Associations Focus on Communicating Value as They Navigate Pandemic-Driven Challenges

Jarrett Way_communicate value in pandemic September 14, 2020 By: Jarrett Way

COVID-19 has created new challenges, not the least of which is uncertainty. Three associations say communicating value is part of the playbook they plan to use as they move forward.

In an industry of professionals who pride themselves on their planning skills, what happens in a year like 2020? Most of us didn’t plan for a global pandemic or its sweeping effects.

Adjusting your communications plan when business-as-usual is no longer appropriate is a heavy lift. In most cases, associations shifted to provide special resources and information to their members in the wake of the virus. Nearly every association featured a “coronavirus alert” bar atop their website to point visitors to guides and reports for weathering the storm. There isn’t a single industry untouched by the pandemic, and every association had to figure out what support for their members looks like.

Arguably the hardest part about this pandemic is simply navigating the unknown. Here are stories of how three associations have been affected and what they’re doing to tackle these new challenges for the road ahead.

School Principals Strive to Communicate Value

While associations focus on their members during a time like this, they’re not immune from the pandemic’s immediate realities. The National Association of Secondary School Principals, like many associations, is being as proactive as possible about what may come down the line.

“You can always use more help and money, but I can’t say those were our biggest challenges,” said Bob Farrace, NASSP’s director of communications. “It was really our reaching consensus on the priorities. We discovered and understood pretty quickly that there is an audience whose mind is just somewhere else right now. We were able to face those challenges and make changes fairly quickly.”

NASSP also realized that shrinking budgets made it incredibly important for them to communicate their value to members. “There is going to be less money available to them for things like honor societies and professional-development opportunities,” Farrace said. “All of those things are on the chopping block. We have to gird ourselves for a drop, while redoubling our efforts to make ourselves indispensable to our audiences and to communicate that we are indispensable. Most of our members have dues paid through their local school districts. So, we need to continue to convince districts that NASSP is an organization worth investing in on behalf of their principals.”

We have to gird ourselves for a drop, while redoubling our efforts to make ourselves indispensable to our audiences and to communicate that we are indispensable.

Funding Key for Library and Bus Associations

The American Library Association is bracing for what may happen through the rest of this year and beyond.

“We’re still in the middle of this, maybe even the beginning,” said Stephanie Hlywak, ALA director of the communications and marketing. “We know that librarians and libraries are funded by their local communities and municipalities’ tax revenue, and in the case of school and academic libraries, they are connected to their parent institutions. The funding model means that libraries and their staffing and services will be impacted by the larger economic slowdown. Our advocacy work is focused on getting libraries included in federal recovery packages and consistently telling library success stories.”

Hlywak added that communicating members’ value to lawmakers will be crucially important to funding.

“We’re up against every other industry in America advocating for the same funds,” Hlywak said. “It’s our job as an association to say that libraries will be partners in recovery, and we need them now more than ever. People go to libraries during recovery. It’s where they fill out forms for unemployment, look for jobs, gain computer access, and get new skills and training.”

The American Bus Association has similar concerns. “Securing funding—it decides what will happen in the next year,” said ABA’s Lia Zegeye, senior director of membership. “Also, is this the last round of the pandemic? Is there another wave? Are we prepared as a society for the next phase of this? Funding is more important than ever. A lot of our members cater to student travel, which happens during this period typically. This is lost revenue, completely gone. They won’t make it up.”

While this is just a small cross-section of what different organizations are facing, find solace in the fact that you’re not alone in this. These examples show that associations are ready to go to bat for their members and help them communicate effectively. One message stands firm among the others: Community drives solutions.


Jarrett Way

Jarrett Way is marketing manager at Mighty Citizen in Austin, Texas.