September 9, 2021 | By Joyce DiMascio

Colin Perry and his team work with loads of membership-based associations – over thirty across a wide range of industry sectors at present.

For the past six years, Optimum Contact, the company he owns with Angela McDonald, has helped associations tighten their member relationships which ultimately has helped the financial stability of many associations.

They have seen what is possible if associations stay close to their members in good times and also in tough ones like what most have experienced since March 2020.

The business events sector works closely with the association market and it represents a big chunk of events. Unlike corporates, most associations must gather their members at least annually for their annual general meetings, so it has been a constant source of business for venues and suppliers. For the past 18 months, many association events have been delivered in either virtual or hybrid formats.

But members of associations generally expect more from their memberships than just one annual event. They measure their association’s worth on many levels – and it’s at membership renewal or joining time, that they demonstrate whether they are prepared to pay for the membership privilege.

Perry says members are wanting to see real value in their association membership, especially now when cashflow is low and need is high.

“They are wanting to see their association walk the walk, not just talk the talk,” he says.

“They not only want, but expect, their membership to be able to provide some real kind of professional development opportunities, varied membership types including month-to-month, as well as proactive advocacy on their behalf.”

But during all the disruption caused by COVID, associations are valuing some services more. This has changed, Perry says. 

The biggest thing association members value right now is relevancy.

“Members need to see in black and white the relevant value that they are receiving by keeping their membership. But they’re also valuing associations that are highlighting how much their members mean to them beyond the dollars.

“Members are valuing associations that are asking for feedback, that are making sure that they are doing their best to provide assistance and relevant value to their members.”

He says there are associations that are performing well in this regard.

A couple of our association clients have been offering great, relevant benefits to their members.

“The Recruiting Consulting and Staffing Association (RCSA) has done incredibly well, particularly in those early phases of COVID. Recruitment and employment are generally a canary in the coal mine; they have their finger on the pulse of what’s happening in the economy.

“They were there to support the members through the incredibly hard times, all the while their team members were working from home, juggling home schooling and supporting a member base that was hurting.

“Helping their members with resources and information; they actually went out and won tenders for the placement of essential workers, for example, and then were able to give those jobs to their members to recruit,” Perry said.

He has some simple words of advice.

“Successful associations contacted their members to see how they can provide support during COVID, and realised that their service offering may need to change to adapt to the needs of their members right now.

“Associations that are thriving right now are touching base and providing real benefits like employment vacancy boards, professional development opportunities, or are growing a connected online community to provide a connectedness to other people.”

He says that some of the biggest things his team has seen is the huge impact a phone call to members can make.

“With the number, and length, of lockdowns we’ve seen in Australia, one of the biggest impacts to members we are seeing is their happiness to pick up the phone and have a conversation. Often, we will hear from the other end of the line ‘you’re the first person I’ve spoken to today’, or even with the amount of home-schooling that’s been happening over the last year and a half, ‘you’re the first person I’ve been able to talk to over the age of five today’.”

Perry says the members of their clients are “incredibly keen” to get back to face-to-face events, which is encouraging for the future of live events.

Optimum Contact runs renewal campaigns for peak bodies. They also onboard new members, run surveys and help answer the phone. He says they work as an extension of inhouse teams. Among their client portfolio are associations in creative and design industries, building and construction, trades, building service, medical, allied health, nursing, alternative health, human resources and chambers of commerce.