Leading During a Pandemic: Why Diverse Leadership Matters More Than Ever

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COVID-19 has pressed associations to build boards with people who are flexible and eager to lead, and who bring new perspectives to the table. Diversity initiatives offer a path to get there.

Among the many things that COVID-19 has revealed about associations is the need to rethink what they need in their boards. Of course, associations often struggle to build and support effective boards outside of crisis mode, but now matters are more urgent.

One example of that need for change comes from a survey published earlier this month by the National Association of Corporate Directors. The survey shows that, at least for the short term, the pandemic has pushed aside familiar matters like onboarding and succession planning as top concerns. Rather, the directors surveyed say that their top governance challenges involve “shaping a realistic post-crisis strategy,” “ensuring the ongoing health and safety of employees,” and “getting up to speed on all the emerging risk dimensions of the crisis.” Board leaders are confident in their organizations—92 percent are sure their firms will survive the crisis. But thanks to the coronavirus, the tools they’ll need may change.

Those challenges are likely not that much different in associations and the larger nonprofit industry. But will associations have the people they need for the task? That remains a struggle. According to BDO’s annual Nonprofit Standards benchmarking survey, more than half of the organizations reporting (54 percent) say that attracting quality leadership will be a challenge in 2020.

So new skills are necessary, but the old problem of bringing in engaged leaders hasn’t gone away. What to do?

Diversity efforts are too often treated as something to check off a to-do list.

Neither report addresses it, but part of the solution may come by solving another problem that associations have often been loath to tackle: board diversity. Race to Lead Revisited [PDF], a new report from the Building Movement Project, an organization that promotes social change in nonprofitdom, notes that many of the challenges regarding diversity, equity, and inclusion at nonprofits remain persistent, both on staff and on boards. And in some cases, the problem is worse: According to the report, “people of color were substantially more likely to state that race is a barrier to their advancement, while white respondents were more likely to agree that their race provides a career advantage. People of all races were more likely to agree with statements describing obstacles people of color face in obtaining leadership positions.”

That’s all the more frustrating because the report demonstrates not just that there is a leadership pipeline of people who are prepared to bring new ideas into organizations, but that those organizations might perform better if they were brought in. According to the report, “Both people of color and white respondents report a far better experience in POC-led groups,” and a lack of engagement with people of color has an impact on workers’ tenure and satisfaction. Those working for organizations that are predominantly white-led are less likely to say they’ll be happy working there three years from now, or that they feel they have a voice in the organization, or that they’re given equitable opportunities for advancement and promotion.

And efforts to close the gap are perceived differently by different groups: While more than half of white respondents (54 percent) say their organizations are developing recruitment strategies to increase diversity, only 40 percent of people of color say that’s the case. Too often, DEI is relegated to a training session that many see as “a means to check DEI efforts off an organizational to-do list,” according to the report.

A more robust approach, the authors say, “requires setting and meeting targets for bringing on candidates, instituting effective onboarding and support for new staff and board members, and being willing to shift power—that is, to listen to the observations and recommendations of staff and board members of color, and to change the organization’s policies and practices accordingly.”

That kind of power shift, in itself, will not solve the problems associations are facing today. What it can do is demonstrate a real commitment to new ideas and processes that are essential to leading through the current crises—and what comes after.

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Leading During a Pandemic: The Need for Steady Governance

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There’s no way to make an association crisis-proof, but good governance is key to resilience. One expert shares how to help boards maintain their focus.

Successful boards look for alignments with the needs of members and customers. But what are those needs during a time when economies and social norms have transformed? Successful boards consider environmental scans to establish broad strategic goals. But what if the environmental scan you conducted before your most recent five-year strategic plan no longer resembles the world you’re in?

In short, is it time to give your strategic plan another look?

The answer may be yes, but it’s important to tread carefully when it comes to such conversations, says governance consultant and former association CEO Robert Nelson, CAE. The urge to respond to a crisis can be so strong that many might overstep their boundaries—and forget that the strategic plan is designed to provide stability in moments like these.

“During a crisis there can be a tendency for boards or individual board members to want to jump in and fix things or make decisions that are in management’s realm,” Nelson wrote recently. And such leaps can make an association’s work needlessly complex.

In an interview last week, Nelson shared a few thoughts to consider before convening your board for an emergency strategy session.

