Navigating the Digital Shift: How to Thrive in Membership Organizations with Sally Hardy and Alex Holmes

Have you heard these myths about membership organizations? Myth #1: Membership organizations are only for professionals. Myth #2: Membership organizations are outdated and irrelevant in the digital age. Myth #3: Membership organizations are only focused on networking. Stay tuned as our guest, Sally Hardy, Alex Homes, shares the truth behind these misconceptions and reveals strategies for improving engagement and growth in membership organizations.

My special guests are Sally Hardy and Alex Homes

In this episode of Membership World, we have the pleasure of hosting Sally Hardy and Alex Holmes from the Regional Studies Association (RSA). Sally Hardy, the Chief Executive of RSA, brings her wealth of knowledge and expertise in leading a successful learned society focused on regional policy and development. With her 37 years of involvement in the association, Sally has witnessed the growth and evolution of RSA, including the recent challenges posed by the pandemic. Alex Holmes, responsible for communications at RSA, has played a pivotal role in adapting to the changing landscape and finding innovative tools and strategies to engage members effectively. Together, Sally and Alex share their insights on building strong membership engagement, utilizing technology, and navigating the ever-changing world of membership organizations. Don't miss this enlightening conversation that is sure to inspire and inform.

In this episode, you will be able to:

  • Improve membership engagement and growth with proven strategies.
  • Uncover new opportunities and overcome challenges in digital communication.
  • Harness the power of networking and personal connections for success.
  • Enhance member engagement with interactive event apps.
  • Stay ahead of the curve by transitioning to hybrid and blended event formats.

The global pandemic brought forward an unexpected shift from traditional, in-person interaction to a predominantly digital environment. Membership organizations, such as the RSA, had to adapt swiftly to this new reality, in order to ensure continued interaction and engagement among members. The adaptation of technological solutions like mobile applications helped facilitate the continuation of events and conferences in a virtual format. This underpinned the critical importance of technology as an enabler of communication and networking within organizations.

In the case of the RSA, Sally Hardy shared the smooth transition achieved by the association by making effective use of an app that had been purchased right before the lockdown struck. The ability to swiftly shift their activities online not only allowed them to continue their routine operations virtually but also facilitated an expanded global reach. By welcoming new participants who might not have been able to attend in-person conferences, the RSA managed to turn a crisis into an opportunity, attributing further significance to the role of technology in navigating challenging circumstances.

Attracting a younger demographic into any organization is pivotal for future growth and continuity. With methods and preferences of communication dramatically different for this demographic, membership organizations need to embrace modern, technologically advanced platforms to connect with younger members. These emerging platforms appeal to the younger members due to their familiarity, ease of use, and effectiveness in communication and networking. Furthermore, by targeting a global audience, organizations can tap into new territories and diverse communities, fostering unique perspectives and ideas within the organization.

The RSA made conscious efforts in this regard, as Sally Hardy underlined their focus on attracting younger members into their fold. By spreading its wings globally, the RSA managed to draw in younger researchers from emerging economies. The shift in the method of communication and hosting events virtually had a silver lining, as it facilitated the RSA in the growth of its network by attracting individuals who previously might have had challenges in accessing such opportunities.

Effective communication is the cornerstone of any organization’s relationships with its members. For international organizations like the RSA, maintaining consistent messaging across different time zones and cultural contexts presents a unique challenge. As organizations pivot towards digital modes of interaction, maintaining the 'human' element of communication becomes critical. Organizations need to ensure a personalized approach to each member by understanding individual communication preferences and tailoring their strategies accordingly.

Reflecting on the challenges faced by the RSA, Alex Holmes shared how the digital shift brought to the forefront some critical considerations. The need to maintain the 'human' face of the RSA and to provide uniform messages across numerous time zones and cultures demanded a lot of effort and planning. They heavily relied on social media platforms and their mobile application, the RSA Hub, to ensure sustained engagment and communication with their members, underlining the importance of a personalized and consistent approach to communication in a digitized environment.

This podcast has been sponsored by RD Mobile - the complete events and membership engagement platform. Find out more RD Mobile | Virtual Event Platform and Member Engagement App (