Capturing Member Voices Amidst the Noises of COVID-19

11th October 2021

For AC Forum, Carola van der Hoeff, COO and Congress Director of the International Pharmaceutical Federation (FIP) and President Elect of AC Forum, explores the lessons learnt and lessons still to be learnt when it comes to understanding and engaging association members.

Amidst the multifaceted disruption faced by various business models including those of non-profit and non-governmental organizations, maintaining connectivity with customers, partners, members, and stakeholders doesn’t come without challenges.

What is it that customers “need” and “want”? What effective methods or strategies need to be experimented to better understand customers’ “needs” and “wants”? Which of those methods reap great benefits to customers and which ones don’t? And how does this information help define an organization’s “brand” positioning and in keeping up with the ever-changing customer expectations, competitive markets and products. 

In this article I’d like to shed light on lessons learnt; and how to react to those yet to be learned, through our responsive member engagement initiatives shared by our organization: the International Pharmaceutical Federation – FIP. 

Founded in 1912, FIP is a non-governmental organization headquartered in the Hague, Netherlands. Through 146 national organizations (both pharmacy and pharmaceutical sciences,), 180 academic institutions (pharmaceutical education) and 4,000 individual pharmacists and pharmaceutical scientists, it represents more than 4 million members globally. FIP’s mission is to advance pharmacy worldwide through collaborative relations with its members and partners.  

Challenges to be ready for

Investing in membership engagement should be a top strategic priority, particularly with an ongoing pandemic. As we moved into a second year (2021) with no face-to-face meetings or gatherings, mandated travel bans and restrictions, the need to be nimble, adaptable, and flexible in our approach to engage with members has been heightened. Member engagement has never been more of an imperative. With staff transitioning into remote working and extended screen times, ensuring we remain connected with our members has not been an easy task. 

To simply state that communication and innovative ways of working are vital strategies to effective member engagement is not enough. During a global pandemic, engaging and communicating with our members has never been more crucial; especially when we all live through so much uncertainty. Today, organizations are more than ever challenged as they have cancelled face-to-face meetings with clients/members or postponed global congresses and conferences (to a yet to be determined date and place). The good thing is that all these challenges have collectively accentuated creative thinking and boosted teamwork

Before we thought about how many new members we should attract into our globally and health-focused organization, we seriously considered how we would listen to existing members. We did so by creating and sustaining a better experience for our members which started with a commitment in our approach to be member-focused, member-led, member-driven.

In 2021, we have brought our members on a journey of engagement, by ensuring all activities are engaging themselves and all opportunities to engage are counted and fed back. We have delivered a series of online regional meetings (spanning all the way to Q1 2022) to host our members from various countries. Members were invited to be listened to and their voices enabled us to fill the social/professional void that was created by the pandemic. This was further strengthened by defining the scope and objectives of our meetings, and related events and programmes. 

Personalized approach

We embraced a personalized approach to member engagement that started and ended with two questions: 

What member needs do we meet? 

What benefits do we provide? 

Members have to feel they can connect with the experiences we are offering: from the outset, we decided to involve them and to have them actively engaged through our digital events and regional meetings. To put it simply, they have been actively present at every stage of everything we have been doing.

A similar approach was adopted when conducting high-level meetings with leaders and engaging across regions to better connect with our members.

While exploring our members’ national profiles and priorities, comparable needs and priorities have emerged, which we have been able to identify, highlight, and interconnect across nations, and regions and FIP goals for the decade ahead. Through greater member engagement, we asked our members questions, listened to their requirements, and then prioritized, aligned, and delivered our programmes.

Carola van der Hoeff wishes to acknowledge the help and support that her FIP colleagues have provided for this article. A true demonstration of teamwork which is key for success for associations. For organizations wanting to learn more about AC Forum and membership, please visit

Maintaining & Retaining Members

The challenge is not constrained to recruiting new members; it also affects existing members and retention through loyalty and delivery is a major priority.  One of the reasons members join an organization is to get a distinctive and significant added value to their professional lives or those of their members. To showcase value-added member benefits, we must communicate them, ensure they are accessible, especially through the official website, newsletters, and social media platforms. This offers “exclusivity” to our members and unique experiences. Member benefits can take the shape of accessible guidelines, reports, publications, live events, webinars, infographics, letters — the options are vast.

Finally, when certain requests may be impracticable or unfeasible, we seek to undertake frequent evaluations to update and develop existing approaches, as well as consider rational modifications, to remain on top of their professional practice. By taking a member centric approach, we ensure we hear their voices and feed back our responses, create conversations of progress as we all seek to advance pharmacy worldwide.

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