A lot of people say, what does my board have to do differently? I think your board just needs to govern well.

Are you really talking about strategy, or panicking over tactics? A strategic plan that enumerates specific efforts for things like meeting formats and membership growth wasn’t truly a strategic plan to start with. “I believe we’ll find that there are organizations that really didn’t have strategies, they actually had tactical plans, and I think they will find that their quote-unquote plan will need to change significantly,” Nelson says. “That’s why it’s so important to have a strategy truly be a strategy, because then you can change the tactics from a staff level. You’ll see two sets of associations, those that had bad strategic plans having to make significant alterations, and those that have great strategies, and maybe having to tweak one out of four initiatives.”

Use the moment to reestablish your governance processes. Rogue board members making pronouncements about the one thing the association needs to do right now may be a sign that the board and CEO roles are not in alignment. A crisis is no excuse to disrupt proper relationships. “When we ask, ‘Do we really have a system that can withstand a crisis?’ That just means we’ve got a sound strategy,” he says. “But more than that, it means that we have a board that understands this is the board’s role, and this is the CEO’s role, and we have a board that’s constantly looking forward. A lot of people say, what does my board have to do differently? I think your board just needs to govern well.”

Cultivate one-on-one communication ahead of any big group meeting. The most successful associations, Nelson says, establish close conversations between the CEO and board that are casual but effective. “The CEO should be able to easily call up board members and say, ‘Look, I recognize that it’s my responsibility to make this decision on Topic A, and I’m not shirking my responsibility, but I’d love to get your insight to see what you think,’ and the board member will really give that,” he says. “But the board member realizes that in the end the CEO is going to make the decision on Topic A, B or C, because it’s their job. That’s the kind of communication we need and want.”

Don’t get waylaid by term-length conversations. Nelson says this can be a good time for association boards to take a look at their bylaws to make sure that they’re not outdated or overly restrictive. But if you’re going to make tweaks to term lengths for board members, make sure you’re doing it for the sake of what’s best for an association—not for the interests of a board chair who might be disappointed because COVID-19 means they can’t take the stage at an in-person meeting this year. “Being a chair is supposed to be about what’s best for the organization, not what’s best for Mike or Joe,” Nelson says. “I’ve heard conversations about these shifts, and most of the time it’s because the chair won’t be able to do the fun things they’d normally do because they’re tied to this crisis. But is that really sticking with your organization’s values?”

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Four Business-Minded Considerations for Virtual Event Planners

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When it comes to virtual events, many associations are running into questions about how to raise revenue from them, according to a Tagoras report. Part of the challenge may be strategy—nearly 60 percent of associations surveyed said they didn’t have one for virtual events.

More than 90 percent of associations say they’re offering virtual events essentially because of COVID-19. How does that change the business approach for what is traditionally a major revenue driver?

It’s one of many questions highlighted in a new report from Tagoras, a consulting firm focused on adult learning. The latest edition of The Virtual Conferences Report, which gains new relevance amid the COVID-19 crisis, touches on three key topics related to virtual events—operations, business, and performance—at a time of unprecedented growth for the event variant.

Case in point: Two thirds of survey respondents say their organizations have never offered a virtual event, but plan to within the next year.

“Clearly current circumstances are driving a major near-term surge in the format,” authors Jeff Cobb and Celisa Steele write.

But given the sudden shift in interest toward virtual events, it’s clear that some business considerations might have been lost along the way. Some business-minded highlights from the report:

Many virtual events struggle with strategy. The report notes that just a fifth (20.7 percent) have a documented strategy for virtual events, while 59.8 percent say they don’t have one, and 19.5 percent aren’t sure either way. The authors diagnose this as something of a missed opportunity. “There are thousands of decisions when it comes to offering a virtual conference—how long should it be, should it be part of your annual conference or its own beast, what should you charge, how do you find sponsors, and so on,” the authors write. “You need a strategy for your virtual conferences so you and others in your organization can translate that strategy into the right answers to the myriad questions.”

Virtual events need to be financially sustainable, but tend to be less expensive than in-person events. Nearly 60 percent of respondents (59.7 percent) stated that it was important for a virtual event to be profitable, while 25.4 percent said such an event needs to at least be self-sustaining. And perhaps for that reason, nearly two thirds of respondents (65.2 percent) charged for such events, compared with 15.2 percent that didn’t. Despite the tendency to charge, virtual events tend to be less expensive than in-person events, with 30.4 percent charging significantly less and 39.1 charging somewhat less.

