Meeting Members Where They Are



“The change in ‘business as usual’ at associations as a result of COVID-19 goes well beyond dealing with events contracts, patrol, and dues renewals. It means figuring out how to communicate with members who are often too overwhelmed to even think about your association—and to play a meaningful role in their lives in a crisis.” ~ Mark Athitakis, Leading Through a Pandemic: A “Right Now” Mindset, Associations Now


Events are cancelled, many people are still sheltering in place and working remotely, and government guidelines are constantly changing.  As communities across the country are slowly reopening, there is fear, uncertainty, and concerns about how to move forward. People are looking to leaders for direction, support, and hope.

This is a defining time for associations to lead through the crisis and help their members and communities recover and rebuild.  How can you help members with the economic impact of COVID-19?


Ask, Listen and Prioritize Members’ Needs

The impact of COVID-19 will be felt for a long time. Your members will have immediate concerns as they try to return to work, reopen their businesses, and navigate through the “new normal.” Understanding their concerns and how the pandemic has impacted their lives will help you to prioritize what to focus on right now and to anticipate the challenges they face ahead. Here are four ways to serve your members as they start on the road to recovery.

Assess the damage — Ask members to share the top challenges they face over the next 120 days. You can invite them to participate in an online survey, post questions on social media, or conduct phone interviews to collect responses.  After conducting several surveys on behalf of our clients, these are top four challenges based on member responses:

  • Business impact of COVID-19 — loss of revenue, maintaining business costs, and lack of access to funding.
  • Health and safety concerns to reopen — compliance to new operating restrictions, ability to operate in a safe manner, and the public fear and ongoing uncertainty of COVID-19.
  • Workforce impact of COVID-19 — getting employees back to work that are concerned about their health and safety, federal unemployment benefits deter the need to return to work, and hiring and retaining employees due to business cash flow requirements.
  • Changing consumer behaviors — health and safety concerns keep people from dining in or doing in-person shopping, preference to buy online and not locally, and a loss of discretionary spending due to reduced income levels.


Assessment of Member Needs | Hight Performance Group

This chart from the ASAE Research Foundation’s Association Impact Snapshot May 22, 2020 survey shows how many associations are assessing their members’ needs:

Provide credible, timely and relevant information — While information is abundant, much of it is also contradictive, dated, and doesn’t address what members need right now. Based on the current and anticipated needs of members, use a triage approach to help them navigate the information tsunami. Here are ways you can serve best:

  • Facilitate Virtual Town Halls to discuss pressing business issues — leverage your access to leaders and convene the right set of people
  • Be an Information Curator — provide timely updates on local, state and national guidelines on COVID-19, access to government and private sources for funding and support, and the requirements for reopening businesses and resuming activities.
  • Host Virtual Panels or Roundtables — for peers to share concerns, advice, and business models, and for professionals to educate and provide information about business funding or digital marketing.



Design Thinking — Communicate Better, Know Your Audience and Move Quicker | Hight Performance Group


Lead recovery efforts for businesses and the community — Convene leaders and have a seat at the table to discuss short-term needs and anticipated challenges over the next 18 – 24 months. Advocate for your stakeholders and build coalitions to develop a recovery plan.

Help members deal with tough times and decisions — For some, they want someone to listen and empathize with their situations. Others seek solutions and ways to address concerns. Here are additional ways to demonstrate value during this time:

  • Target membership benefits to the member — industry specific info, job boards, virtual opportunities to connect and for support, career resources, education, online marketing.
  • Membership dues — extend grace periods for renewals, offer payment plans, and consider adding a lower rate for those without jobs. Share how the organization is leading and partnering to help the community recover, rebuild and rebound from this crisis.


I know this is a difficult time for you and your staff.  Your leadership will not go unnoticed.



Cathi Hight helps organizations manage constant change, develop customer-centricity and “work smarter, not harder”. She is an organizational development consultant and President of Hight Performance Group as well as the developer of The Member Retention Kit, A New Approach to Tiered Membership, and the Work Smarter, Not Harder program. Learn more at