How to Grow and Retain Membership in Lockdown

Ongoing lockdowns have presented an unprecedented challenge for industry associations that typically rely on in-person events and conferences to engage members and grow their membership base. With the majority of the Australian workforce now working from home, the opportunities to connect are more limited.

As the world pivoted to working remotely and online, all organisations have needed to quickly adapt to this new way of communicating. In the past eighteen months, associations have been required to review their technology and the ways in which they communicate with their members to continue offering a valuable service.

Although engaging with members has become more challenging, there are options available to associations hoping to grow and retain their membership during these difficult times.

Virtual Events?  Have Your Members Had Enough?

Hybrid and virtual events proved popular and effective in 2020. Many associations and industry bodies moved planned events and conferences online, shifting their structure to suit a virtual model. Although this has been widely successful, it is difficult to maintain momentum, especially as Australians experience increasing ‘lockdown fatigue’ and a loss of motivation to attend virtual events.

Additionally, developing suitable content for an online setting can pose a challenge. Some of the benefits of in-person events – such as networking and spontaneous conversation – are inevitably lost in the digital world.

To recreate some of the connectivity of real-world interaction, associations can add a social element to online events. Game nights, celebrations and video calls on a Friday afternoon can help to maintain social connections and boost morale.

Associations can provide opportunities for members to encourage and support each other through the creation of online forums. Space to share ideas, express emotional responses and connect with others is vital during a difficult time.

One innovative exercise that we implemented for one of our clients was a member brainstorming session to solve a key issue facing the association. We set up a Zoom meeting for members and described the issue that we needed help with. For 30 minutes, members and association representatives brainstormed solutions together, using the annotation tool in Zoom.

The results were fantastic. For the first time, we were able to engage members in a real way, and solve real-world issues at the same time. The feedback from members was very positive.

Personalised Communication and Engagement

Rather than focus on large-scale events, many associations are experiencing success in engaging their membership through frequent, helpful communication. One of the key advantages of membership in an organisation is the ability to be a part of a larger group and the social benefits associated with this.

Especially during lockdowns, many people are feeling isolated and disconnected. Simple actions such as calling members on their birthday can dramatically improve someone’s state of mind, providing an opportunity to touch base and check in.

These sorts of gestures build stronger relationships and contribute to your members’ wellbeing. Now is the time to check that you have the details of your members to allow for this sort of personalised communication.

If your association needs help with this type of communication, it may be time to invest in our Member Contact Service. Our Member Contact Service team can call and engage with your members, to help secure and grow your membership base.

Recently, one of our large association clients decided to engage us to make some 'Are You OK?' calls. Our contact service staff — who are highly skilled in communicating with members — made these calls to members with a defined script and key questions about how they were coping in lockdown. 

This proved very successful. Most of the members who were called appreciated the connection. In a few cases, we managed to identify some key issues facing members who were feeling isolated and referred them to professionals who were able to provide counselling.

The skilled team at AES can also chase up those members who have not renewed, contact past members and cold-call prospects.

The Importance of Information

The COVID-19 pandemic and the associated restrictions and lockdowns have created confusion within many industries. Often, the specific rules have changed rapidly and it has been difficult to access up-to-date and accurate information.

An association can provide value to its members by providing this information and assisting them to comply with changing government requirements. Offering guidance in a simplified and concise way is crucial in a challenging time, when many professionals have other competing priorities to attend to.

Communications that are helpful to members include distilling government compliance measures into succinct points, explaining the economic supports available, and offering advice on how to utilise technology to move their work online. These simple measures can provide an invaluable resource for your membership base to glean essential information quickly.

Developing Technology Resilience

To achieve effective communications and engagement, it is vital that associations have the technology in place to rapidly disseminate timely information to members. Up to date databases, quality communications infrastructure, and dedicated staff gathering information all assist to make this possible. Building relationships with decision makers in government assists to more quickly access up to date intelligence regarding work restrictions and access to funding.

Associations should leverage ever-evolving collaboration tools and technologies to support meetings and events. As we move into an online space, cyber-security is more important than ever. Establish appropriate security measures and confirm all workers are familiar with relevant policies to maintain data integrity and guard sensitive information.

Emphasising Brand and Purpose

During lockdowns, associations risk losing members who don’t feel they are getting as much value from their membership. It is crucial that associations retain their membership base by continuously providing value.

Every interaction with your customers and partners is an opportunity to demonstrate what your organisation is about and be true to your brand and purpose. In a confusing and socially isolating time, an association can present itself as an important pillar of stability and security. Find ways to continue delivering value of products and services through alternate channels so that members do not feel they are receiving less from their membership.


When an association is successful in engaging members through difficult lockdown periods, those members are far more likely to continue with their membership subscriptions into the next financial year.

Additionally, the value provided by associations through crucial information, social interaction, and personalised advice and communication, encourages new people who may be missing these elements in their professional lives to invest in association membership.

Need help engaging your members, or growing your membership base? AES can help: develop and implement a complete membership marketing strategy for your organisation; ​conduct a member contact service to onboard new members and review your member value proposition. Call us today on 03 8393 9382


With over 30 years of management expertise, Executive Director and Founder of AES, Nick Koerbin is one of the most experienced NFP leaders in Australia. He has held positions as the CEO of Materials Australia, the National Parts Code, as well as senior positions in the Institute of Insurance, Australian Quality Council, the Financial Planning Association, the Australian Human Resources Institute, and the Furniture Industry Association of Australia. Nick created AES with a vision of creating a set of management practices that could be consistently followed to ensure success. Over his 30 years in the industry, he noticed that inconsistent management practices often impeded delivery of services to members, which in turn created issues with membership renewal. By establishing AES and creating the NFP Association Best Practice Self-Assessment, Nick has been able to assist leaders in becoming more confident and informed decision makers so that they can create more effective strategies and implementation plans.

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