The calculus of pricing has changed with the pandemic. Despite the general push to make virtual events less expensive, respondents to the survey told Tagoras that some events are not cutting costs compared with in-person events due to the nature of the pandemic, though some are offering different options that make educational resources available to all members, while charging extra for those who can afford a more in-depth approach. “We have heard from many, many of our people who have said their entire training budget has been cut through the end of 2020,” explained Shannon Lockwood, the events and programs manager at the National Institute of Governmental Purchasing. “So we now know that if someone is coming to our event, it’s likely—not just possible but likely—that they’re paying out of their own pocket.”

Sponsorships are more prominent than exhibitor fees in virtual settings—if they’re collected. More than 40 percent of associations haven’t yet monetized sponsorships or exhibitors at prior events, but given the changing environment, demand could rise in the coming years as associations look for new ways to make events profitable. (According to supplemental data from Tagoras, 36.1 percent of respondents expect to integrate a virtual tradeshow component into an upcoming event.) But if they are drawing revenue from vendors, the way to do it most commonly seems to be through sponsorships (31.3 percent), or in tandem with exhibitor fees (20.3 percent). Just 4.7 percent rely on exhibitor fees alone.

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Investing Through Crisis: Technology to Strengthen Resilience of Your Association

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During this unprecedented time, associations must leverage creativity, communication and compassion to survive and stay ahead.

As we enter the reopening phase of the global pandemic, organizations face a new normal for how they will operate and how they can grow. During this time, creativity, communication and compassion will be critical to not only survive but also to thrive in this unexpected landscape.

Not surprisingly, technology will play a huge role in how organizations can manage change, adapt and emerge stronger than ever before the lockdown. Here are ways that resilient associations can utilize technology to engage their members, keep their staffers safe and achieve their goals.

Communicate clearly and constantly

Now is not the time to stay quiet. Associations should use every communication tool at their disposal—from email lists to social media channels to free webinars—to give members regular updates on how they are operating. Explain what is going on at the association, offer industry insights and the latest thinking on best practices for businesses—be a resource and let members know that your organization is there for them. Don’t worry about “spamming”—over-communication during uncertain times is vital to combating fear and anxiety.

The same is true for association employees. As most organizations have moved to remote setups, constant communication has been proven to boost productivity and morale. Video and apps are great methods for reaching people at scale, but research conducted by Personify shows that the old-fashioned phone call may be an underutilized but effective way to connect with employees and association members. In fact, it was cited as the best or second-best method of communication by 46% of those surveyed. Phone calls offer a personal touch and refreshing break from the video fatigue so many of us are experiencing.

Staying connected with virtual and hybrid events

The possibility of holding in-person activities and conferences for the remainder of 2020 is very much up in the air, but technology offers a solution that organizations big and small are now utilizing to keep their tentpole events on the books: virtual and hybrid events. Virtual events can range from thousands of attendees interacting with keynote speakers and panelists, to smaller more intimate events where they can connect directly with one another. Hybrid events offer attendees, exhibitors, speakers, organizers and event staff the ability to evaluate their participation in new ways.

Entrepreneurs Dorie Clark and Alisa Cohn shared the following best practices with Harvard Business Review for leading a successful virtual networking event: “Ask each person to spend two minutes introducing themselves with a mix of professional and personal information, such as a favorite hobby or passion.” Once attendees are comfortable, ask specific questions to keep the event on track and avoid it drifting into chatter about what everyone is streaming. Then, at the conclusion of the event (which they suggest having run no longer than 90 minutes) facilitate post-event connections: “After the gathering, send a quick follow-up email with everyone CC’d, thanking them for coming and encouraging them to connect with each other one-on-one, if they’d like.”

Whether it is virtual, in-person or a hybrid event, it is crucial to keep connections going long after the meeting ends. Online tools like Personify Community help extend connections and conversations past the three days of an annual conference, keeping folks engaged the other 362 days of the year. Associations can leverage online communities to supplement their virtual conference with virtual meet-ups, embedded videos and presentations, digital resources, and more.

