COVID-19 and the impact on the membership sector

Peridot Partners worked with the IFB earlier this year to recruit a new Membership & Development Director as the COVID-19 crisis hit.

Four months on, Peridot’s Head of Membership & Development, James Hunt, spoke with the IFB’s Director General, Elizabeth Bagger, to discuss the future of membership for the IFB, digital transformation and the challenges and opportunities whilst recruiting in the middle of a global pandemic.

Responding to COVID-19 in the membership sector

The membership sector has been collectively working through an unprecedented situation that will have a lasting effect on society, and inevitably radically change how membership organisations operate.

As quickly as COVID-19 struck, so did the response to counteract the limitations of lockdown and other foreseeable complications. From annual conferences immediately moving to digital format, and other online channels employed to deliver essential services, we saw membership organisations adapt to the new world in innovative and exciting ways.

The IFB’s response to help support their members

A big part of what the IFB does is to bring people together to share learning through events, dinners and conferences for members in UK-based family businesses. The IFB also lobbies the Government on behalf of the family business sector.

When the COVID-19 lockdown was imposed, the IFB were able to digitise their programme of events, and their advocacy role was expanded to include meaningfully translating the Government’s support packages and actions for family business owners.

Some IFB members in specific sectors were closed down overnight, others were busier than ever. The change in the working environment led to increased engagement from a number of members, whilst a couple of resignations were inevitable as some people had to protect cash flow.

“We were lucky that we were able to continue doing what we do, just in different ways. We have seen engagement levels go up significantly in all areas of our work which has been very encouraging.”

Staying connected through online platforms when remote working

The relatively small IFB team made the decision to work remotely from the week before lockdown and they were able to use online platforms which helped them stay connected and communicate effectively.

“I think all organisations, big and small, are missing out on the ‘water cooler’ moments – I believe we’ve made the best of a challenging situation,” Elizabeth reiterated.

“We have been in a fortunate position to not furlough anyone, and we even recruited a new member to our team during Covid-19, with the help of Peridot.

“This worked surprisingly well even though all interviews were conducted online. I also know it’s been tiring for everyone, having to do more with less to keep going and ensure that we continue to stay relevant in a time when business is extremely tough, and everyone is protecting cash. The team have been really amazing.”

Accelerating towards a meaningful digital transformation

Many organisations, like the IFB, have seen the accelerated digital transformation as a positive outcome from COVID-19, both in terms of internal work and how they engage and support members.

Elizabeth strongly agreed: “There are more digital transformations to come. The IFB were already engaging with members online, however, online events were slow to take off before as people preferred to meet in person, but now we’ve all seen that online can work really well and be almost as meaningful.

“We’ve taken the opportunity to work with international colleagues and bring speakers from around the world to our community. We are currently doing our first online audit. And team meetings are of course online too.”

Although the IFB had sent out a booklet of 2020 events at the beginning of the year, very few events were cancelled, with some transformed into online only, and additional events were even added as part of our digital transformation. One key event postponed until June 2021 was the IFB National Conference, which takes usually place every year.

“That wasn’t fun but obviously necessary,” said Elizabeth.

“On the whole members have engaged really actively and our sponsors have proven very supportive and keen to work closely with us, so we are very grateful for that.”

A collaborative and flexible approach meant no Government furlough support

The immediate impact of COVID-19 required many organisations to rely on Government support, whether through the furlough scheme or grants. The IFB have been fortunate to not have to rely on such support and feel more prepared for the future.

“We’ve been lucky to be OK. The team have been brilliant. We discuss finances as a team and took a very collaborative approach to putting together the budget for the financial year we’ve just started,” added Elizabeth.

“We also have a very supportive Board of Directors whom we’ve had very encouraging conversations with. It’s great to have people who want the best for the organisation and its members to sense check things with.

“I take a flexible approach and at least we are a bit more prepared for more eventualities than ‘business as usual’. We don’t know when we’ll be able to bring people together in person, or when we’ll return to the office, but we are open to several different scenarios both as a team and as an organisation.”

The challenges facing their members

Generally, members of most bodies have faced significant challenges and the IFB have provided support to their membership through tailored events, including cash flow advice for those businesses experiencing significant revenue decline.

“We provide advocacy, and make sure we signpost people to the kind of advice and support they need; this area of our work has also increased,” explained Elizabeth.

“We’ve created extended payment terms for people who really needed it, as we see it as vitally important for our members to be able to continue to be part of the community.”

Recruiting a new Membership & Development Director during a pandemic

Both Peridot and the IFB were forced to quickly adapt to a completely digital recruitment process that proved as robust as the traditional physical processes – even improving it in some areas.

“At a time of intensifying pressure due to the unfolding of the COVID-19 situation, we thought that not being able to meet in person could be problematic but moving to a digital process worked really well and we were able to include the Board Directors throughout,” said Elizabeth.

“James provided us with a group of very strong candidates who were all suitable for the role and held the process so that we could manage the recruitment of a key role within our organisation, alongside dealing with reshaping our service offer and programme of activities in a matter of weeks. I would highly recommend James and Peridot to others.”

The IFB appointed membership sector expert, Richard Hearn, as their new Membership & Development Director in June who started his tenure working remotely. Richard and Elizabeth now meet in person at least once a week to enhance the onboarding process.

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