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Like many, your association just canceled your event. Here’s what you should do now.

Because of COVID-19, many associations face financial uncertainty. As a board leader, it can be tough to know where to go from here.

Here’s the truth: The economic impact of COVID-19 was felt first and hardest by trade associations and professional societies, especially those with events scheduled for the next four to six months. Your association management company or staff should be completing all negotiations under your direction to cancel or postpone your events. It’s important to get this done swiftly.

However, canceling your event is just the beginning. Here are the next three steps associations need to take:

  1. Work with your association management company to revise your 2020 budget.

If your association enacted a budget before March 1st, it is an artifact from a different world. Association treasurers and boards need to work with their association management company to redo their budget to address the reality ahead. Be pessimistic and start with the worst-case scenario. The economy does not have an on/off switch. Even once COVID-19 is contained enough to reopen businesses and conduct regular economic activity, there will be a recovery period.

It is safe to assume your projections for every revenue line will be lower in 2020 than you had anticipated. Plan for a reduction in membership growth, drastically reduced revenue from trainings, and far lower attendance for events scheduled this fall.

Next, examine your costs. New projects that need ongoing funding without a return on investment in the next twelve months should be curtailed. Fall meetings need a complete review and analysis of profitability. Most associations will not be able to weather an unprofitable event in 2020.

Instead, focus on meeting member needs and prioritize those needs. Shift your focus to invest in providing virtual meetings and other opportunities for members to connect with one another. Take the wish list your board had and shelve it until next year.

Partner with your AMC staff to deliver as much value as you can under a budget redesigned to meet the reality ahead. Finally, reexamine your agreement with your AMC. Association management companies that value a long-term relationship over short-term profitability will be willing to adjust their work plan accordingly to accommodate a reduced scope of work.

  1. Act quickly, decisively, and focus on communicating with your association members.

An untested leader is a leader in name only. No one signed up for this moment, but this moment is what we have. You and your board colleagues accepted the responsibility to lead, in good times and bad. As association leaders and professionals, we need to rise to the occasion. Yes, our work will be hard, complicated, and at times demoralizing—but as association leaders we can do an extraordinary amount of good.

Your association needs real leaders. Sometimes leadership means having shoulders strong enough to bear the weight of unpopular budget cuts. You may have to put a hold on popular programs or initiatives that your members were looking forward to. Transparent communication with members about these tough decisions and the state of the association is critical.

In times of enormous challenge, each of us has the opportunity to show what we are really made of. Check in with members. Hold a virtual meeting for the sole purpose of connecting and listening to the challenges your colleagues face. Imagine if every board member called three members a week through the second quarter to check in on their physical, mental, and professional health. That simple step would go a long way toward keeping your association connected.

Be prepared to make bold, informed decisions, and keep your members up to date. That’s why your colleagues elected you to the board of directors.

  1. Remind yourself that as bleak as things look, this isn’t the end of your association’s world.

We aren’t sugarcoating it: 2020 will be a tough year financially for your association. It will be a tough year for all of us—but this isn’t the end. Far from it.

COVID-19 did not destroy your association’s relevance or its basic value proposition. Instead, it paused your ability to deliver some services and programs and may have limited your membership’s ability to participate in association life—but as bad as today looks, tomorrow will come. It may take a while to see, but there will be light at the end of the tunnel.

How do you prepare for a better tomorrow?

Cut your losses in 2020. Accept your role as a leader and demand the same of your board colleagues. Reach out to members directly as a colleague and friend. Accept the harsh, if temporary, financial reality. Redo your budget. Make neccessary cuts. Act on guidance from your AMC staff, and act boldly and decisively. Embrace this call to lead and the opportunity to guide your association and your membership in a challenging moment.

And partner with an association management company with the expertise, resources, financial savvy, and operational strength to focus on your association needs to make sure this year’s economic crisis doesn’t turn into next year’s financial disaster.

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