Invest in forward-thinking

As the country opens back up, resilient organizations will want to move ahead, not yearn to go back to normal. “You can’t necessarily plop and drop what you’d done in person into the virtual world,” Richard Vallaster, director of client relations at Personify, told The New York Times.

Surviving and thriving are about accepting the new landscape and adapting to it. As Jason Wingard, Dean of Columbia University’s School of Professional Studies, wrote for Quartz, “Although at this moment it is difficult to imagine a day when the coronavirus no longer controls most aspects of our lives, I am certain that day will come. And when it does, I believe the smartest business leaders won’t rush back to the constraints of unnecessary formalities, cubicles, or commutes. Instead, they will accept that the future of work has already arrived—and, in doing so, will prepare themselves and their teams for whatever comes next.”

Associations must stay connected with their members to reinforce the idea that we are all in this together. With time, a thoughtful approach and embracing all of the tools at our disposal, associations can come out even stronger when the crisis ends.

Let us know the innovative ways you are keeping connected in the comments below.


Personify—We know this challenging time has created new and unique challenges in engaging with members, managing financials and driving your organization forward. Personify is committed to helping you adapt and emerge from COVID-19 or any crisis, more connected and resilient than ever. Our trusted solutions help you manage during and through these times with digital connections, virtual programming, a single source of truth for your data, and peace of mind for your members.

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Four Ways to Boost Nondues Revenue Right Now

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As associations look for ways to increase revenue during the pandemic downturn, one expert says they should consider monetizing their role as matchmaker for industry partners and members.

With pandemic closures killing the event revenue associations rely on, many are looking for new ways to bring money in. Don Neal, CEO and founder of 360 Live Media, spoke at a recent ASAE webinar, “The Association Revenue Recovery Plan.” While he offered more than a dozen revenue generators in today’s climate, he didn’t go in-depth about how they worked.

I tracked Neal down to talk a bit more about how associations can best use the tools they already have to generate income. His philosophy is that associations adopt a model similar to another industry.

“Associations are very similar to media organizations,” Neal said. “They have an audience, some content, and a distribution channel. Right now, they don’t have an event, so they have to rely on their other media assets.”

Revenue generators that will pay dividends right now will provide companies who want to reach your audience access to the right members. “It is a very lucrative model,” Neal said. “It’s a matchmaking, like eharmony.”

Neal had a couple of tips on process. “Work with existing industry partners, those who like you, who trust you, and have an interest in your audience,” he said.

After selecting previous partners, do a little upfront work. “Find out: Who do they want to meet, and what is the best way for them to engage?” Neal said. “And give them some options. Prepare a relatively short list for them to choose from.”

So, when playing matchmaker, Neal suggested four methods that are easy to start with or will give you the most bang for your buck.

Virtual focus group. “This is one of the easiest things to do and more fun,” Neal said. “A lot of industry partners are looking for feedback on products.” With this method, the partner will provide a list of requirements, and the association will find members that meet those requirements and ask them to opt in for the focus group. Usually the sponsor will give the participant a gift card. Neal said as a broker, an association might get a few thousand in revenue for providing several participants.

Virtual hosted buyers. While this one may take a little time to set up, Neal said it is the most lucrative. At traditional tradeshows, certain sponsors are willing to pay associations big bucks to meet with specific members who are able to make or influence purchasing decisions. At a traditional meeting, the sought-after member—also known as a “hosted buyer”—would have their attendance fee paid by the industry partner and agree to meet with that company for a set amount of time. The partner also pays a fee to the association.

“I can give you one example where the sponsoring company was willing to invest $5,000 per meeting; this was in the medical [association] environment,” Neal said. “If it costs $50,000 to acquire a buyer for their medical device, and they can have someone meet with them for $5,000, it’s very efficient. You don’t have to talk to 20 people to find one that can make decisions.”

There are two good things about offering the hosted buyer virtually, Neal said. First is cost reduction for the sponsor. “If they allocate $100,000 to that event, they are paying for the booth, the construction, the carpet, the banners, the lanyards. Those are all hard costs,” Neal said. “If you take away all the hard costs, all you have left is what that sponsor wants to pay to meet the seven right people.

The second is that it can be done any time. “It doesn’t just have to reside on top of an event,” Neal said. “You can do this year-round. I can meet you Tuesday at 2:30 on Zoom, or on the hosted platform.”

