Aug 2020 Blog


That is the Question

Wait, you say, that was not the question. The question was, “To be or not to be, that is the question.” Quick poll: Who said it?

  1. King Lear
  2. Willie Loman
  3. Hamlet
  4. None of the above

If you chose “c. Hamlet”, you are correct! But what prompted Hamlet to say this? He was faced with unprecedented hardship and was, among other things, confronting and coping with unchartered waters in his life. Fast forward to circa March 2020 and we, too, are confronting and coping with uncertainty in our personal and professional lives as we guide our associations through this time of unprecedented uncertainty.

Supporting and advising associations is critical to their success and viability. Never before have we lost our ability to hold in-person conferences, bringing like-minded people together to share insights, get much needed CE credits, network, renew acquaintances with people they’ve known for years, and forge new bonds. Associations, nationwide and globally, have had to pivot, cancel conferences, and rethink their offerings. And yet, these offerings are the very core of their missions to support their members.

The path forward is upon us, as is how we choose to move forward. Do we keep things status-quo? Or do we try new things? I would submit that now, more than ever, is the time to evaluate programs, sunset those that are no longer viable, and repurpose the funds to programs that you design to more currently meet the needs of your association’s members.

Talk to your members. Find out what they need most to help them get through this. Beta test the messaging; rewrite it if questions do not yield the responses you need. Rewrite it for various member groups (i.e., individual members versus institutional members versus sponsor or partner members).

Start small. Design webinars and webinar series to resonate with your members’ responses. Following the webinar, talk to your members again and listen to their recommendations. Revise the content or the format for the next one, if needed. Again, beta test the message.

Track membership numbers and analyze them over a specific period (i.e., last 6 months since the onset of the pandemic, or Year-over-Year). Set up an ambassador program, enlisting the support of the Board of Directors and volunteer committee members. This is a group of people who know and respect the association, are committed to its success, and are a wealth of knowledge about not only the association but also about the industry. They are ideally suited to talk about the benefits and why, more than ever, the member needs to stay connected to the association.

Change can be overwhelming so break it down into manageable pieces and implement the changes systematically. The positive impact can show cumulative effects over time. Can all this answer Hamlet’s question? No. It cannot. Of course, not. Hamlet was fictional; we are not. We can, however, use our ability to communicate, anticipate, analyze, and adjust to move our associations forward.

Susan Barber is a senior association and operations professional with expertise in strategic planning, program management, process improvements, and event planning. Most recently, Susan was Vice President of Operations and General Manager for the New England Small Business Association. She holds a Master of Management of Human Services degree from Brandeis University, an MBA with a concentration in finance and business strategy from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, and a BA in Psychology and Education from Ohio University. She's a certified inbound marketing professional and has six sigma green belt and lean six sigma certificates.