    Embracing Technology – Partnering In Development.

Great technology enables personalised member experience, easy-to-access interfaces, streamlined internal operations, and productive workplaces. The demand by associations for great technology has accelerated the pace of technological development and adoption. Association specialist technology providers are racing to keep up with the demand for more innovative solutions. Forward thinking associations are working closely with industry software developers to ensure the solutions are fit-for-purpose.

7.    Our People Are Change Fatigued.

 Association staff put in a herculean effort to adapt their organisations to the COVID landscape. They achieved amazing things in the face of relentless change and constant uncertainty. Most are now change fatigued. Mental health challenges and burnout are a real risk. More associations are adapting their planning and expectations to protect the mental health of their teams. As one client put it, “our main challenge this year is not to break our team.”

8.    Workplaces are Changing To Attract And Retain Quality Staff. 

People are leaving their roles in droves. There is huge competition to attract and retain the best quality staff. There is an active drive by associations to secure their organisation in a competitive labour market. Associations are creating more flexible, purpose-orientated workplaces. They are driving innovations to increase productivity and staff satisfaction.

9.    Younger People Are Driving Product Innovation.

Gen Z is now part of the workforce and Gen Y are already heading into leadership pathways. The drive to innovate to attract these people is more intense than ever. This urgency is driving innovations in value creation, service delivery, and leadership pathway development. Associations are getting better at balancing the need to engage younger generations while also continuing to serve the older generation. And often finding these innovations appeal to the older demographic as well.

10. Rise Of the Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) approach.

The war in Ukraine represents a significant shift. For the first time companies are acting on a large scale to influence an outcome. By collectively withdrawing their business from Russia they are dealing significant blow to the Russian economy – and the Russian war effort.  Companies are harnessing their power to create an powerful impact. This reflects the growing popularity of the Environmental, Social, and Corporate Governance (ESG) approach. The expectations of companies, their staff, and the public have changed. Progressive associations have recognised this trend and are expanding their outlook beyond only “creating value for members”. 

11. Better Alignment Of Operating Models To Purpose.

Many associations use very traditional business models that are not suited for the contemporary operating landscape. Associations are now better aligning their operating models to better achieve their purpose. Associations are reviewing membership models (not just fiddling with member categories), volunteering pathways, and component frameworks (special interest groups, branches, etc). As more of these long-term projects launch, we will see a transformation in the shape of associations around the globe.

JOURNAL: 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 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.  

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.

VIDEO: “Reshaping Associations – The Impact of the Pandemic on Membership Models”

In this webinar Belinda will discuss how the gradual shift from traditional membership models (service provider models) to community membership models (including subscription models) has accelerated with the pandemic. This session will cover the major factors impacting change and how different are adapting their membership models to the new operating environment.

Watch the video.

TEMPLATE: Free Pandemic Management Strategy Template for Associations

Business as usual is not an option in 2020. Associations wanting to navigate through this crisis need a clear, simple, and focused strategy that delivers powerful value for members while also securing the sustainability of the association. To assist with this, we’ve developed a free Pandemic Strategy for Associations template for associations to use as a starting point for developing their plan for this crisis. Click here to download your copy.

These are the times associations are made for

The impact of COVID-19 is being felt by everyone throughout our community.

We are all dealing with challenges we could not have imagined just a month ago. The whole toilet paper shortage was funny at first. Then I ran out of paper. It got dramatically less funny with each additional store I visited. It became deadly serious when it was apparent that many of the most vulnerable in our society were not able to access this essential item.

In the association section, the wide-spread cancellation of events is having a major impact on the financial sustainability of many associations. We are already experiencing a massive flow across the economy as a myriad of jobs and other opportunities that associations support are being lost. Association staff are having to grapple with cancelling major events (some at very short notice), moving CPD online, and managing the concerns of members.

Download a free Pandemic Management Strategy Template

Register for the free webinar on Creating A Pandemic Management Strategy

“Business as usual” isn’t an option. Most of the association leaders I’ve heard from are concerned about how to balance helping members with the need to ensure their association’s financial sustainability.

Without a doubt, these are challenging times. But now is also an opportunity for associations to fulfil their primary purpose by being a beacon of hope and support for their communities. Associations are doing this by:  

  • Demonstrating strong leadership – People are scared. Their businesses, livelihoods and loved ones are at risk. Through your daily actions and communications give them the confidence that you are in control of the situation.
  • Being the source of truth – People need up-to-date information on the issues that affect them. Be the source of truth by proactively gathering and validating information – then share it quickly on all possible mediums. Become the hub of information on what’s happening. Sharing the government’s latest health information with added messaging as it pertains to your members is a great start.
  • Facilitate connections between members – Your community don’t just want to be passive recipients of information. Provide a mechanism that enables members to share their stories, ask for help, and offer support. This could be something as simple as a Facebook group specific to the pandemic.
  • Actively manage your cashflow – If you don’t have the reserves to carry you through, now is the time to work on your cashflows. Negotiate with the tax office for a delayed payment on your BAS, remove unnecessary upcoming costs, and organise payment plans for other bills. Take the opportunity to shed costly programs that are no longer relevant to members.
  • Deliver tangible value to members that need it most – Identify the most significant challenges each of your member segments must overcome in the coming months. Develop and deliver solutions for those members who need it most. Potentially, there may be opportunities to generate new revenue streams from developing innovative solutions to contribute to you being able to achieve this sustainably.
  • Plan your sponsorship recovery strategy now – Your sponsors will be experiencing the same negative impact as your association and are currently pulling back. When they return to the market their objectives will be different, and you will need to adapt your offering accordingly. There will be significant opportunities available for those who have tailored solutions to answer these needs ready to go. You should already be planning your sponsorship recovery strategy.

There are some silver linings to this crisis. For us, it’s a re-evaluation of how we deliver our services. Jumping on a plane is not an option right now, so we’ve had to make changes. We’ve supported clients via video, teleconference, and email occasionally in the past. Now, with social distancing an imperative, we’ve moved all our services to these platforms for the time being, and it’s working well so far.

If you’d like to talk to us about sponsorship, partnerships, strategy, revenue generation, or membership for your association (or even just have a chat about things) email and we can arrange a time for a chat.

There are tough times ahead and by working together we will get through this. I hope that you, too, will find your silver lining amongst everything that is happening.