Paid thought leadership. This is similar to a sponsored webinar, Neal said. However, with paid thought leadership, the partner/sponsor is more involved in creation of the content than they are typically in a sponsored webinar. “You still have guidelines and guardrails to ensure it’s not just a buy-me commercial,” Neal said.

Exhibitor to exhibitor. When it comes to matchmaking, you don’t just have to match attendees and sellers. “Fifty percent of the business at tradeshows is done between exhibitors with other exhibitors,” Neal said. “You can put your exhibitors in contact with one another.”

Neal said the best time to start is now. “See which of these you have the ability to do quickly and successfully without taking on a lot of costs and risks,” he said. “Companies have money to spend, and in my opinion and my experience in the last 60 days, this is the best way for associations to recover their revenue.”

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How to Surprise and Delight Attendees in a Virtual Environment

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If you think hosting a virtual conference makes it more difficult to surprise your attendees or incorporate small elements of fun, think again. Here are five ways to delight your participants.

At your in-person events, you may have found fun ways to surprise your attendees, whether a pop-up ice cream sundae bar at the end of the day, a performance by a local music group between sessions, or putting gift cards for local restaurants or shops under some attendees’ chairs during the keynote.

But can you translate those elements into a virtual environment? Here are some ideas to consider:

Snail mail. To get your attendees excited about the virtual meeting, consider mailing them a small package ahead of the event. It could include everything from blue-light-blocking glasses and headsets to coffee mugs and water bottles to crayons and Play-Doh.

Or consider this idea from the Association of Equipment Manufacturers: To get people excited about their annual conference in November, AEM is hosting a virtual wine tasting later this month. Attendees can order a virtual tasting kit, and on the day of the event, a sommelier will take them through the tasting while participants network with one another. You could also consider having one of your partners sponsor this type of promotion.

Dance party. Are you one of the hundreds of thousands of people who have joined DJ D-Nice’s quarantine dance parties on Instagram during the pandemic? If so, you know how fun it is and how it has given people, including Oprah, a way to relax and feel connected during a time of isolation.

Just as you would for your in-person meetings, carve out time for your virtual attendees to relax and hang out in your platform. Hiring a DJ to host a dance party for your association’s members could be just the way to do it.

Games. Who doesn’t like a little friendly competition? Take a cue from the many in-person association conferences that have included everything from academic bowls to games that perfectly tie into the work its members and industry partners do. Many virtual platforms make it easy to break your attendees up into small groups so they can play trivia games, sing karaoke, or go on an online scavenger hunt.

Mini workouts. There is no reason to ditch wellness events when your conference goes virtual. Think about building a mini workout class that attendees can live stream throughout the day for a quick boost of energy, or offer morning yoga via live stream. You could also host workout breaks between session blocks.

Kids welcome, too. Keep in mind that many attendees will be participating in your virtual meeting from home—and that many will also be taking care of their kids, who are at home with them. With that in mind, add a few sessions that would appeal to kids too. It could be that dance party. Or you could host an art class that kids and adults can take part in together.

What ideas have you tried to add an element of fun or surprise to your virtual meeting? Please share in the comments.

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Four Ways to Help Attendees Have a Successful Virtual Conference Experience

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As participants transition to attending your virtual conferences, some may have a larger learning curve than others. Here are four ideas for helping attendees have a positive virtual experience.

When associations have hosted in-person conferences, they’ve done a number of things both ahead of and during the meeting to make sure their attendees are ready for the experience. Among them: hosting virtual pep rallies before the event to get participants excited, setting first-timers up with conference mentors, and incorporating tools like Amazon Alexa to help with wayfinding onsite.

But, as conferences transition to virtual and attendees need to get comfortable with the online experience, what can associations do to make it easier for them? Here are a few ideas for helping attendees have a successful virtual conference experience:

Get them acclimated to the virtual platform before the event kicks off. If this is the first time that attendees are being asked to log onto a virtual platform to learn and network, some training will be necessary. A week or so before your virtual event, consider hosting a webinar where you run down the basics of using the platform and give participants a chance to ask questions. Also, make sure to share a one-page guide that covers basic FAQs like how to ask a question during a session, how to track their continuing-education units, and how to access recordings post-conference.

