Sector and AuSAE News

  • 07 Apr 2020 7:51 AM | Brett Jeffery (Administrator)

    Taking your conference virtual doesn’t mean you have to lose the networking and interaction that occurs at your in-person events. Some ideas for building better online engagement. 

    As more associations convert their in-person conferences into virtual ones due to COVID-19, many are concerned about the ability to replicate the interaction, networking, engagement, and hallway conversations that are staples of face-to-face events.

    On an ASAE webcast earlier this week called “Tips and Tools for Creating and Awesome Virtual Event Experience,” the two presenters said it is definitely possible—you just need to be thoughtful and creative.

    Here are five ideas that 360 Live Media Director of Experience Design Beth Surmont, CMP, CAE, and Matchbox Virtual Cofounder and CEO Arianna Rehak shared during the webinar:

    Prepare your speakers. “It is extremely difficult to present to nobody,” Surmont said. “A lot of speakers feed off their audience. So, the first time you present to no one, it is very strange experience and it can throw people off.” That means associations need to talk to their presenters about what to expect—and also what they can do to deliver the best experience to attendees. If they’ll be on video, that includes having a clean background (“think newcasts,” she said), wearing clothing that is not distracting, and having front lighting.

    Get your audience ready too. “It’s very important to bring a specific level of intention to your virtual event to help your audience understand how they can have the best experience,” Surmont said. Tell them how to engage. “For example, submit your questions here. Raise your hand this way,” she said.

    Surmont  suggested thinking of engagement through four dimensions: physical, physiological, intellectual, and emotional. For the physical dimension, for example, consider where people are participating from and offer tips on how they can create the best environment for themselves: “Keep your door closed, or put a sign on your door so you won’t be disturbed,” Surmont said.

    Build a virtual environment that’s conducive to conversation. “While pre-recording sessions often gets a bad rap,” Rehak said, doing so allows speakers to engage actively in the conversation that is going on while attendees are watching their session. “The speakers love this by the way,” she said. “They are seeing their content come to life.”

    If you do go this route, Rehak recommends having chat animators who “create a positive conversational environment that signals to other that they can join,” she said. “That can be as simple as being the first to say, ‘Hey, really excited to be here and get started.’ That will set the right tone.”

    Host virtual roundtable discussions. “If you want attendees to dive into a specific topic, you may want to consider video chat breakout rooms,” Rehak said. “It’s really a way for folks to meaningfully connect with one another.”

    To make this happen, have a designated facilitator in each room so the conversation stays focused and gets people talking. If your association is unable to provide multiple facilitators, Rehak suggest supplying each room with a list of guiding questions. “You want to give them a sense of purpose around their interaction together,” she said.

    Offer a little bit of fun between sessions. Create moments between sessions that capture people’s attention. For example, you can provide additional content during breaks, such as meditation or a trivia game. Or if you have awards to present, consider playing short videos of the winners. “Really, the world is your oyster in terms of that you can offer attendees during these breaks,” Rehak said.

    What ideas have you implemented for introducing engagement and conversation during your virtual events? Please share in the comments.


    Samantha Whitehorne is editorial director of Associations Now.

  • 07 Apr 2020 7:48 AM | Brett Jeffery (Administrator)

    Even though much of the world is consumed with fighting the spread of coronavirus, membership renewals are still coming due. Experts offer advice on dealing with renewal notices, while being sensitive to today’s unique environment.

    Given the tough financial situation caused by coronavirus-related closures, associations are trying to figure out the best way to handle membership renewals coming due. Two consultants offered some advice, based on what they’re seeing at associations across the country.

    “The sending out of renewals and deciding on the types of communication becomes much more strategic,” said Scott Oser, president of Scott Oser Associates.

    With many associations hurting, it is more important than ever to convey to members the benefits your association is offering, so they want to renew. “Point them to resources your association has that are important to what they do,” Oser said.
    David Patt, CAE, president of Association Executive Management, said it’s important for members to feel like you’re still there for them. “You need to maintain people’s loyalty and their trust,” Patt said. “You don’t want people to say, ‘I really don’t need this.’ You have to come up with a way to make them still want you.”
    Oser recommends beefing up engagement communication. “It’s about letting them know what your resources are, how they’re benefiting from your membership, whatever benefit it is,” he said.

    While Oser encourages engagement, he thinks renewals should be sent out at the usual times, without extensions or changes, except in extreme circumstances. “Unless they are in an industry where it’s dire, and they feel like it’s critical that they have to do something very different in order for the industry or members to survive, then they should continue to communicate with their members about renewing,” Oser said. “From what I’ve seen, associations that continue to send out renewals are still getting renewals.”
    Patt takes the broader perspective that many industries have been hit by the virus. He’s seen blanket membership extensions for a few months. If an association wants to offer help but can’t afford a blanket extension, he recommends allowing members to self-select. “You can say something like, ‘You may have been hurt financially by the current crisis. So have we. If you are able, please renew your dues now. We’ll wait if you can’t,’” Patt said. “It shows people you understand, and it says to people who can afford to pay, don’t wait.”

