How to Recession-Proof Your Association

Man pushing back against falling dominoes

No one can 100% predict when the next major economic downturn will take place; consequently, for many organizations, it’s important to know that they’re protected and prepared–regardless of the “when”. 

If your association is strong and healthy today, it not only has a better chance of surviving a recession, it may even thrive during one!

In general, the less an organization suffers a downturn, the further beyond their competition they reach post-recovery. Your association needs to be prepared for the worst, but planning for a recession is a daunting task. You can’t simply stop developing or taking risks, after all! 

Thankfully, there are some solid precautions you can take now to protect your association for if (and, unfortunately, when) the worst does happen.

1. Keep on Keeping On

In the case of a recession, it may be tempting to eliminate or pause various aspects of the business to instead focus on preservation, but associations should try to maintain as much of their regular operations as possible. 

For example, continue marketing at the same or similar level as you would pre-recession. You may want to track the ROI of your marketing efforts at different intervals, such as every month or quarter, to ensure that you’re getting the best bang for your buck. 

Your association can, however, make some changes to better accommodate members in trying times. Consider offering extended payment plans or allowing for installment payments. This flexibility can go a long way for members when finances are tough. Show your members kindness and understanding, and they’ll reward you with loyalty in kind.

2. Invest in Your Future

One of the best ways to protect your association against a recession is to invest–both in financial opportunities and people

First and foremost, don’t wait for an economic downturn to search for capital or investment opportunities. It’s also best to pursue additional capital, even when you don’t really need it. While you’ll probably want to avoid making any risky investments during an actual recession, associations can still explore their options. Look into any areas that thrive during recessions, as well as into those that typically bounce back quickly afterward. 

Similarly, look into investing in various relationships and partnerships. Make arrangements with suppliers, venues, and sponsors. It’s not a bad idea to discuss the possibility of a recession with these organizations and learn what plans they have in place. It’s also smart to seek out alternative options on the off-chance that your needs change!

3. Keep Your Members Satisfied

If you wait for a recession to hit before you start making your members happy, it’s probably far too late! While many members will still renew their memberships during a recession, they’ll only keep it up if the value you offer is clear and robust. 

Ensure that your future events are scheduled well ahead of time and promoted thoroughly. Additionally, you must ensure that your association’s continuing education (CE) offerings are high-quality, up-to-date, and, at the very least, comparable with your competition. 

If your association decides to add something extra to your membership to give members bonus incentive to renew during a recession, even better! Some incentive options may include dues-forgiveness programs or discounts on courses or event registrations. 

Your association can even turn the pain of a recession into a plus: offer your members courses that teach recession survival skills–your organization isn’t the only one hit by the downturn, so let your members know you have their backs. You may even consider shaping an entire conference around this theme, and/or provide workshops and presentations that teach your members how to thrive in difficult times.

Remember: you’re all in this together!

4. Keep Your Staff Happy

Your staff makes your association tick. To keep it running smoothly during even the hardest of times, you need to focus on their happiness and well-being

Ensure that you provide your staff with training that allows them to upgrade their skills and further develop their careers. You’ll also want to ensure that you’ve hired sensibly leading up to this point. Having excess staff may sound like a good idea during the good times, but it can lead to layoffs during the hard times

Keep morale up by maintaining your staff and making the most of the situation! 

You may also like: 3 Ways to Increase Non-dues Revenue for Your Association’s Online Continuing Education Program

5. Cut Costs Without Cutting Corners

In an economic downturn, cost-cutting is one of the first things that any and all organizations pursue. However, this should only be employed strategically. After all, you want your association to continue operating in a similar manner. 

Cut costs in a way that positively impacts your business in all climates. For example, perhaps it’s time to assess your operations and look for inefficiencies. Perhaps you should try consolidating your technology, or evaluate any continuing education you may have outsourced. Be sure to look into the Return on Investment when it comes to software, programs, and partnerships.

Additionally, you can consider training staff to handle a larger or more diverse workload without putting in more time. If you can find ways to improve productivity, either through personnel or your operations, you’ll be better protected overall–and less vulnerable to any major changes or shake-ups!

6. Prepare for Recovery

Perhaps the most important thing to remember about a downturn is that there will, at some point, be a return to normal–or even an upturn! 

To brace yourself for the post-recovery world, ensure that your training reflects the new environment and any industry changes. You may want to consider how certain courses or content has changed because of the recession. What’s different now? What should you make sure your CE focuses on?

Think about what your members will be looking for most when the economy rebounds, and prepare to offer it to them as soon as the upswing strikes. Just as they’ll appreciate recession resources during a downturn, they’ll value helpful “how to adjust” material during an upturn.

You may also like: 5 Powerful Growth Strategies to Boost Non-Dues Revenue for Your Association in 2022 and Beyond


When it comes down to it, the key to surviving a recession is to be prepared and plan ahead. 

Start by ensuring that you’re keeping staff and members happy, and that you’re investing wisely in your future. 

Make sure to reduce costs (without sacrificing quality!) and that you maintain your association’s course. Your members come to you for quality resources, and recession or not, that’s what they should receive.

Finally, strategize about what to do when the economy begins to recover; a plan that holds no hope is a plan that’s doomed to fail, after all.

By following these steps, your association will be well-prepared for a recession–and be able to come out even stronger on the other side!