Don’t forget about customer service. You don’t want attendees to get so frustrated by a technical glitch or some other hiccup that they log off of the virtual event. So, just as you would have a customer service team in place for your in-person event, do the same for your virtual experience. Make sure there’s a place in your platform for attendees to get help (whether through live chat or something else) at any point during the conference. Also, ensure that staff is monitoring chats that are going on during sessions so that they can respond to questions that may come up there.

Take your conference buddy program virtual. Even though your event moved online, it doesn’t mean you have to eliminate your conference buddy program. You can still pair people up and encourage them to connect before the meeting via videoconference or phone to get to know each other. To keep conversations going during the meeting, you can also build time in at the start or end of the day to allow buddies to connect in your platform.

Consider an emcee to help attendees navigate the experience. To highlight connections among the sessions and the conference theme (if you have one), have an emcee host an opening “priming” session and a closing “synthesis” session on each day of the conference. This will help your attendees to tee up and review the day, reflect on what they experienced, and share some ways they’re going to apply what they learned.

What are you doing to make sure your attendees have an enjoyable virtual conference experience? Please share in the comments.

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Membership Incentive Ideas During a Crisis

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Wondering what to do about member incentives during a global pandemic? You’re not alone. Here are some tips and real-world examples to help you navigate this tricky question in difficult times.

COVID-19 has turned a lot of common association challenges into bigger ones that are particularly hard to address, like how to talk about membership incentives during a crisis that has caused significant economic hardship.

A recent thread on ASAE’s Collaborate (member login required) raised that question to see what others are doing now and what their plans are for the future. Chris Gloede, chief consultant at Ricochet Advisory Services, and John Ponzio, vice president of professional membership and engagement at the American Heart Association, provided some insights on the discussion. I followed up with them to get more details.

Low-Cost Incentives

Incentives are challenging, according to Gloede, former chief marketing officer at the American Bar Association, because they are an expense that can quickly snowball, and discounts run the risk of devaluing membership. Instead, ABA leveraged strategies commonly used by magazines to increase subscriptions: It offered free trial memberships that provided the option to cancel when those members received their dues invoice after the trial period ended.

An article in Associations Now reported on the success of the International Public Safety Association’s limited $5 membership, which gave would-be members a look at IPSA’s benefits and professional community without a major commitment by either the association or the prospective member.

At AHA, Ponzio said they offered new members a limited-time trial membership, which gives members an opportunity to connect with like-minded professionals through AHA’s councils. He said they also provide chances to win gift cards for use in AHA’s online store and special offers for lifelong learning tools.

Cutoff Dates

“Without a deadline, an email or a piece of direct mail will quickly be forgotten,” Gloede said. ABA promotional materials featured deadlines prominently. Ponzio said AHA also offers members incentives to renew or join within a certain timeframe. Becoming a member of an association is an investment, Gloede said, and deadlines make the decision to join easier.

Special Rates

AHA, a global organization, focuses on providing opportunities like special rates for members in developing countries and AHA fellows-in-training, Ponzio said. It also offers group memberships for community hospitals and rural healthcare centers. Ponzio said AHA’s main priority is having their professional members know they are there for them, so they also offer extended payment plans, in particular for students or members who are just starting out in their careers.

Gloede said the ABA membership rate was determined by a variety of factors, including the number of years a lawyer had been in practice, the size of the practice, and member category (for example, whether the lawyer offered pro bono services). Determining each lawyer’s capacity and situation gauges a prospective member’s ability to pay, he said. The process can be complex, but for large membership programs, the dollars often justify the complexity.

Financial Hardship Accommodations

Some associations waive dues when a member temporarily is experiencing financial hardship. ABA moved away from requiring members to submit cumbersome paper applications for such a waiver—which needed review and approval by leadership—to a more streamlined, honor-based digital request process. The number of people who used the financial hardship program was relatively small, Gloede said, and therefore the financial risk was minimal. He noted that for the most part people are honest, and the few instances of abuse could be managed case by case.

During these difficult times, “plan for the worst and hope for the best,” Gloede said, adding that it’s important to recognize that your association has financial needs, too. He recommended measuring the new dues options you offer to assess what’s working and what’s not. And, he said, “be ready to change course and aggressively try new approaches.”

Do you have a membership incentive at your association you’d like to share? Please respond in the comments or send me an email.

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Leading During a Pandemic: A New Landscape for Global Partnerships

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COVID-19 has provided a common cause for associations looking to strengthen global connections. But some old rules still apply.

