Preparing Your Association For A Recession

by Sumeet Gulati

While the economy has been strong in recent years, many experts believe that a recession is on the horizon.

Trade associations and professional associations may be impacted differently during an impending economic recession. Trade associations may see a decline in membership as companies struggle to cope financially. Additionally, they may see a decrease in sponsorship and advertising revenue as businesses cut back on their spending.

Professional associations may also see a decline in membership as individuals lose their jobs or have less disposable income to spend on membership dues. However, professional associations may be less impacted by a decline in sponsorship and advertising revenue, as these organizations typically rely more on membership dues for revenue.

It follows naturally therefore that during a recession, associations may record a decline in attendance and participation in events and programs as businesses show balance sheets with less disposable income, leaving them no choice but to reduce spending on these activities.

Professional associations will witness a trend where individuals who have been laid off may seek new avenues to improve their job prospects by obtaining certifications or other credentials. This can lead to an increase in demand for training programs offered by professional associations.

However, it is also important to note that during a recession, this increased demand is often offset by two mitigating factors. First, individuals may have less disposable income to spend on additional training or certifications.  Understandably, their priorities will be on overhead expenses, such as utilities and other necessary expenses. Second, companies may cut back on their training budgets, making it harder for individuals to access the training they need.

To mitigate the impact of a recession, trade, and professional associations should focus on increasing membership and engagement by diversifying their revenue streams and reducing expenses. Let’s look at both of these measures individually.

Navigate Through the Clouds with New Revenue Streams In Your Flight Plan

New revenue streams can come from developing new products or services and seeking out new sponsors and partners to increase non-dues revenue.

Associations Can Provide A Number Of Services To Help Their Members Steer Through A Recession And Mitigate Its Impact. Some Examples Include:

Job Boards And Networking Opportunities:
Associations can create online job boards or networking groups to enable their members to connect with potential employers or clients. One of the great, yet often underutilized, strengths of an association is the ability to connect people to expertise, in the form of either specialists or documentation. This is something few other organizations can provide nearly as cost-effectively.

Professional Development And Training:
Associations can provide online courses, webinars, and other resources to help members improve their skills and stay marketable during a recession.

Business Counseling, Mentoring, And Benchmarking: Associations can lay out resources and mentorship to help members launch or grow their businesses during a recession. One association conducted detailed surveys of its members’ financials, maintaining anonymity, and now provides the resulting benchmark data to both members and non-members, earning a 7-figure non-dues revenue stream.

Research And Data: Associations can furnish research and data to members on the current state of the market and trends within their respective industries for them to make informed decisions.

Legal And Financial Advice: Associations can provide access to legal and financial experts to assist members with issues related to navigating a recession.

Increase Sponsorship Revenue: When was the last time you reviewed your sponsorship model and opportunities? These tend to evolve over time, so your sponsorship strategy should as well. For example, associations are beginning to sponsor mobile directories that connect members while increasing page views and, therefore, sponsorship dollars.

Discounts And Member Benefits:
Associations can negotiate discounted rates on products and services to help members save money during a recession. Costs like health insurance often present an enormous, often untouched, opportunity in this regard.

Reduce Costs to Get More
Mileage From the Same Jet Fuel

Associations are finding significant cost savings in integrations that connect key systems together. It’s not your grandfather’s cloud anymore, so there are new opportunities through advanced Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) and strategically designed data warehousing to share data and streamline workflows.

Neither you nor your members can afford double data entry, so ensure data is entered only once and shared where needed. For example, technologies like nightly synchronization routines and Single Sign-On (SSO) can free up resources while improving data integrity.

Enhanced data visualization and business intelligence software can surface essential trends and insights without having to allocate staff resources to research them.

A properly configured Association Management System (AMSs) can play a vital role in helping associations weather a recession. By managing operations such as membership, events, and finance. AMSs provide valuable data and insights, such as membership trends and financial reports, which, in turn, can help associations make informed decisions about their scope of work and day-to-day operations.

AMSs can also facilitate a great deal of automation, alerting, for example, staff to engagement changes prior to the renewal or notifying members of expiring credentials or early-bird registration windows. All of these can boost engagement without the labor needed to monitor these dynamics manually.

Of course, AMSs’ level of sophistication today typically goes beyond the plug-and-play of a few years ago, so make sure your AMS is fully optimized for your data environment and functionality requirements. A substantial cost to avoid is the effort to replace your AMS when it was actually fully adequate but merely misconfigured.


To sum up, while the prospect of a recession can be daunting, associations can take steps to prepare and mitigate its potential impact. By diversifying revenue streams and reducing expenses, associations can position themselves for success in any economic climate, however grim the forecast.

Key Takeaways:

Diversify Revenue Streams:
Develop new products or services, seek out new sponsors and partners and increase non-dues revenue to minimize the impact of a decline in membership or sponsorships.

Be open to new ways of working, new technologies and different ways of engaging with members. This will save costs and increase efficiency.

Reduce Expenses:
Streamline operations and look for ways to cut costs, such as negotiating better deals with vendors or outsourcing certain tasks.

Network And Collaborate:
Build strong relationships and partnerships with other organizations, companies, and associations in order to access new resources, knowledge, and opportunities.

Increase Membership And Engagement:
Offer more value to current members while promoting the benefits of membership to prospects. This will increase membership and participation.

Only then will the silver linings be visible.

Questions? Call 719-581-2221 anytime to arrange a consultation with either author. Both have spent a decade or more helping associations grow, can share with you what’s worked and would love your feedback.