    Oser said he’s seen some associations emphasize how hard COVID-19 has been on the association’s finances. He doesn’t recommend that. “It’s not about the association,” Oser said. “Flip the script, so it’s about the members. If you list nine ways the association can help the member and the 10th is, ‘By the way, every dollar you give us goes to supporting the industry,’ fine. Now is not the time to say, ‘We, as an association, need your help.’ Members are struggling as much or more.”

    Patt noted associations that renew everyone at one time may be facing tougher problems than those who renew on a rolling basis. “If everyone comes due April 1, you’re counting on a big chunk of revenue,” he said. Patt suggested those associations convert members to a rolling renewal.
    Both Patt and Oser agree the tone in renewal requests should be reflective of the current situation. “Traditional marketing says to create immediate urgency,” Oser said. “If you’re expiring tomorrow, I’m going to tell you, ‘I’m cutting off benefits tomorrow.’ I wouldn’t recommend people do that now.”


    Rasheeda Childress is an associate editor at Associations Now. She covers money and business. Email her with story ideas or news tip

  • 07 Apr 2020 7:02 AM | Brett Jeffery (Administrator)

    In 2016, the CANARIE team took a leap and made the decision to host our Annual General Meeting (AGM) via video conference. While the decision was easy, the implementation of the decision required a tremendous team effort, which in the end, resulted in a successful AGM. We measured success in three ways:

    • an increase in members attending the AGM (as compared to our face-to-face AGMs);
    • a seamless experience for member participants; and
    • positive feedback from our post-AGM questionnaire.


    Given that many of our partner and stakeholder organizations must also hold AGMs, we thought we’d share what we learned more broadly, so…

    Here’s what you need to know!

    First, you need to check that your organization’s bylaws and/or governing legislation allow for a virtual AGM. Once that’s verified, you’re on your way!

    All our planning for the virtual AGM was focussed on ensuring that the members’ experience was a productive and positive one. That meant we had to think of every element of the meeting from the members’ perspective.

    That meant working through:

    What members want to see on their desktop/laptop:

    • Everything from the layout of the presentation slides, to the backdrop of the speakers (we had CANARIE banners behind them), to the clothing of the speakers (no large checks or stripes, which are distracting on screen) need to be evaluated, and tested, before the big day.

    What members will need to know:

    • We provided abundant and detailed communications to members from the first notice of the meeting, sent out one month before the scheduled AGM. We placed the link to the video conference prominently on all materials, provided clear instructions with screenshots, and provided links to technical help on the day of the meeting. We sent calendar invites to ensure that members had a reminder in their calendars. We recommend posting the notice and meeting materials (like the minutes from the previous year’s AGM and the financial statements) on a page on your website. Even with all this information provided in advance, we reviewed all the procedures again at the beginning of the meeting itself.

    How members will want to interact with speakers:

    • We had all mics muted centrally but it was easy for individual members to unmute their mics and ask a question. Even with 50 participants on the call, this worked extremely well.

    How members will vote:

    • We realized that having every member on the call indicate “yay” for each motion, requiring a vote would be both time-consuming and difficult to manage. We chose to go with a different voting protocol, where only members wishing to vote “nay” were asked to vote. We had a detailed list of who was on the call and who held proxies, so we could easily calculate the results of the vote on any given motion. This worked well, and member feedback suggested they found this method to be appropriate.

    How to make the technology seamless:

    • This, predictably, was what kept team members awake through the night. Would the system crash? What if the audio went kaflooey? What if there was a power outage? What if there was a fire alarm? Believe me, we thought of every natural and unnatural disaster that could disrupt the meeting and had a contingency plan in place for most. And since the technology platform was the key to the success of the meeting, it took up the majority of our planning and preparation time.


    Thinking Through the Technology

    We tested a number of technology platforms before deciding that video conference technology (we used Zoom), as opposed to a webinar technology or other option, was the best choice for us. We had significant experience with this platform, having used it for almost two years. That is not to say that we didn’t go through plenty of rehearsals with the technology – we did – and learned a few lessons along the way.

    Technology Platform

    • Ensure your technology platform will support the expected number of users.
    • We had a requirement to have both French and English slides, so we used the app PowerShow to achieve this.
    • Remember to disable annotation, and lock “screen share” mode.
    • If you will be recording the AGM, remember to notify all participants that you will be doing so, and deploy the recording function locally.
    • Configure the meeting to mute all participants upon entry (but allow participants to unmute themselves). This will reduce or remove all background noise at the beginning of the meeting.
    • Depending upon the system that you use, some members dialing in by telephone must be manually muted – check how this will work with the system you choose.
    • Be sure to have back-up laptops available (and spare batteries for remotes etc. just to be safe).
    • If you’re like us and wanted to over-prepare, ensure you have access to a redundant network connection.
    • We also enabled the chat function in Zoom so that members could ask questions via that method if they wished.

