Quarantine Lessons: What Associations Can Learn About Connection and Innovation

Baron June 15, 2020 By: Danielle Duran Baron, CAE

COVID-19 has inspired many groups to step up, from large corporations to neighborhood communities, providing associations with an excellent playbook to learn from and replicate. Here are some specific takeaways.

Three months into COVID-19, many uncertainties still loom on the horizon. When will we go back to work? Will our lives ever go back to normal? What will our workspaces look like?

While these and many other questions remain unanswered, we have seen many organizations rise to the occasion. From the iconic toymaker Lego manufacturing plastic visors, to apparel giants Zara and Hanes retrofitting some of their plants to produce medical masks, corporations—big and small—have put their production lines to good use.

Many associations have taken a page from the corporate playbook and pivoted to serve their members and industries in this time of crisis. Here are some of the ways they’re doing it.

Content Is King—If Relevant, Timely, and Useful

With their annual meeting scheduled for late April, Nabil El-Ghoroury, executive director of the California Marriage and Family Therapists Association, had no other choice but to cancel the event that brings in between 700 and 950 attendees over three days. With the shelter-in-place order, El-Ghoroury and his team quickly focused their efforts online.

CAMFT’s first offering was a free live webinar with an update on telehealth. With only three days to promote the event, 1,721 participants registered, 10 percent of them nonmembers. “It was originally a 30-minute session but ended up going for an hour because we had so much engagement from the participants. Our speakers were our attorneys who answered questions from the audience,” El-Ghoroury said, adding that following that session, he now has 170 leads on membership. What’s more,

CAMFT’s next live webinar was a workshop with their regulatory board. It had close to 950 registrants. “What we have seen is that by offering quality and timely content we have an opportunity to recapture and reinvent what we are doing. Over seven COVID-19 webinars, CAMFT had more than 7,300 registrations, far exceeding the engagement of the annual meeting. This experience has made us reevaluate our entire education strategy,” he said.

United We Stand

Johnnie White had been in his job as CEO of the American Society of Appraisers for almost a year when COVID-19 hit. As the stay-at-home orders spread across the country, the Virginia-based association closed its offices and started operating remotely.

With the logistics in place, White reached out to his membership. After a few conversations, the answer was clear: ASA members needed guidance. That is when White had an epiphany: “If we are going to survive this, we will need to go through this together, as an industry, not as individuals or even specific associations.”

The next step was to connect with competitors and gauge their interest in collaborating to create educational content. “Everyone was very supportive, and we quickly came together to create different webinars focused on specific areas of the profession,” he said. The results were beyond White’s imagination, as each one of the events drew between 1,200 and nearly 3,000 participants.

What White did might seem counterintuitive. Faced with a major threat, instead of being protective, he built a path forward working with other associations in his space so that together they could fulfill their missions.

If we are going to survive this, we will need to go through this together, as an industry, not as individuals or even specific associations.
—Johnnie White, American Society of Appraisers

An Association Is Not a Building

After cancelling her annual meeting and moving the association to operate virtually, Aliyah Horton, executive director of the Maryland Pharmacists Association, focused on technology to make sure that staff could work effectively and members had access to the same level of service.

“We had to change some procedures to ensure that we were operating according to our bylaws,” Horton said. “Once that was done, I started to look at the technology we had available. We already had VoIP phones that could be easily plugged in at home. We also took full advantage of Office 360 and switched over to Microsoft Teams. We never looked back.”

Understanding the importance of engagement, Horton found a new way to keep members involved. “During the week when we would have hosted our annual [meeting], we tapped on our committees to create MPhA Week, a social media engagement campaign to highlight important themes to the broad pharmacy community and to celebrate our organization with the hashtag #WeAreMPhA.” she said. “We look forward to implementing it and are considering doing something similar during American Pharmacists Month in October.”

Virtual Is Here to Stay—Use It Wisely

With the quick switch to online events, associations were able to address their members’ most pressing needs while venturing into new territory. “We must be intentional when it comes to keeping participants engaged. We need to explore creative ways to add value, replicate the usual hallway conversations, and networking events,” said Jennifer Kingen Kush, founder of Kingen Kush Solutions.

Arianna Rehak, CEO of Matchbox Virtual Media, invites association executives to focus on the outcomes rather than the process. “Some are seeing virtual conferences as a necessary evil, while others are embracing the opportunity to get creative. It is the latter camp that will be designing with the experience in mind, and the result will potentially be a learning product that associations can continue to offer to their members,” Rehak noted.

Danielle Duran Baron, CAE

Danielle Duran Baron, CAE, is staff vice president of marketing and communications at the School Nutrition Association in Arlington, Virginia.