big wave

The Second Wave

By Bob Harris, CAE and Dot Miller, CAE

We are hopeful there will be no second wave of the coronavirus, or that mitigation will reduce its impact.   Health officials have predicted a return in the fall and through the winter.

Associations must prepare.  Are we taking advantage of what we have learned in the first wave to position the organization for crisis?

The purpose of this collaborative article is to identify improvements made by associations, to adopt the enhancements, and to prepare for the uncertainties.

Lasting Improvements

Most associations have survived the first wave, some have thrived.  Though a few nonprofits have permanently shuttered. 

Strategy, innovation, and adaptation have been essential.  Improvements in every aspect of the organization have come from necessity or naturally. 

For instance, eliminating quarterly printed newsletters for more efficient digital weekly updates.  Replacing standing committees with quick action teams. 

Past presidents have been called upon to fill board vacancies.  And foundations have been formed with a mission of supporting members’ employees’ needs.   

From Virus to Value

Virus burnout is real. We need to stop talking about it and use the expertise and resources to support recovery.

By now websites should drop the flashing banner announcing Covid-19.  Reposition the information as a smaller button for those who seek it. 

It might be ironic, but associations are reporting that member engagement is higher than it has been in years.  Members who have been too busy to engage with the organization are now relying on it for information and tools. 

Use this opportunity to increase relevance, promote value and enhance operations.  We are in the business of solving problems.  Be an indispensable partner and trusted resource, leaving members asking for more, increasing engagement and becoming raving fans.

Strategic Chat with Leaders

Frame a conversation with the leadership and influencers in your association.  You want to understand how the pandemic has changed their future with the organization. 

Craft your own questions, based on this list:

  • RELATIONSHIP:  What has changed about how you want to engage with our organization?   Do you expect these changes to last? 
  • LEARNING:  Do you expect education and learning needs to change, how should our organization adapt?
  • COMMUNICATIONS:  How do you want to receive information?  Frequency, digital, publications, technology.
  • CULTURE:  Has the pandemic changed your organization’s culture and relationship with membership organizations?
  • EXPECTATIONS:  How do you feel we have responded during the crisis?  What can we improve? 
  • VALUE:  How can we deliver more value to the membership and you?
  • COMMUNITY:  What successes and challenges have you experienced with your community, profession or industry during the crisis?

During the lull before another crisis or second wave, get the input of leaders.  Make the changes now to succeed during the situation.

Successful Practices

There are many success stories that may benefit associations.  In most cases, these will serve as affirmations that you are doing things right.  Now is not the time to hope things will go away or to be paralyzed.

Invoicing Members – Avoid postponing or waiving dues.  By providing value, continue to invoice members while recognizing the possibility of hardships.  Be proactive in your messaging.  If the association is strapped for cash, you may have members willing to pay for two years in advance.  For members who are suffering financially, there may be industry partners who will gift a block of 3, 6- or 12-months dues to another member.  Work hard to keep the valued member relationship.

Customize Sponsorships – Affiliate members need to promote themselves to the regular members, now more than ever. They may no longer care about a golf sponsorship but prefer opportunities to increase contact with members.  Increase opportunities for advertising, updating the ad rate structure, and develop a new sponsorship menu for 2020 – 2021.  Everything has the potential to be sponsored, from website pages to newsletters, virtual happy hours, webinars, and advocacy bulletins.  Adapt to their needs by creating customized experiences to help them rebound.

Increase Virtual Engagement – A few months ago members said, “Please don’t send me another Zoom link.”  Now everyone is realizing the efficiency of a video link on calls.  Virtual events are another touch point with members.  Use the breakout rooms’ feature to give sponsors a change to interface personally.  Use polling to gauge member needs and satisfaction.  Reduce the PowerPoint presentation in virtual meetings to give everyone to share and ask questions. 

Events – Government may continue to limit the number of people able to meet as a group.  Many members are eager to convene with colleagues, face-to-face.  Create small-group conferences offering intimate education and networking among just 50 people.  It is vital to ensure the health and safety of your members attending events. Promote the precautions you have made to ensure their well-being.  Members must feel confident that attendance is safe.  Plan to require masks, sanitation stations and taking temperatures – try to make it fun.

Charge for Value – Throughout the pandemic, organizations have opened their information, doors, and contributions to entire industries without restrictions of members-only.  Transition from free to a fee for events, education, and expertise.  It is said that when an offer is free, people perceive it as having minimal value or don’t show up.  Offer scholarships and waivers supplied by affiliates or the foundation to support those needing the help.  Use sponsorships to offset association costs.  Rebuild your streams of income for sustainability.

Stimulus – There are government entities and foundations that may offer varied types of financial support.  Research and ask; associations have the skillsets to administer grants.  Staff and the board should monitor what becomes available.  Rely on a CPA to process the application.  Be certain the association’s elevator speech and purpose are easy to communicate. 

Good Deeds – Every association, and their members, are contributing time, supplies and money for recovery efforts.  Track the good deeds in the number of hours, dollars and supplies that have been donated.  Philanthropy will position the association, especially when it comes to advocacy and stimulus. 

Advocate – Now is the time to speak loudest on behalf of members. At the Colorado Arborists and Lawn Care Professionals, they were nearly put out of business during the quarantine.  Through the pandemic, lobbying has transitioned from standing in the capitol to personal calls and innovative techniques for reaching lawmakers.  Through advocacy done by the association, the members were designated as essential, ensuring their livelihood, and drawing new members. 

This collaboration should affirm your organization has responded appropriately during the pandemic and offers ideas to thrive.

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Note:  Bob Harris, CAE, provides free governance tips and templates at  Dot Miller, CAE is CEO of The Solution: An Association Management Company and Co-Founder of the National Credentialing Institute.