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How to Make Your Association Relevant Digitally

Peter Van Roste, General Manager at the Council of European National Top-Level Domain Registries (CENTR), shares his insights on how to continue to be relevant to your members as you go through your digital transformation, in an article for Boardroom Magazine.

In 2020 our associations were forced to change in ways some of us had already dreamt of but never could or dared to implement. Adapting to these extraordinary circumstances turned out to be easier than expected, but the consequences of those changes are far-reaching. Here are my top five tips for keeping your association relevant.


CENTR is an association of country code top-level domain managers (like .eu or .be). One would expect our association to have already been largely digital. But in 2019 we still held 18 large (international) physical meetings, we still had a spacious office in the heart of the EU district, some of us still commuted long distances to work and we still had paper archives (HR & accounting). All of that has changed or will change. 2020 forced us to consider opportunity costs of how we have been running our operations.

When we look at the activities and processes that were affected in 2020, it is easy to quantify associated costs:

• International travel: 8% of budget and 10% of staff time

• Organizing events: 5% of budget and 15% of staff time

• Office: 6% of budget and 0.5 FTE

• Commute: +/- 1600 hours per year

What opportunities were lost because we were busy travelling, commuting or printing salary slips? A first move would be to involve your whole team in the hunt for these opportunity costs. Not only will it assure buy-in, but it will also strengthen team cohesion and make every team member feel they have a real impact.

For us, this exercise led to four focus points:

• We sped up the digitization of internal processes (accounting and HR) and implemented a range of online collaboration tools leading to location independence.

• We redirected time spent on travel to 1-2-1 outreach with members.

• Some of the time freed up is now dedicated to self-development and structured learning.

• We increased the efficiency of internal processes. Even marginal gains add up nicely.


Losing the connection with members can have devastating effects on an association. Trust and goodwill are essential ingredients to get anything done. Whether we want to draft a response for a public consultation or get a collaborative R&D project off the ground, nothing beats meeting with a small group of willing members to get things moving.

In the absence of those physical meetings, we have decided to reach out in a structured way - wide and deep across the membership, from CEOs to operational level employees, something that will be done in the near future. That is a lot of calls, but well worth every single one of the 12,000 minutes we will spend on them. These calls serve a dual purpose: we keep our finger on the membership’s pulse and we end up with a rich list of ideas for projects and services.

We have also organized online trainings for new employees from our members. As a result of them being online we reached four times more people than ever before. Satisfaction ratings for those trainings trend up compared to trainings given at our Brussels’ office in 2019. Most importantly, by reaching out to these newcomers early on they become our ambassadors within the membership.


Don’t let the chance of taking care of your team slip away. CENTR provided personal budgets for home offices, ergonomy coaches and surprise food baskets. We liberalized working hours entirely and put in place a training plan (10 days per year) for everyone

And the best thing is that given the savings we made (see point 1) we still ended up with a budget and work time surplus.

All you have to do is manage expectations, make sure that the team understands that changes that don’t work will be overhauled. Once the world goes back to normal, the time of quasi consequence-free experimentation will be over.


Explore the world of online tools. Not only can this be a nice distraction from daily routine, but it will provide you with an experience that is highly useful for your members too. At CENTR, our Board of Directors’ simple instruction for our next (online) meeting is to make it the best meeting ever. In the process of achieving that, the whole team is pulling together.

However, one of the things we need to figure out is how we can improve the online experience for attendees. Trying out tools in the team not only increases everyone’s familiarity with what’s available these days, but also makes online interactions feel ever more natural. Costs are negligible compared with sending people to meetings abroad. For instance, you can meet in and collaborate on Trello, while engaging members and teams with Mentimeter

What we are learning from these experiments is invaluable to our members. While leading the digitization of collaborative work, we have created a new service for our members: a know-how resource on effective collaboration.


After all, this is the thing that matters most. If your members had the choice between similar associations, would they pick you? The only way to know is to measure satisfaction rates regularly and react to the feedback instantaneously. Don’t rely only on what they tell you, but keep track of all interactions with your members. Maintain the data and invest in accessible dashboards. A simple Tableau dashboard will awe your Board. And it will be your most reliable compass for the journey ahead.


Peter Van Roste is the General Manager of CENTR, the association for country code top level domain name managers.

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