One association got a boost in membership, engagement, and retention by listening to members, tailoring resources to directly meet their needs, and being open to new ideas.

In late April, the Health Industry Distributors Association announced a 21 percent surge in corporate members, noting that it is exceeding national benchmarks for trade association member renewal rates. The growth is broad-based, with new members from companies of all sizes.

How did HIDA do it? An expanded membership model, ramped up engagement, and proactive, responsive communications were key.

HIDA’s members are distributors of medical products—including personal protective equipment— to hospitals, nursing homes, and more. When the pandemic hit, staff knew members would need the group more than ever, given the critical nature of their services. “We really focused on increasing those member touchpoints,” said Kelley Taft, HIDA’s director of membership.

NEW VOLUNTEER OPPORTUNITIES

Before the pandemic, HIDA held its board and council committee meetings at its live events about twice a year. But once everyone got acclimated to Zoom, the staff started bringing those volunteer groups together more frequently. Now they meet monthly. “We needed to understand their pain points and their challenges,” Taft said. She credits several new member councils and workgroups, where member experts meet regularly to share real-time responses to the many challenges the industry is facing, as one of the biggest factors in HIDA’s improved member retention and engagement rate.

The increase in member council meetings has allowed Taft’s team to home in on members’ top issues and build tailored resources to help them communicate with government officials, their customers, and other stakeholders about the supply chain and define the important role HIDA members play within it. The tools include infographics, fact sheets, sample op-eds, and presentations.

“It really resonated with members,” Taft said. “It’s relevant to them and addresses their immediate challenges.”

A BIGGER TENT

HIDA also expanded its membership model. Like many associations, because of attrition rates at member companies, HIDA lost contact with some professionals in the field. But now, with more member council meetings and workgroups, HIDA has connected with more people at member companies who didn’t have exposure to the association before. Not only are more companies engaging with HIDA, but more people within those organizations are too.

“I’m keeping my database person busy adding all these new members,” Taft said.

New members mean more onboarding. Taft said her team looked hard at the existing onboarding process and created a new member guide and a private page on their website with practical tips for new members. At one point they did away with snail-mail packets and went completely virtual, but they heard from members who preferred receiving something tangible in the mail. Now HIDA has a hybrid system of virtual and hard-copy mailings for onboarding new members.

“One of the things we’ve learned is that we have to be open to new things,” Taft said. “Maybe old-school is not so bad.”

THROW THE NET WIDE

Like many groups, HIDA hosted its two biggest conferences in 2020 virtually, but it did not offer reduced rates or free registration. Instead, it opted for an all-access, flat-rate pass. Members paid the same amount as they did for the live event in 2019 but could invite as many people from their company to attend as they wanted.

“People loved it,” Taft said. The event attracted 410 new attendees. The strategy kept HIDA’s event revenue up, the same as it was the previous year from its in-person events.

Taft credits a willingness to take risks and buy-in from HIDA’s leadership for helping to drive the surge in membership.

“We are moving a lot faster,” she said. And she’s hearing the same from her peers in other associations. “It’s a breath of fresh air,” she said.

LISA BOYLAN

Lisa Boylan is a senior editor of Associations Now. MORE »