COVID-19 has exposed a simultaneous benefit for public health and financial disaster for our organizations — people do not need our facilities to engage in physical activity. By the time a vaccine reaches many citizens in the U.S., it will likely be more than 18 months since the global pandemic started. And while our facilities may have been opened for use for most of the time span of the pandemic, our membership unit totals, facility visits and program enrollments have been significantly reduced.
If people have maintained their exercise habits throughout the pandemic without our facilities, what will make them want to join once COVID-19 transmission is no longer a concern? For community recreation professionals, part of the answer lies in rethinking the business model that characterizes our membership operations.
A membership organization can be characterized as any organization that allows people to subscribe or join, which often requires them to pay a membership fee or subscription. In turn, the members within the organization are provided access to programs, services or benefits that otherwise would be difficult for members to accumulate on their own.
For decades, most community rec centers accumulated a collection of equipment and fine-tuned delivery of programs to meet the health and fitness needs of members. COVID-19 has forced many households to find access to these types of services without coming into our facilities. Critically and strategically thinking through the future of membership is essential to ensure your organization can adapt to the new realities of communities.
COVID-19 has shined the spotlight on a conversation that has been happening for years within the membership rank and file: how can we engage virtually? This question is positioned to adjust to short-term needs we are facing due to the pandemic. However, our industry needs to make more dramatic, long-term changes to our membership structures to remain relevant. And since different communities need different things, the path towards evolving membership within your organization needs to be developed locally.
Here are some questions for fostering meaningful dialogue within your organization to seek the change that makes the most sense for your operating circumstances: