March 23, 2020

Finding New Ways to Engage Members Online During the COVID-19 Crisis

Finding New Ways to Engage Members Online During the COVID-19 Crisis

In the midst of social distancing, quarantines, and lockdowns, your members’ need for social connection and community is growing. After a while, the novelty of working from home will wear off. Work routines will be established and household challenges will be mastered—or at least get to a “good enough” place.

Your members will start itching for social contact beyond the family, friends, and supermarket cashiers they see from a 6-foot distance. Their professional lives will feel empty if the only people they see are co-workers on your organization’s web conferencing solution. Already, we’ve noticed an increase in social media activity and virtual happy hours and idea swaps in the association community. People are hungry for community right now.

It’s a good time for your association to experiment with new ways of engaging members online. Since you already have strong relationships with volunteer leaders, start by experimenting with different ways to interact with them.

Check in With Volunteer Leaders

Depending on your association’s industry, members serving on your board, committees, and other governance groups may have more time on their hands for association activities, the same amount of time, or absolutely no time at all.

If they’re working from home, some will discover they’re getting more work done than they did in the office, so they have time to spare. Members with kids at home may discover the exact opposite.

Your members might be on the frontline of this crisis with barely enough time to sleep. Or, they might be distracted by other concerns, such as closing their business, laying off employees, dealing with supply chain issues, or other crisis-related challenges.

Find out how your volunteer leaders are doing. Let them know you’re thinking about them. What kind of support do volunteer leaders need from the association? Information, education, networking, and/or socializing? Do they have to put their volunteer responsibilities on hold for a while? Or, can they step up their involvement?

Sound the Call to Duty

Whatever their situation, the fact is, association business can’t be put on hold. Decisions must be made about upcoming events and shifts in association resources to programs that help members deal with the economic impact of COVID-19.

Ask staff liaisons to reach out to each volunteer leadership group, find out who’s available, and schedule online meetings so necessary association work can continue. Explain how board, committee, and other group meetings will happen, for example, which web conferencing platform or virtual event solution you’ll use. Provide training videos, guidelines, and tips for online meetings—these same tips can also help volunteer leaders with online meetings at work.

Encourage Volunteers to Connect With Each Other

Help volunteer leaders overcome the isolation of physical distancing by giving them opportunities to connect with peers. Serving on your board, committees, and other governance groups, these members may already know each other to varying degrees, so they make a good test group for new community experiments—experiments that could turn into regular member engagement activities in the future.

Give volunteers a way to meet up online for non-association business —either a web conferencing platform or virtual event solution. They need somewhere to talk shop and share professional and personal advice and tips. If you have an online community, create forums for personal and professional COVID-19 topics. Encouraging “off-topic” conversations brings more humanity to your association by letting people just be people.

Offer Online Microvolunteering Opportunities

According to the research described in ASAE’s Mutually Beneficial Volunteerism, approximately 70% of members have never volunteered. Many members are put off by the commitment of time or travel required by traditional volunteering roles. You need another engagement path for the majority of your members.

Invest time in building an online microvolunteering program now—a great opportunity for members to make a difference while stuck at home during the COVID-19 crisis. Here are some examples of how members can help out with online microvolunteering tasks.


  • Organize or host virtual meetups.
  • Moderate online community discussions.
  • Facilitate online course discussions.
  • Moderate Twitter chats.

Member engagement

  • Check in with new members right after they join and then at 2 months, 4 months, and 6 months, or at-risk (potentially non-renewing) members.
  • Participate in online mentoring sessions.
  • Help young professionals with resume reviews or mock interviews.

Sharing expertise and resources

  • Review session or paper proposals.
  • Find good reads for your association to share in newsletters or on social media.
  • Share highlights of webinars they’ve attended or articles they’ve read on timely issues.
  • Provide feedback on pending articles and posts.
  • Write articles or posts.

Marketing assistance

  • Provide new association product/service feedback.
  • Assist with market research.
  • Provide written or video testimonials about membership, events, online learning programs, or other benefits.
  • Test website or app usability.

Political action

  • Call or email elected officials about pending legislation.
  • Create or give feedback on talking points about the impact of proposed legislation or regulations.

Make sure you publicize these virtual microvolunteering opportunities on your member portal and/or website, remind members to complete the volunteer form, and manage volunteers with your AMS.