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Planning to get through a crisis is one thing. But planning for business after a crisis is something else entirely. It's not yet possible to accurately project or assess the economic impact of COVID-19, yet it is safe to say this is like nothing that has hit the association industry before. At MSAE, we've run and re-run end-of-year financial estimates and cash projections so many times it's dizzying. I thought some of our lessons may be insightful to you as you work through what tomorrow looks like for your association.
Take a look at your business model from a 10,000-foot view.
It's not possible to capture all of the remarkable things association leaders have done in the past week. The news feed, my Twitter roll, TV... everywhere I look, I see the difficult decisions you are making and critical leadership you are providing to your members, your teams, and society at large. If you ever doubted it before, you can hardly do so now: your members need you.
In these past ten days, the needs of your members have driven you out of bed, pulled at your core, and challenged you to think more, do more, lead more. Their need pushed you to utilize the capacity of your self and your organizations in ways that weren't previously considered. "Can we...?" "What if we...? "How can we...?" Barriers that were once onerous and formalities that seemed important have been stripped away by the driving need of your members.
At a recent event, I was talking to a member about what's happening at MSAE and mentioned that I was looking forward to hearing what members had to say at the strategic planning retreat. She looked me dead in the eye and said, "What's different about this plan?" At the time, the question set me back a bit, but I knew she was right. MSAE had numerous strategic plans over the years, and, in many ways, the promises made to members in those plans went unfulfilled.
So, what is different this time?
This plan reflects a critical shift away from MSAE trying to be the sole source of association management expertise and towards MSAE as a connector of brilliant, passionate people who share their expertise. MSAE serves a lot of amazing people - the best thing we can do is get out of the way and be intentional about creating opportunities for connection, knowledge-sharing, and thought leadership to occur.
People seem to fall into two categories when it comes to Coronavirus: those who are prepping for doomsday and those who are frustrated by the hype. In the very least, concerns of a possible pandemic can motivate us as association professionals to take a serious look at our preparedness for a crisis.
Employee health - Sometimes, employees feel like they have to report to work even if they're not feeling well due to workload or a big project. Check-in on your association's illness policy to make sure it's flexible enough to allow for not only employee illness but also their need to provide care to children and loved ones who may need extra help. Communicate your expectations of employees to stay home if they are sick, practice proper handwashing, and be mindful of the personal space of others. Provide kleenex and hand sanitizer for employee workstations or request that employees bring in their own. Ask your cleaning service to be particularly attentive to public areas, water coolers, handrails, light switches, and doorknobs...
We're working on our bylaws. Some of you may think that is the equivalent of watching paint dry, but I beg to differ. It's been just over a year since the Board of Directors committed to working through MSAE's governing documents to set the association up for success. In that time, the Board has engaged in really thoughtful exploration and dialogue around what a vibrant and relevant MSAE looks like and, equally important, what governance structures need to be in place to support it.
Central to that exploration has been asking ourselves some critical questions...
One of the principle roles of associations is to advocate on behalf of their memberships before the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of government.