4 Silver Linings for Associations Right Now—and Signs of Your Future Success

One challenge after another has been thrown at associations lately, but you’re taking them on and coming out stronger on the other side. Many more challenges undoubtedly lie ahead, but take a moment to seek out the silver linings for associations.

4 silver linings for associations that bode well for future success

The phrase “silver linings” has been in the air a lot lately, but that’s because, despite all the stressful conditions you’re facing, good things are happening.

#1: Your discomfort is accompanied by growth.

Psychologist Susan David said during a TED Talk, “Discomfort is the price of admission to a meaningful life.”

What’s true for humans, in this case, is true for associations too. It’s not easy to deal with the impact of abrupt changes to your plans. But, on the bright side, you’re building new strengths by being willing to experiment and change the way you’ve always done things.

You’re more nimble and agile than you (and others) thought. Think about the ways you’ve had to stretch your comfort zone lately with:  

•    Remote work
•    Virtual conferences
•    Virtual networking events
•    Free programs and resources for your professional community, including non-members
•    New sponsorship packages

You’ve had to let go of traditions, practices, and programs that don’t work in these new conditions, but now you see what’s possible. For example, members will go online to learn and network with other members.

What else can you try? How else can you stretch your innovation muscle?

#2: You’re learning new skills.

At the start of this pandemic, associations saw a steep learning curve in front of them, but managed to surmount it.

You figured out new office processes and practices for staff working from home. You helped members navigate ever-changing government assistance programs.

You tackled a big one: virtual education and networking. No one on your staff was a virtual conference expert, but now some of you could go into business as Zoom consultants.

And by now, you may be realizing that your D&I efforts have not gone far enough, but you’ve got this. Together with your community, you will figure out what steps to take next. You may stumble, but you’ll find the right path.

When faced with these challenges, you’ve haven’t had the luxury of time to freak out—okay, maybe just a little. But you put worries aside and adopted a “can do” attitude. We’re all learning that our efforts won’t always be perfect, but they will be good enough for now.

#3: You’re reassessing assumptions and discovering ways to improve.

You’re also realizing that maybe things in the past weren’t as good as you thought.

Diversity and inclusion. Although a committee labored over your association’s D&I statement, their efforts didn’t result in a remarkedly more diverse leadership or volunteer corps (speakers, instructors, reviewers, writers, etc.). Perhaps now it’s time to focus on the I in D&I—inclusion. What steps can leadership and staff take collectively and individually to create a more inclusive volunteer corps, leadership, and community?

Virtual learning experience. We’ve been pleased to see the association community focusing on the virtual learning experience. Many associations are realizing that perhaps their in-person conference learning experience wasn’t as effective as they thought.   

Learning experts in our community have long been saying that a 45 to 60-minute lecture isn’t the ideal format for learning. Now that education has gone virtual, we’re seeing much more learner engagement built into conference sessions and webinars.

Presenters are told to use Zoom breakout rooms for discussions so participants can work together to recall and apply what they’re learning. Whiteboards, polling, chats—all these virtual tools are helping associations create more learner engagement.

Even when in-person meetings return, virtual learning will continue to be a critical element of professional development programs. Virtual education programs have helped associations reach a bigger audience and provide a better learning experience.

Virtual networking. Associations are also figuring out how to make space during virtual events for networking, especially the serendipitous meetups that take place at in-person conferences.

Members are hungry for connections right now—which explains the popularity of Zoom happy hours, coffee breaks, masterminds, and book clubs. Attendees now expect to participate in chats during virtual conference sessions and webinars. We’ve also seen the rise of 1:1 matchmaking tools, small discussion roundtables, as well as the ever popular Zoom breakout room for session exercises.

New approaches to sponsors and exhibitors. One of the biggest conference challenges has been coming up with ways to help sponsors and exhibitors achieve their marketing goals. Logo placement isn’t going to cut it for many of them. Associations are supplementing those traditional impressions with opportunities for sponsors to provide thought leadership during events, such as moderating sessions, interviewing speakers, and hosting educational and networking breakout rooms.

Many associations are looking beyond event-focused sponsorship to year-round relationships with revenue partners. They’re designing content together that takes advantage of the sponsor’s expertise. After all, sponsors and exhibitors much rather teach than sell. Content marketing is a better value than advertising.

Exhibitors present even more of a challenge. Associations are trying a number of tactics but it’s too early to know which ones are most effective. Some conferences dedicate a web page to each exhibitor where they can upload videos and marketing materials, and communicate with attendees via a chat box. We’ve also seen associations assign breakout rooms to exhibitors. The jury is still out on this one.

Remote work resultsWorking from home isn’t without its challenges. For example, you may frequently see your own team in Zoom meetings but you no longer get to run into colleagues from other departments like you used to.

People are reporting increased productivity, except perhaps those who are taking care of kids at home. The good thing: the focus is now on results, not hours worked. Of course, some staff and managers won’t succeed in these new conditions, but maybe they weren’t succeeding in the office either.

#4: You have the courage to take action.

You’re leading your association forward into an uncertain future. You’re making decisions without all the data you’d like because there’s often no data to consult in these new conditions. Instead, many of you have kicked up your listening efforts by sending pulse surveys to your members.

Due to limited resources, you have to reprioritize projects and programs. The decisions you make will displease some, that’s to be expected. For example, you can’t give all presenters a slot in the new virtual conference schedule.

Take advantage of this opportunity to sunset programs. Whether it’s an unnecessary committee or a former board member’s pet project, now’s the time to get rid of anything that doesn’t deserve your association’s resources. A time of change like this is a good time to make courageous changes.

The pandemic and other crises have given associations an opportunity to assess where you might have fallen short in the past and learn how to improve your programs for the future. Let’s celebrate these silver linings.

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