While associations and nonprofit organizations continue looking for new ways to grow, the general avenues for driving such expansion remain relatively static:
Brand awareness – Make more people aware of the organization and its work in order to grow membership and revenue markets
Increased individual memberships – Keep the foundation and future of the organization strong by boosting the number of annual paid memberships
Increased corporate partnerships – Expand influence, reach, and revenue by leveraging the brands and memberships of key companies or agencies
New revenue streams – Introduce new products and services for members and non-members
Of course, there’s a wide variety of possible solutions within each of these broad categories, and each organization has its own priorities. However, one growth solution cuts across all of these – online education. Regardless of an organization’s size or budget, online courses and programs offer opportunities for:
Becoming a thought leader at both local and national levels
Generating added value for existing members
Creating relevance for prospective members and new member markets
Establishing opportunities for corporate or other enterprise partnerships
While online learning offers associations and nonprofit organizations tremendous opportunities for growth, developing a successful online education program requires careful planning.
Here are five things you need to know:
1. Be realistic about the competition – The Internet has fomented the emergence of significant competition in the association education market, even for highly specialized or technical organizations. (Looking for an alternative to medical school lectures? Look no further than Medskl.) Complicating matters further is the plethora of DIY education options available through YouTube, blogs, free e-books, and government information sites. Not to mention other organizations in your market (or related markets) that are also hoping to grow by introducing new learning products.
Now, more than ever, associations must take a close look at the learning competition, comparing the learning needs of their members with what is currently available. Important questions to ask include: 1) What can you do to set yourself apart from other learning options? 2) What information or practice/practical experiences aren’t readily available through current learning channels? 3) Can you identify specific opportunities for establishing yourself as a thought leader?
2. Focus on quality (it really does matter) – We live in a world in which the means of production are available to everyone. It’s relatively simple to create a video on a topic and post it to Youtube. Anyone can create a website and share resources. Personal Pinterest boards abound.
With this proliferation of available learning content, quality has become a primary factor in differentiating your product. Your online learning should be well-designed and should incorporate the following: 1) Your content must provide a complete learning experience as opposed to just presenting information; 2) Participants should exit your learning products with actionable skills or information; 3) Your media (video and/or voiceovers) should feature high-quality audio; 4) Your products should include connections with your membership network in order to promote the learning value of your organization.
3. Great learning experiences are paramount – Begin your online learning design process by asking, “What experience do I want my learners to have?” In almost every instance, adult learners can already piece together free resources from the Internet to create a personal learning experience. While the price is right, the overall learning experience may be uneven, and probably lacks interactivity, spaced recall activities, and collaboration with other learners. Providing a complete, engaging, and impactful learning experience will not only differentiate your learning and brand, it will also provide significant value to your members and non-members alike.
4. You don’t have to be the only expert – The association or organization’s role is to create the proper learning environment and framework for delivering premium learning solutions. When it comes to the actual content, however, establishing partnerships with subject matter experts or content providers can be a viable and wise option. Content partnerships not only allow associations to scale their education offerings more easily, they also offer opportunities for enhancing brand awareness by leveraging a content provider’s marketing network.
5. Stay in the picture and continuously innovate – Many groups make the mistake of thinking their work is done once an online learning product is launched. In reality, this is just the beginning. In order to provide a premium learning product that’s differentiated from the competition, organizations must constantly evaluate and evolve their learning products. This means developing actionable evaluation criteria, conducting regular and consistent reviews and surveys, and implementing a clear process for implementing changes.