7 Association Trends We’ll See in 2021

Let’s be honest: 2020 was a tough year for associations. 

How you engage with members was flipped entirely on its head. However, despite cutbacks, canceled events, remote staff, and more, associations still managed to survive — congratulations! 

And we know that while we will be bringing in 2021 still lingering in a pandemic, associations will continue to adapt and succeed. 

In this post, we’re sharing seven association trends taking place in the coming year. 

Whether it’s investing in the latest technology, supporting members through a difficult professional transition, or upping your virtual event game, 2021 is going to be the year associations rise up and become more valuable than before.

So, let’s get to it.



1. Your Online Presence Will Be More Important Than Ever

Not only are people spending an extraordinary amount of time on their devices, but your web presence may also be the only way for your current and potential members to interact with your association. Now is the time to invest in a substantial online presence.

Marketing firm Yoko Co revealed that “a survey from a webinar I did… found that 53% of organizations are planning to increase their spending on their web presence in 2021, including improvements to content delivery, new features and integrations, and increased web staffing.” 

Here’s what to focus on to boost your association’s online presence:  

  • If updating your website has been on your to-do list, 2021 is the year to tackle it.

  • Create long-form content. For the first time in years, mobile traffic is dropping, and desktop traffic is rising. People are gravitating toward valuable and in-depth resources. 

  • Invest in your social media presence. These platforms serve as the face of your association as much as your website does. 

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2Members Will Seek Mentorship

2020 has had a significant impact on the professional community. People are looking for guidance as they navigate unemployment, job changes, and professional development during a trying time. Associations will be looked to to provide industry-specific mentorship.

Focus on developing mentorship and networking opportunities for your members. This will be a benefit that will stand out in 2021 and may be a deciding factor to start or continue membership.


Read More: How to Provide Member Development Opportunities in Your Organization and

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3. Associations Will Get Creative With New Sources of Revenue


Associations across the globe took a big hit in 2020. In 2021, many will be turning to multiple revenue streams to make up for canceled conferences and declines in membership. 

Creating non-dues revenue streams will take some of the pressure of reliance on membership fees and event attendance. 

We wrote a whole post on non-dues revenue streams. Here are a few ideas for new sources of revenue that you can take on in 2021:


  • Training program or courses. Package and sell the training resources you’re already providing to your members.

  • Research or studies services. If you’re equipped to conduct research projects, this is a service you can sell to companies in your industry. 

  • Merchandise sales. Do you have swag? Consider setting up an e-commerce store where members can support you through purchasing merchandise. 

  • Host ads on your website. Does your website get a lot of traffic? Sell ads from your sponsors year-round.

  • Create an ebook. Consider selling a digital book of results from research, how-to guides, or best practices in your industry — or selling webinars, like The Australian Institute of Interpreters and Translators

The Australian Institute of Interpreters and Translators

Read More: 
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4. Associations Will Invest in Better Remote Work Systems


With offices suddenly going completely remote for many associations, things got, well, a bit chaotic.

Association will take a step back and focus on building new processes, investing in better record keeping, and using the latest remote-team tools. The good news is that remote management and communications tools will continue to become more accessible and affordable in the coming year.

Here’s what better tools and channels of communication will look like in 2021:


  • A digitized and cloud-based record management system, like Wild Apricot’s membership management software, which is an advanced system that allows you to automate and simplify membership tasks for yourself, your members, volunteers, and board.

  • A centralized and sharable document system, like Google Workspace, which are cloud-based tools like collaboration tools like documents, forms, presentation builders, calendars, and more. 

  • Team-based work apps, like Asana, that can manage projects and tasks, upload documents, share templates, schedule meetings, and more.

  • Data security will become a must. That means implementing role-based permissions, automated backup plans, and digital archiving. Read more about that in our article, 7 Steps to Protect Your Members’ Data.



5. Associations Will Work With Event Sponsors in New Ways


Sponsors have always been an integral part of association event success. So what happens when events go virtual?

In 2021, associations need to get better at creating virtual sponsor packages and communicating their value. 

Let your sponsors know that virtual conferences are not a passing fad. Just one week in March saw a record of 62 million video conferencing app downloads. What’s more: many event organizers have seen a threefold increase in attendance since switching to virtual this year.

The shift to virtual events has opened up a world of new and valuable sponsorship opportunities. Sponsors are eager to get in front of audiences, whether it’s face-to-face or not. It’s up to associations to provide creative opportunities to do so. 

If you need a few ideas, explore these virtual event sponsorship ideas:


  • Branded waiting rooms

  • Email promotions

  • Feature logos on the registration page

  • Host a sponsored class

  • In-App splash screens or sponsored offers

  • Virtual office hours and consultations 

  • Pre-recorded videos or commercials

  • Prizes for engagement 

  • Sponsored entertainment breaks, like a yoga class or mini-concert

  • Sponsored sessions or webinars

  • Virtual sponsor booths through companies like A2Z Events


6. Conferences and Meetings Will Be a Hybrid and Multi-Location Model


While virtual conferences and events are doable and have seen a lot of success, people will crave in-person interaction and networking in 2021. Next year we’re going to see multi-location hybrid events popping up.

Hybrid events will combine virtual and in-person events that will cater to both those willing to participate in small onsite events and those who prefer to participate virtually. This model is likely to stay long after the pandemic passes for any attendees facing travel restrictions.  

Creating a hybrid meeting does not mean merely live-streaming your event but rather creating separate but cohesive event experience for both onsite and virtual attendees. 


The Professional Convention Management Association (PCMA) is hosting its first hybrid event next month. The Convening Leaders conference will be a mix of live, simulive (simulated and live), and rebroadcasts, with onsite events taking place in over 25 locations. Virtual participants can take part in a community and cohorts that will experience the conference together. 

Convening Leaders

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7. Members and Attendees Are Going To Expect a Better Virtual Event Experience

While 2020 saw a rapid shift to online events, in 2021, associations will have to step it up and bring more value to their virtual events.




EventMBs Managing the Virtual Experience event featured a songwriter who created a custom sone recapping the event. Image and example from


2021 is the year to explore new ways to engage attendees and deliver some of the tried and true experiences from traditional on-site events. What is it going to take to keep attendees at home in their pajamas engaged? Try these emerging tactics: 

  • Invest in virtual event technology that allows for engagement across all event types and on different platforms (think both desktop and mobile). When choosing video conferencing software, look into advanced solutions that allow for attendee-to-attendee and attendee-to-speaker interactions. 

  • Make sure your speakers have engaging and interactive presentations, with polls, live Q&A, upvoting questions, and virtual break-out rooms. Tactics like these are more likely to make your events succeed — in fact, according to The 2020 Virtual Events Research Report for Membership Organizations, 64% of organizations who reported that their events were successful used polls to encourage discussions. 

  • Keep your audiences entertained on breaks. Forbes suggests bringing on guest stars and high caliber guests. “Imagine how your employees would react if their favorite podcaster or radio personality just happened to be on your next corporate call or virtual company event. Reach out to guests who might normally be outside your operating area or budget. The worst thing they can say is no.”  

  • Don’t be tempted to overproduce your events. Attendees are going to want an authentic conference experience as much as you can deliver one. While some prerecorded content is ok, be sure to include plenty of live content. 

Are you ready for your association’s best year yet? Tell us what you’re most excited to take on in 2021 to grow your association in the comments.

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