4 Strategies for Engaging and Retaining Members During COVID-19

4 Strategies for Engaging and Retaining Members During COVID-19

By Molly Anderson, Meg Drumm, Chris Ocampo, and Caryn Odenbach

2020 is not business as usual…2021 looks scary, too.

Members are the lifeblood of associations and 911 clients. As association professionals, we’re here to serve them, and our bottom lines depend on their support through dues payments, meeting registrations, and product sales. So, when a global pandemic and a recession challenge those goals, how can we keep up?

Putting their heads (and strategies) together, several members of the 911 Membership/Marketing SIG collaborated on this list of 4 member retention strategies to employ during the COVID-19 public health and economic crisis and beyond.

Review and Revise Communications to Reflect Sensitivity to Circumstances

Now is the time to take a fresh look at all your communications, not just those related to the crisis. In light of the challenges many of our members are dealing with, it’s important to make sure communications are relevant and sensitive. We have

  • demonstrated member support through personalized staff messages
  • extended member grace periods to avoid interruption of benefits and related notices
  • added sensitive language to existing invoices and renewal notifications
  • used member communities to share information in addition to email
  • adjusted dues reminder language to manage the inability to send print invoices, adding informative and supportive belly bands to mailings
  • extended abstract/education proposal deadlines, grant deadlines, and exam windows 
  • eliminated early-bird deadlines for fall conferences in favor of sharing lower early-bird rates with all members
  • shared supportive messages on social media, such as a series of inspirational and gratitude-based posts, self-care content, and a light-hearted TikTok Challenge for the (NANN)
  • temporarily reduced regular member communications.

By making these changes, we reinforced to our members and customers, especially those who belong to healthcare associations, that we are here to support them during challenging and good times.

Ramp Up Advocacy

The healthcare industry in particular has been significantly impacted by the pandemic; there have been many calls for federal support in relief packages and more personal protective equipment (PPE), with more calls likely to come. Staff at 911 supported our members’ calls for relief and celebrated many national doctor and nurse days to show support for the crucial, lifesaving work of our healthcare association members. Here are a few examples:

  • The (AAPM) supported several American Medical Association-led efforts focused on ensuring that physician practices received funding through relief packages and CMS adjustments to make it easier for physicians to be reimbursed for telemedicine visits. 
  • Many healthcare clients amplified National Doctors’ Day, the Year of the Nurse, and National Nurses’ Day celebrations to honor their members and foster engagement. 
  • The (ABM), among others, created a statement on COVID-19 and an associated column in their journal to share the importance of breastfeeding and keeping mothers and babies together after birth.
  • All 911 healthcare clients encouraged active participation in national advocacy efforts related to PPE through increased sharing of advocacy-related posts and social media activity.

Rapidly Develop New Virtual Member Benefits, Products, and Solutions

911 staff have helped our association partners quickly pivot to offer COVID-19–focused and other educational resources for members and nonmembers. These resources supported entire communities in various industries and helped them easily access the information and education they needed, while also offering them a way to stay connected.

  • Many of our clients significantly increased their webinar activity: the (AANN) launched 4 free webinars with the opportunity to earn continuing education (CE), the (APA) offered 13 free weekly webinars to members and nonmembers, ABM launched its very first webinar, NANN produced a webinar on “The Neonate Risk for Vertical Transmission and Perinatal/Neonatal Management Strategies,” and the (ITNS) offered free webinars to members during Transplant Nurses Week.
  • APA provided members with creative gift ideas for Mother’s Day and graduations.
  • AANN offered a 20% discount off digital products to give nurses more options to earn CE online. The association is also partnering with the (AMWF) to offer a limited number of grants to cover the membership fees for nurses facing financial hardship. 
  • To continue training for pain medicine practitioners and fellows, AAPM published COVID-19 practice guidelines in the journal as “accepted manuscripts” to expedite the publication process. New educational courses feature presentations and Q&As with guideline authors. Additionally, AAPM created a freely accessible new course about how to safely reopen practices.
  • The (AAHPM), (ASBH), (APHON), (ARN), (CESSE), (HOPA), AANN, ABM, ITNS, and NANN pivoted from in-person educational meetings to virtual events.
  • NANN developed a COVID resources web page, collaborated with the Nurse Practitioner Association to create a COVID position statement on Shared Decision Making with COVID+Mothers, produced special COVID podcast episodes, revised the Chapter Town Hall and Committee meeting agendas to allow time for open sharing and support among participants, and received a grant from Pampers to offer free conference sessions for all neonatal nurses to earn 16 CNE credits through August 31.
  • APHON introduced virtual town halls for education and engagement, including a special focus on well-being.
  • CESSE and APA created virtual happy hours and conversation circles for members.
  • AAHPM hosted many check-in calls with their members.

Leverage Member Communications Platforms to Facilitate Information Sharing

During times of crisis, associations are well-positioned to support members by being the go-to place for them to connect, communicate, and find resources through email, forums, websites, or social media. Here’s how:

  • The (ASPHO) created a new email series with COVID-related content for members, and AAPM included a COVID section in its biweekly newsletter.
  • AANN shares COVID-related resources from affiliate organizations, like the Self-Care Package from the American Nurses Association and resources from the Wolters Kluwer, publisher of the .
  • AAHPM, ABM, and ASPHO crowdsourced information on how to respond to COVID-19 from member community conversations, virtual meet-ups, and virtual town halls.
  • NANN encourages members to use the online member forum for sharing information as the pandemic and public health response continually evolve.

With these increases in information sharing on member platforms, some of our association partners saw an increase in listserv use outside of COVID-19-related topics. 

While membership and marketing continue to be important aspects of association management, they are not necessarily the top priority during a global health crisis, especially when an association’s members are healthcare professionals. By providing these engagement and retention strategies, we demonstrate our commitment to supporting our members, many of whom are on the frontlines, as they face the pandemic. It is this creation of support and community—instead of simply focusing on retention rates and numbers–that truly define the association member experience.

Molly Anderson is the director of membership, marketing, and communications for NANN; Meg Drumm is the director of marketing and communications for AAPM and ARN; Chris Ocampo is the marketing manager for APA and CESSE; and Caryn Odenbach is the director of membership and marketing for ABM and ITNS.

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