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How the Senior Dining Association Grew Their Contact Database 501% Throughout COVID-19

Author: Tatiana Morand
December 3, 2020
🕑 5 min read

Many organizations have been struggling to grow and engage their membership throughout COVID-19.   

However, that wasn’t the case for the Senior Dining Association

As the first professional association focused entirely on dining for the senior housing industry, they aim to unite industry partners and operators to collectively enhance the dining experience for their guests.

And considering they were one of the only industries who were still open throughout COVID-19 lockdowns… 

The need for education and connection within industry members was more vital than ever. 

Read on to discover how they were able to grow their contacts just over 500% between 2019 and 2020, as well as takeaways so that your organization can capitalize on what the SDA has learned. 


How They Got Started

SDA founder and CEO Harris Ader is a 20-year senior food service veteran, so he knew the market — and knew that there was no comparable organization to which senior food service professionals could turn. He started the SDA in 2018 so that people in the industry would have somewhere to discuss best practices and network with each other. 

“There was a need out there, and we’re just fulfilling that need,” said Ader. 

Read More: How to Provide Member Development Opportunities in Your Organization

Building a community for people who hadn’t been able to get the information they needed elsewhere was key to their success. Their member benefits include exclusive access to content replays, industry discounts, and discussion forums, all built on WildApricot’s members-only site software to keep it safe and secure. 

The takeaway: Your organization should be filling a need that your members can’t meet anywhere else — this ensures they’re getting continual value out of joining.


Click through to claim your 60-day trial of WildApricot to create effective QR codes that will speed up event check-in.

Their Real Route to Success: Virtual Events

Of course, it’s not enough to set up an association and hope members will just find you on their own. To expand their reach within the industry, the Senior Dining Association decided to run virtual events, mainly webinars, that were directed at helping their members solve their problems. 

“We’ve conducted over 80 online events since we started,” said Ader. 

This focus on online education set them up for success even throughout COVID-19. Unlike many other organizations, they were already familiar with running virtual events and getting members to sign up via WildApricot, so they could focus solely on determining the right topics. 

“One of the biggest issues is sanitation, so I worked with one of our partners, Ecolab, to run a webinar on the topic. We even ran it again because the environment had changed and we wanted to make sure everyone was up to date,” said Ader. 

And it’s clear that they’re providing value based on just how many people they’re able to attract. “We typically have between 50% and 70% of registrants show up.” 

But it’s not just the topics that helped them attract webinar attendees: the timing also played a big part in their success.

“I know the schedule, because I used to be in their shoes,” said Ader. “We had to do it in the afternoon, early after lunch, because otherwise they have to get ready for dinner. That helps us get great attendance.” 

They also used WildApricot to send out follow-up and reminder emails so that they were able to keep the number of event registrants who actually attended high, and to remind them following virtual events that they could further engage with the organization if they had found it useful.

 sda webinar email

The takeaway: Staying on top of trends in your area of focus can help you adapt rapidly to any new developments and better support your members through them — which will also help your organization grow. 

How to Keep Members Coming Back

So once the SDA has gotten potential members into their orbit, or has a new member signed up, how do they keep them around? 

It all comes down to creating the right content. 

“When I was trying to develop value in the beginning, a lot of the value was that we can collaborate and share knowledge together,” said Ader. “We share best practices and ask people questions, and we’ve helped a lot of residents improve their dining during this whole thing, which I’m proud of.” 

Being able to talk to members and get that deep industry knowledge has been invaluable for deciding what they needed to do next. It showed them what members really needed throughout these unprecedented times: conversations with their peers to share expertise. 

 sda chat reopening dining

And if you just want to chat with members and get their opinion, it doesn’t have to be formal. In fact, Ader recommends against it. 

“The last thing I would want to do is have them prepare slides,” he said. “We have conversations. They took pictures, gave us pictures, and we had a conversation while they shared.” 

These informal conversations then lead to expert presentations. “Once we come to a common theme, that’s how we decide on webinar topics.” 


Plus, no matter the topic, it’s easy for members to sign up for events on their WildApricot registration page from their website, making them more likely to attend. 

The takeaway: You need to know your members! If you don’t know what will give them the value they need, just ask — and continue to share content based on their feedback while keeping the lines of communication open. 


What’s Next for SDA? 

Although they’ve seen remarkable growth in 2020, it’s by no means the end of their journey. 

When looking at the future of his association, Ader says that they’ll continue to provide more valuable resources. 

“We want to keep looking at what we’re doing a great job delivering, as well as helping connect members with industry partners,” he said. 

They’re also planning on working on member retention and developing more membership levels to better reflect their service offerings — all in their membership’s home, WildApricot. 

The takeaway: To continue growing your membership, you can’t rest on your laurels. Continually providing value will ensure that your members are with you for the long haul! 


Want to learn more about how WildApricot can save your association time and help you run more smoothly? Start your free 60-day trial today! 

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