Your 2021 Association Planning Guide: What’s Ahead and What We Learned from 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has been a catalyst for change all around the world. Among associations and not-for-profit organizations, it’s prompted a reassessment of existing business models and overall relevance.

While the year 2020 was fully focused on making adjustments for COVID-19—from the urgent necessary virtualization of annual meetings and conferences to rapidly-deployed enhancements in online learning capabilities—it’s now in the history books and we turn our attentions to 2021. Facing a new year that’s brimming with possibilities, associations are refocusing on the needs of their constituents. The show must go on, and membership organizations are seeking to do it better than they did before.

Read on for some important key trends that associations can expect for the year ahead.

1. Investments in a substantial online presence

Not only are people spending a growing amount of time on their devices, but the web may be the only way for current and potential members to interact with associations these days. That’s driving many membership organizations to increase spending on their web presence in 2021, including improvements to content delivery, the addition of new features, and increased web staffing. If updating your website has been on your association’s to-do list for some time, this is the year to make it happen. Focus on creating valuable, in-depth resources and content. And be sure to invest in your social media presence, too. These platforms can easily be neglected but they also serve as the face of your organization. 

2. Incorporating flexibility wherever possible

Even in typical operating years, organizational planning can be challenging. Planning amid the uncertainty of 2020—which is likely to extend through 2021 and beyond—may be virtually impossible. While there’s plenty of hope on the horizon, if COVID taught us anything it’s that life is filled with curveballs. Many organizations are opting to take a more fluid approach to their operations since a twelve-month outlook is likely to be based on too many variables that are yet unknown. So, for example, rather than an annual budget that’s set in stone, a conformable structure may be the way to go. Conducting a quarterly analysis and making adjustments as needed can help minimize the impact of variances that arise as the year unfolds. For these reasons, membership organizations should also strive to keep their fiscal expectations realistic. It may be that you excel in the year ahead or you may find that your organization needs to dip into the reserves you worked so hard to build. Either way, transparent flexibility will be the mantra for 2021.

3. Creative new sources of revenue

Associations across the globe took a big hit last year. In 2021, many will be turning to multiple revenue streams as they strive to compensate for canceled face to face conferences and declines in membership.

Here are a few of the alternate sources of revenue that are expected to skyrocket:

  • Virtual education: Providing a complete, engaging, and impactful educational experience is a great differentiator and also delivers real value to attendees.
  • Swag sales: Membership organizations will be relying on their hottest merchandise to help offset a lackluster 2020.
  • Online events: Associations will be employing robust new tactics to provide value for exhibitors and sponsors, as well as attendees. From enhanced branding efforts to expanded thought leadership opportunities, the virtual event experience will be undergoing a serious transformation.

4. A renewed commitment to members

Your membership organization is probably facing some new challenges, and realistically, who isn’t? This is the time to let your members know that you’re charting a course that will not only meet these obstacles but will ultimately overcome them. Assure your constituents that your association remains focused on delivering the highest level of professional value and that your commitment to them is steadfast. After a year filled with uncertainty, that unwavering support is sure to be appreciated more than ever and can help forge positive, long-lasting member relationships.

While there’s no playbook for how to run your organization amid a pandemic, having access to supportive information can help. IBC offers flexible, leading-edge software solutions that help associations thrive, even in the face of adversity. Please reach out to our helpful professionals to learn more.

About IBC: At IBC, we have a deep understanding of the critical business needs and processes specific to associations, non-profits, and unions. We ‘get’ your culture, your goals, and what drives you, too. Focused exclusively on and dedicated to delivering the most effective AMS, LMS, and Virtual Event Solutions for our clients, we’re well-versed in identifying and applying the integration techniques that will save you time and money. Since 2001, our cutting-edge products, unparalleled responsiveness, and award-winning services have helped organizations like yours increase their operational and financial performance by leveraging best practices and proven solutions. For more information about IBC, please visit the website at or call 443.603.0215.

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