How a Small-Staff Association Leveraged Technology to Thrive During the Pandemic

Bunn Mica _ small-staff tech May 17, 2022 By: Nelson O. Bunn Jr. and Christine Mica, CAE

While the pandemic unquestionably had many downsides, there are some undeniable positive aspects. For example, technology became a lifeline for many organizations and allowed them to deliver new services and resources to staff and members. Here are three ways it worked for the National District Attorneys Association.

In late 2019 and early 2020, COVID-19 seemed like something thousands of miles away that would have minimal impact on humans, let alone organizations. That minimal impact soon turned to concern, then panic, as the pandemic spread rapidly across the world shutting down daily life as we knew it.

There was an upside to a devastating situation, however. More innovation, creativity, and the ability for organizations to adapt to a new normal led by technology.

Although we are a small staff of only 20 employees, the National District Attorneys Association not only adapted to shifting workforce dynamics but also maintained services to meet the changing needs of our members—all while remaining focused on our mission of being the voice of America’s prosecutors.

Like anything in life, technology has benefits and consequences. If designed and implemented thoughtfully and collaboratively, it can be one of an association’s greatest assets.

Luckily, NDAA had already made some changes pre-pandemic that set us up for a smoother transition to the virtual environment, while other changes necessitated by the pandemic allowed us to expand offerings and be more technology-forward in the months and years ahead. We had no silver bullet, but followed these three steps to not only survive, but thrive.

Enable a mobile workforce. Equipping your workforce to quickly adapt to a changing work environment by ensuring they have the tools to be as flexible as possible is essential. For many organizations, tools weren’t in place for a successful continuity of operations once the pandemic hit.

Although it’s hard to imagine now, many of our own members across the country had to go to big box stores or other retailers to purchase laptops so their staff could work from home. Fortunately, in 2018, NDAA implemented docking stations for the entire staff with easy-to-remove laptops to take home when needed. This simple, and comparatively inexpensive, update made it easier for staff to adapt quickly to remote work.

Expand access to resources and services. The shift to virtual offerings led to expanded availability for stakeholders of any profession to access critical tools and resources that help them perform their daily roles. For example, access to virtual training and resources cut costs for organizations and allowed them to keep supporting professional development opportunities for their staff.

While virtual offerings by no means replace the value of in-person learning, it does create more equitable access that was previously out of reach. Many of our traditional in-person offerings had double the attendance when we offered them virtually, which maximized the impact in the field, while minimizing the costs for everyone involved.

Open doors to new revenue streams. Organizations of all sizes saw a drop in revenue because of the pandemic. Technology acquisition and implementation can turn that around by opening the door to new revenue streams that may even surpass the total funding that previously came from areas like training and education.

One option is to implement a learning management system, a web-based technology or platform, that allows organizations to plan, execute, and evaluate a specific learning process. Using our LMS, NDAA was able to create an entire online curriculum complete with pre-reading, quizzes, student/attendee submissions for faculty review, course libraries, and more. While not new in the education space, it is a new way for NDAA to deliver content that incorporates on-demand training and resources that is more convenient for the consumer, but it also diversifies services and value to members. 

Like anything in life, technology has benefits and consequences. If designed and implemented thoughtfully and collaboratively, it can be one of an association’s greatest assets. Done incorrectly, it can be a costly investment with little to show for it other than some frustrated employees along the way. Let technology be your friend—it’s been invaluable to the survival and growth of our organization.

Nelson O. Bunn Jr.

Nelson O. Bunn, Jr. is executive director of the National District Attorneys Association in Arlington, Virginia.

Christine Mica, CAE

Christine Mica, CAE, is chief operating officer at the National District Attorneys Association in Arlington, Virginia.