How trade unions are adapting to a digital world

DateAugust 2021
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If there’s one organisational group that’s recognised the importance of digital programmes, it’s trade unions – and it’s not hard to see why.

A 2020 National Statistics report highlighted that the number of employees in the UK who are trade union members rose by 91,000 to 6.44 million in 2019. As a proportion of the UK workforce, 2019 saw trade union membership rise to 23.5 per cent (up from 23.4 per cent in 2018).

This is a huge swathe of the UK population, and one that needs to be communicated within a timely, relevant, and engaging manner – three objectives that require an effective digital strategy and the right tools to deliver it.

Digital engagement is key

As a membership management software specialist that has developed membership systems for many prominent membership organisations including associations, professional bodies, and trade unions, Silverbear understands the challenges associated with engaging a large audience.

What’s particularly notable about delivering effective membership database software for trade unions is the fact that a trade union’s membership is made up of an incredibly diverse audience, all of which expect to be represented as part of their membership.

From having access to legal and financial advice to exploring training opportunities and establishing their employee rights, trade union members turn to trade unions for their power to engender change. However, in order to effectively represent their membership and deliver meaningful change, trade unions must be able to effectively communicate with them.

From those just starting out in their respective careers to those approaching retirement, ensuring that key messages, relevant information, and audience-specific opportunities are delivered at the right time, every time is no easy feat. In fact, we’d go as far as to say it’s impossible without an effective membership CRM system, which provides the platform on which a two-way dialogue can take place. It’s also a channel through which work on collective bargaining, arguably one of a trade union’s key functions can be widely communicated as and when there are any updates.

The Trades Union Council (TUC) recognises the challenges associated with a broad base of users and the need to grow its digital presence in line with government and the private and not-for-profit sectors. It has even launched TUC Digital, which aims to leverage the possibilities that a digital landscape represents.

Achieving digital success

To help trade unions on their journey towards becoming truly digital organisations, we’ve developed a six-point guide to digital transformation in the context of online membership software.

  1. Manage expectations

Managing organisational expectations vs. development time is essential. Establish what you need and what resource will be required to deliver it from the outset.

  1. Don’t rule out a tailored approach

Out-of-the-box solutions may be cost-effective, but will they do everything your trade union requires? Tailored membership solutions may cost more in the short term, but they could provide the key to your digital success in the long term.

  1. Beware of false economies

You might think you only need to replace your membership database software, but a modular approach can be more time-intensive (and therefore more expensive) than tackling everything in one go. Make sure your membership CRM supplier discusses the bigger picture with you before you commit to a piecemeal approach.

  1. Don’t underestimate

Digital transformation can be incredibly challenging for everyone involved. You’ll need to allocate enough internal resource - and it will take time.  

  1. Data migration is not easy

Regardless of what you’ve been told, data migration is hard. Be prepared for a challenging, yet rewarding journey.

  1. A partnership approach

Whichever supplier you choose to support your digital transition, it’s likely that the relationship will be long-term. It won’t always be easy and you will have ups and downs. However, you need to work with them, not against them. Be open, view it as a partnership, and embrace working together.

Interested in finding out about how we can help your trade union? Download Silverbear’s guide to digital transformation here.

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