Associations are in the midst of what might be called a “stature crisis.” While most, if not all, professional associations strive to be the leading authority within their respective industries, many are working with fewer resources to serve a member base with a broader, more diverse set of needs in industries that are evolving rapidly to cope with a wide variety of disruptive influences, ranging from COVID-19 to supply-chain interruptions.
Further, membership demographics are shifting quickly as older — and perhaps more loyal — members age out. Associations have learned they can no longer take their stature for granted among young professionals operating in a more complex ecosystem of solution providers in which their association is perceived as just one of many potential sources of professional support.
According to Naylor’s Association Communications Benchmarking Report, just over a quarter (28%) of associations struggled to be the No. 1 source of information in their respective industries in 2011. Today, only a decade later, nearly half of associations (41%), cite this crisis in stature as a challenge.
To mitigate the risk of a continued decline in both rank and relevance, associations must rethink their member engagement strategy.
For most associations, membership engagement roughly follows a similar ebb and flow: It builds momentum in the weeks leading up to their annual conference, spikes sharply during the days of their event, and then dramatically decreases for the remainder of the year. Sure there are peaks and valleys throughout the year but, to a great extent, for most associations member engagement is driven by their event calendar.
To restore their leadership stature, associations need to rethink their communications strategy to build an engagement model that sustains member attention more consistently throughout the year.
An online Resource Library provides a platform that supports a more robust member engagement model. Also known as a “Knowledge Hub” or “Content Hub,” a Resource Library provides members with a turnkey source of thought leadership resources targeted to members’ unique informational needs and interests. The content within a Resource Library can range from white papers and reports to podcasts, videos, and on-demand webinars.
Because the content is primarily provided by third parties like sponsors and industry solution providers, associations don’t have to rely solely on their own internal resources for content creation. Consequently, regularly updated Resource Libraries can be the basis for a sustained and significantly more robust member engagement model.
Associations adopting the Resource Library model are better equipped to serve a wider variety of informational needs of increasingly diverse memberships. Because much of the content in a Resource Library is aggregated from credible third parties with deep subject matter expertise in their respective industries, associations don’t need to expend their resources trying to be all things to all people.
Melinda Bentley, COO of the Texas Society of Certified Public Accountants (TXCPA), explains the difficulty her organization faced trying to serve the needs of members spread across a broad range of private and public accounting roles and industries:
“One of our challenges is that we have 28,000 members, and they're all different. Yes, they’re all in the accounting industry, but some may be public accountants, or staff or forensic accountants. Some are focused on specific industries like manufacturing or transportation,” says Bentley.
One common trait among all TXCPA members, however, is that they need a reliable source of information for ongoing professional support and development. Launched just one year ago, TXCPA’s Resource Library, referred to as a “Knowledge Hub” on its site, helps the organization position itself as a go-to source of valuable information and content targeted to multiple member segments.
“As a non-profit association, we don’t have unlimited resources to create customize content for all member interests, but our Knowledge Hub offers members a steady stream of fresh content from credible third parties covering a wide variety of member interests,” Bentley explains. “Members can pick and choose what matters most to them.”
And the increased member engagement speaks for itself. Because the Resource Library platform includes an association dashboard, TXCPA can track performance and interest among members in real-time as new content resources are added nearly every week.
“Our members are analytical by their very nature,” says Bentley. “They’re accountants so they have to be. The fact that so many are downloading and engaging with the content in our Knowledge Hub tells me that they’re finding value in it. It’s also telling to me that there are very few unsubscribes when we send email updates about what’s new in the Knowledge Hub. If our members don’t find value in something, they can be pretty quick to unsubscribe.”
As TXCPA has discovered, providing a one-stop location for information, tools, and insights is an invaluable member benefit and keeps the association front and center among members on a more continuous basis. And, as many organizations are learning, Resource Libraries aren’t just for third-party content.
“With our Knowledge Hub, there’s an immediate communication strategy where you are pushing out new content or highlighting resources — and it’s a constant reminder to our members about the resources we have available for them,” explains Liz Neeley, Executive Director.
NSBA’s Knowledge Hub features its own handbooks, research, toolkits, and other valuable material that the organization has developed to support its members.
“We’re helping our members access information not only from other industry leaders, but we want to leverage the hub as a channel for our own resources as well,” explains Neeley.
Neeley says the organization has also been able to get extra mileage from its event-based seminars and presentations that can be repurposed and featured within its Resource Library so members can access them on their terms when they need them most. A series of webinars explaining how attorneys can apply for court appointments is a great example of career advancement for members.
“If our content is great, it’s going to drive people to the Knowledge Hub, and they’re going to see the other sponsors’ content, too, and vice versa. I think it’s a mutually beneficial approach,” says Neeley.
Because content within a Resource Library is primarily comprised of thought leadership resources supplied by corporate sponsors and vendors, Resource Libraries offer associations an efficient way to engage members on a more regular basis without straining their own internal resources.
And, as NSBA’s approach demonstrates, the steady stream of freshly updated content also offers associations a new channel to keep their own content front and center to drive deeper engagement and remain visible to members in a more ongoing manner.
When developing a Resource Library, associations have the option to build their own custom platform or partner with a third party. Lead Marvels’ platform can be easily white labeled for its association partners and offers plug and play functionality, which means it can be launched in a matter of weeks.