5 Different Kinds of Online Education Initiatives for Members

by Colleen Bottorff

“We’ve been trying to get an online educational initiative off the ground for (2, 5, 10+) years…we just don’t know where to start.”

Sound familiar? More and more, having some kind of formal education in place for members isn’t an option, but a must-have. Education is a major join reason, it’s something that your organization can uniquely offer, and (if you want to get real savvy) it’s a huge opportunity to generate some non-dues revenue. And with all the learning management tools out there, you can easily make that program available to all members, all the time.

You know you have tons of resources already, but what should the program itself look like? To get your wheels turning, we broke down some pretty common (and definitely valuable) online education initiatives for members:

1. Required certifications

Of course, this only applies if there ARE any required certifications in your industry. And, if that is the case, you likely already help members with their certifications by providing resources, giving guidance, making connections, etc. But how often is that at the request of the member, rather than a proactive initiative on your end?

This is a great place to start your formal online education initiative because not only would it add SO much member value, but you’ll also be furthering your support of the industry as a whole, too!

Now, if your association actually administers the certification, you probably already have something formal in place. But if it doesn’t, a few ways to be more proactive could be offering online practice tests and quizzes, live study session webinars, and downloadable study guides.

(Food for thought for our chamber of commerce readers: Are there any required certifications you could help with for industries that are a huge part of your community?)

2. Document depository

Sometimes, just having a nicely organized place where members can access the MANY resources you have can make all the difference.

Do a quick mental audit of all of those resources (studies, white papers, data sets, videos, webinars, etc.), and ask yourself these questions to see if a document depository makes sense:

  • How often do members come to staff asking for resources?
  • Do we have a hard time getting those resources to members quickly and efficiently?
  • Do we have enough resources that it’d be robust enough when we launch it?
  • Do we have a varied amount of types of resources?
  • Are there even more resources that we’ve been wanting to create, but we don’t have the place for them?

3. New member onboarding

A formal new member onboarding process is key to sparking that engagement early on. Imagine how refreshing it would be, as a new member, to be instantly met with a set of videos, fun surveys and quizzes, FAQs, etc. all about membership as soon as that dues payment goes through.

Giving your new members some material to dive into from the start will carry their initial excitement to join through to their first meeting, event, or volunteer opportunity. You could even build your program so that it (and that excitement) carries on over the course of their first few weeks — to months!

4. Virtual conference

Hosting your conference all online is a great way to make that content accessible to all members, no matter their location or daily availability. Many robust learning management platforms will even let you host live webinars for sessions directly in the platform, and then turn those around to upload as videos for anyone who couldn’t attend live or had to duck in and out of the event.

A virtual conference is also a great way to include some non-dues revenue in your educational initiatives like we talked about earlier. We’re willing to bet that info will be valuable to non-members, too!

5. Professional development

Another major join reason, especially among professional association members, are career development and networking benefits. Similar to helping out with required certifications, what kind of resources can you provide that’ll help members really hone their craft?

But beyond industry-specific resources, consider formally offering other online career development services, like resume best practices and how to write unique cover letters. Many job search topics can easily be translated into online learning courses, downloadable templates, and guides full of tips!

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