The disruptions created by the COVID-19 era present plenty of challenges, of course. But a few experts agree that there are also opportunities in the new moment for associations to better connect internationally, gaining new audiences for their offerings and bolstering their positions as thought leaders.

Last week, ASAE’s International Associations Advisory Council convened a webinar, “Global Partnerships in the COVID-19 Era,” in which participants discussed this new landscape. As ever, no one global strategy will fit all associations—going global remains a function of understanding your potential members and customers and where workers in your association’s industry can use your support. But a handful of common themes emerged from the conversation.

We saw with COVID-19 how some countries and cultures that value differences in hierarchy reacted versus more egalitarian or equal-opportunity cultures.

Look for where you need help with short-term problems. Magdalena Mook, CEO of the International Coach Federation, noted that one of the most pronounced pain points for members at the immediate moment is handling finances. So in addition to its core mission of providing training for coaches, it looked for ways to help members—who are often small-business owners—navigate options for financial relief. ICF has partnered with an association of financial advisors to provide discounted training.

“Not everybody is very skilled in the financial side of their businesses—different governments, including the U.S. government, created packages to help, but we found out very quickly that our members do not necessarily know how to take advantage of them,” Mook said. “That’s not the partnership we’d normally have, but we’ll continue it because financial aid is something our members can capitalize on not only in times of crisis but also in times of prosperity.”

Use partnerships to broadcast your authority. Joanne Joham, regional director North America for the International Congress and Convention Association, noted that partnerships with other global associations on best practices can broaden your reach in meaningful ways. For instance, last week ICCA released a white paper on reopening business events that it coproduced with two other international convention associations, AIPC and UFI. The shared project at once introduces all three associations to new audiences and establishes them as knowledge leaders on a critical subject.

A country’s COVID-19 response can be revealing. Countries have different ideas about what common association terms like “volunteering” and “membership” mean, which is why U.S. associations are cautioned to do their homework about a country’s culture before exploring partnerships. Şirin Köprücü, principal at the association consultancy StrategicStraits, suggested taking a look at a country’s approach to COVID-19 as a window to how leaders there might think about partnering.

“We saw with COVID-19 how some countries and cultures that value differences in hierarchy reacted versus more egalitarian or equal-opportunity cultures,” she said. “One has set rules, the other one encourages volunteerism. It’s very important [for potential partners] to see associations’ role as empathetic leaders… , that there’s a true curiosity about the needs of the markets and the cultures of the markets.”

Some of the old rules about partnership-building still apply. In a country like China, a local presence still matters, said Steven Basart, vice president, Asia, at the association management company Kellen. And your association’s newfound enthusiasm for Zoom won’t matter much in a country where WeChat is dominant. “In the case of China, I think it’s even more essential to ensure your activities are endorsed by a Chinese partner or a local government to ensure legitimacy or acceptance,” he said. “The activities, the drivers, the business objectives that are motivating their strategies are very different, even though they may be your primary, local counterparts.”

So though virtual conferences and webinars can help bridge global gaps, making headway globally may still require a CEO to step on a plane. “I think it’s very important for senior leadership to meet with the senior leadership of your partners and have delegation visits,” Basart said. “And when your leadership is not in-country, to be under speed-dial for your partner and have that local relationship.”

Have you been able to cultivate global partnerships during the pandemic? Share your experiences in the comments.

The post Leading During a Pandemic: A New Landscape for Global Partnerships appeared first on Associations Now.

NSA’s Influence 2020 is going Virtual for only $497 USD for Everyone!

Written by GSF Editor on . Posted in Federation News, news-feed

Influence 2020 logoNSA announced last week that it would be going all virtual for this year’s Influence 2020 event. You may already know that NSA has already started to share weekly programs leading up to Influence.
 
However, the HUGE news is anyone can register for this event now for only $497 USD. NSA will be contacting GSF leaders (and your members) who may have already registered for the full, live event. That communication will provide options for how you’d like to move forward.
 
But, if you have NOT yet registered, this is a HUGE value. The initial programming has been phenomenal, and the rest looks to be amazing as well. Here’s the link to register: https://www.nsaspeaker.org/attend/influence20/register/
 
It’s unfortunate we can’t meet in person this year, but here’s to connecting and learning together virtually!