How member organisations can remain relevant in this Covid-19 situation

Wednesday, May 6th, 2020 00:00 |
People ride bicycles in central Milan as Italy started to ease its lockdown. Other European nations are cautiously lifting restrictions as virus infections and deaths fall. Photo/AFP

Lina Jamwa       

The coronavirus pandemic has literally thrown the world off balance. When news of the virus broke last December 2019, we treated it as a far-fetched piece of information.

After all, it was in Wuhan, China —oceans away. Little did we know that it would spread as bushfire and become the world’s worst nightmare.

The crisis in Kenya was compounded by the fact that our economy was already struggling, presenting businesses a challenging environment to operate in.

Profits have been compromised, employees forced to take pay cuts and worse still, some have lost jobs. Some companies have closed shop altogether. 

But what does this crisis mean exactly for membership organisations? Business membership organisations (BMOs) rely on voluntary membership and goodwill of its members.

Their main source of income is membership subscription. As the need to focus on essential needs grows, members are bound to shift their focus from paying subscriptions to fulfilling these needs. This definitely results in reduction of revenue. 

BMOs are also losing out on revenue from networking events, with social gatherings banned to slow the spread of coronavirus.

Donors have also relented as advocacy ventures have reduced and are not being followed up aggressively. 

All these factors risk destabilising membership organisations as their very source of income is threatened directly.

However, it does not have to be all gloom. The organisations can consider ways of cutting costs to stay afloat and remain relevant to their members during these turbulent times.

One way to do this is through regular communication and member engagement.

With organisations adopting working from home as part of safety measures to fight Covid-19, the need for constant communication with members increases.

Amidst all the news surrounding us, it is very easy for members to lose track of what their association was or is doing for them, making it harder to come back after all the dust has settled.

Constant communication goes a long way in reminding members that the association cares for them and is still in existence. 

Members want to know about existing opportunities to make money or get jobs. They also want to know innovative ways to handle their businesses as well as staying healthy.

BMOs should step in and also educate their members on things affecting their businesses.

To remain afloat, the organisations should cut down on non-essential expenditure.

It would not be wise to undertake a big office overhaul or undertake recruitment at this time.

They should instead keep a lean expenditure because it is not known how long the pandemic will last. The aftermath will also be grave.

Therefore good strategy and planning needs to go into every business decision at this point. 

BMOs must acknowledge that members need to get value for their money. BMOs could take time to research well on where their members’ focus is.

This will help them to focus their energies on what members really want.

Technological advancements have literally made the world flat. Communication and even execution of events have become smoother with technology.

BMOs need to invest in technology that will help them connect with their members and still remain relevant.

The current situation presents a platform to explore other ways of meeting other than physical meetings.

BMOs should take advantage of web conferencing platforms to reach members. 

Finally, people may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel.

It is especially important right now for BMOs to ensure they leave a lasting memory in the minds of their members.

Members want to be reassured, not just via system generated reminders. BMOs should keep in touch with their members and resolve their immediate problems.

Instead of just asking for subscription payment, BMOs can also show genuine care for the wellbeing of their members.

They could take time to echo the government’s sentiments on the pandemic and show that they are cooperating and doing their part in flattening the curve and encouraging their members to do the same. —The writer is a membership and communication manager, Architectural Association of Kenya

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