Now it’s Time to Create a New One.
COVID-19 has affected every professional and trade association in the world and unless you sit on the board of an association for toilet paper manufacturers, that impact has likely been negative.
We know COVID-19 changed your association’s plan, but that does not mean your association has to experience a total disaster.
Your board of directors can also embrace this (very difficult) moment as an opportunity to strengthen the foundation of your association and lead the organization to a better tomorrow. You and your colleagues on the board of directors can put your association in a better position to weather the impact of the pandemic by revising your strategic plan, right-sizing your budget, and embracing the opportunity to build a stronger foundation for your organization.
Here are the next 3 things you need to do:
- 1. Take a fresh look at your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.
A strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (SWOT) analysis may seem like a buzzword from a different world, but (buzzword or not) successful associations consistently look for ways to grow and increase their relevance. During this pandemic, relevance requires conducting a fresh, post-COVID scan of the association’s environment. Boards must develop strategies that minimize their weaknesses and threats while further developing their strengths and opportunities.
Depending on the association, boards may find opportunities to reduce unnecessary costs, streamline programs, and jettison unprofitable events that needed to go long before COVID-19 arrived. While no one is using the words “bright side” when discussing COVID-19, some associations may find the current environment gives their board the opportunity to focus on and strengthen the organization’s fundamental value proposition.
Even if they have changed, your association still has strengths and opportunities. Make those strengths the foundation of a strategy that will leave your association in a position to thrive once the “new normal” becomes plain old normal.
For instance, one association we work with has had long-term plans to create a “virtual” version of a popular three-day intensive foundational course for their profession. They struggled to make it a priority and find the volunteer, staff, and funding resources to do so. Now, with all in-person courses canceled in 2020, they are doubling down and redirecting the resources necessary to produce the course virtually this year, so they may continue to support emerging professionals in their field.
- 2. Redo your budget to better align with your new strategic plan.
Most boards know they have to revise their 2020 budget, immediately. However, boards need to revise their budget so it aligns with their new strategy. Too many associations draft their strategic plans and budgets separately. That will not work.
Without a budget to match, a strategic plan is just words on paper.
If your association embraces the goal of member retention as a pillar of your new strategy (and we strongly recommend associations make retention one of their highest priorities), your budget must align with that goal. Depending on the industry, your association may want to consider implementing a strategy that reduces dues, implements lenient payment plans, or establishes dues scholarships for members facing acute financial challenges.
Whatever your association’s new strategic goals are, make sure your budget gives you the ability to achieve those goals.
- 3. Embrace the Opportunity to Lead
Association boards can face a post-COVID reality in two ways: They can talk about what was or they can focus on what will be. Associations have been around in one form or another for thousands of years. Trade associations existed in the United States during the 1918 Spanish Flu and during the Great Depression. Associations that survived those events—and thrived in the years and decades that followed—were led by directors who embraced their new normal. They had to make tough decisions they never wanted to make. They undoubtedly yearned for the “old normal”—but the new normal had arrived and there was nothing they could do to change that.
They had a choice to make.
They could throw their hands up in despair—or they could lead. Your association needs a board of directors that embraces the reality facing the association. Your association needs a board that can use this moment to strengthen the foundation of the organization and prepare it for a better tomorrow.
Directors that embrace the opportunity to lead in challenging times are leaders people remember. They are leaders who leave their mark. They are leaders whose name becomes synonymous with the ability to demonstrate courage in hard times.
Redo your strategy. Draft a new budget that supports that strategy.
And embrace your opportunity to lead.