Gratitude in a Time of Adversity: Insights from Association Colleagues

by Wes Sovis

Association leaders have created positive forward momentum, providing support and understanding for the members, boards, and employees they serve despite tremendous adversity. But what keeps them going? We reached out to a few of our members to find out what’s motivated them, what they’ve learned in 2020, and what they’re looking ahead to in 2021.

Lessons Learned in 2020

Many association leaders viewed recent challenges as opportunities to learn about themselves, their organizations, and the members they serve.

“It’s taught us the value of relationships and working beyond just the surface. It’s been important to truly connect with individuals, as so many are on emotional roller coasters. Now is the time to strengthen our relationships with our friends and family and produce random acts of kindness to others. Be upfront and over-communicate. We’ve been getting more phone calls than ever — some of the biggest value we’ve added is just listening to people.” — Kathleen Mennillo, MBAInternational Hearing Society

A common trend in our conversations was the realization of just how important it is to prioritize our time around what matters most. Robin J. Bozek of the Michigan Head Start Alliance summed up what she’s learned perfectly with this sentiment.

“2020 has definitely changed my perspective on how I prioritize my time. It has made me even more aware of what really matters to me: making time for family and friends and the causes that I want to see thrive. And I also see more clearly the necessity to give less attention to that which doesn’t bring meaning, joy, or enrichment into my life.”

A Year of Reconnection and Growth in Those Around Us

During this time of distancing and remote work, we’ve leaned on colleagues, friends, and family more than ever. As a result, these relationships grew in importance for us. Many of our members saw profound personal and professional growth in themselves and others in the face of seriously trying times.

“I am thankful that my two kids have given me great confidence in the next generation. I have a 5th grader and sophomore who have shown they are able to deal with this adversity often better than the adults in their world. Serving the school community in our association, we are regularly seeing that our students are adaptable and moving forward while the adults often are those struggling with change.” — Don Wotruba, Executive Director, Michigan Association of School Boards.

When things get tough, association staff never shrink from expectations. 2020 was no exception, and association executives extolled the perseverance and hard work of their staff. Tim Neumann, Executive Director at Michigan Rural Water Association, expressed his gratitude for his team, echoing the sentiment from Doug Small, CEO at Experience Grand Rapids. The latter said he’s “so thankful for a very competent and dedicated staff that “took a deep breath” and then set out to “change course” and adapt to today’s volatile environment. They too are family, and while many tears flowed over the past 9+ months, we locked arms and stayed strong for one another.”

Learning from the Past, But Looking Ahead to the Future

While 2020 was tough on everyone, the clear message from our association community is that all eyes are on the future. No one put it more adeptly than Scott A. Herceg, CAE from the Cheboygan Area Chamber of Commerce:

“A new year always brings with it a new perspective and new opportunity. With what we experienced in 2020, the year of 2021 may not look anything like what we thought it would, but it will be what it needs to be to continue to move the human experience forward. And there will be pleasant surprises along the way that will inspire us again. That’s what I look forward to each new year, the unexpected, unplanned for, pleasant surprises.”

As you can imagine, MSAE members strive to create a brighter future for our members and our world as a whole. Until we can get back to serving members face-to-face, association leaders will continue to be critical virtual lifelines to members, providing support, connection, and information. What motivates you? What has 2020 taught you? What are you looking forward to in 2021? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below!

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