    Audio and Video

    • To prevent audio feedback, ensure speakers within the broadcast room are NOT connected to the video conference technology.
    • Test sound one hour before the meeting with external test users.
    • Test video one hour before meeting with external test users.
    • To test the load on the system, have a large number of users join the meeting with audio and video during test periods.
    • During test periods, run through the entire script, fine tuning as needed.

    Room Setup

    • We had two monitors for presenters: one so that they could see their presentation as members were seeing it, and another so that they could see the chat activity and number of members attending.
    • We conducted the AGM in a room that led to our office reception area; to avoid distractions, we locked the front door and asked staff to use another door.
    • We positioned a CANARIE banner behind the speakers as a backdrop – but you will want to check the view of speakers to account for glare or other visual distractions.

    Contingency Planning

    • Fire alarm: check with your building to ensure there are no fire drills scheduled.
    • Set up alternative conference equipment and/or room as failover protection.
    • Set up back-up host and presentations laptops.
    • Test all contingency plans!
    • Verify connectivity to back-up network connection.
    • Ensure all presenters are aware of contingencies and what they should do in the event of a failure.
    • Make a plan to determine what you will do if you do not achieve quorum, or if members drop off during the call.

    Support Planning

    • Ensure that you have staff available to support members who may be having technology difficulties, and train those staff on how to respond to members (we learned this lesson during this go around) and how to contact the video conference moderators during the meeting.
    • Provide support contact information to all members as part of meeting materials.
    • Ensure the support phone is staffed one hour before the meeting and throughout the meeting.

    Once you’ve worked through all of these issues, you will want to do one thing over and over and over again.


    Then rehearse again.

    Then rehearse again.

    We conducted about 20 practice runs of the AGM in the run-up to the meeting. There is no option here – the only way to feel confident that your virtual AGM will run smoothly is to have the experience of your practice AGM run smoothly. And that definitely takes practice.

    During the Meeting

    Meeting content is definitely your area of expertise. At CANARIE, we use a very detailed scenario document, which clearly outlines all speaking parts, and provides notes for presenters (e.g. “look at screen”). To ensure things didn’t get too rushed close to the meeting date, we had all the presentation decks prepared and approved well in advance of the meeting.


    Given all the time and effort that was spent preparing for our first virtual AGM, we wanted to ensure we set aside some time to debrief with the team immediately after the meeting. That gave us the opportunity to review what went well, what could be improved, and what may have gone wrong. Then we went away and documented it all, so that when next year’s AGM rolls around we have a detailed process document to rely on.

    We also prepared a brief survey for members who participated, to gain rapid feedback on their experience of the meeting.

    Happily, our virtual AGM was a success. Remember that our criteria for success were:

    An increase in member participants

    • Yes! 124% increase over 2015.

    A seamless experience for member participants

    • It was seamless for 50 participants (which included our moderators and speakers), but not so much for the last two members who tried to join the meeting. We realized that our VC system would only accommodate 50 meeting participants (d’oh!). We won’t make that mistake again. It now accommodates 100.

    Positive feedback from our post-AGM questionnaire

    • This was overwhelmingly positive, as members voiced their thanks at being able to participate without traveling and their congratulations on a well-organized and presented AGM.

    Then, we celebrated and made sure that the team got well-deserved kudos (and finally got a good night’s sleep)!

    on October 31, 2016 by: Nancy Carter, Chief Financial Officer

  • 02 Apr 2020 5:50 AM | Brett Jeffery (Administrator)

    The AuSAE team are committed to providing the support, resources and information our members and community need during this time. So today we are launching the AuSAE Webinar Series – Strengthening Associations.

    We hope this series will assist you to re-focus on what impact the current situation has had on your Association, and the critical things you can do to see this through.

    Over the next three months AuSAE will carefully curate relevant content to help your Association plan, progress, reflect and move forward. We will be tackling topics such as:

    • Redefining Strategy During Change
    • Financial Distress Indicators
    • Association Communications – membership renewal marketing during a crisis
    • Culture – moving forward and into the future – what this means for your team
    • Membership Redefined
    • Pivoting to Virtual Events

    To kick off our AuSAE Webinar Series we will be joined by Matt Johns, Managing Director, Focus Strategy discussing “Redefining Strategy During Change”. Over a two-part webinar series, taking place Monday 6 April and Tuesday 7 April, Matt will guide you through how to think strategically in these challenging times and help you gain clarity on the strategic problem you are now solving.

    By the end of these webinars, you should have a clear process to follow; the understanding to make great strategic decisions and the confidence to successfully lead your organisation through the next 12 months. 

    To celebrate the launch of the AuSAE Webinar Series – Strengthening Associations – we are offering next weeks webinar events (6th, 7th and 8th April) complimentary for our community.

    After next week this webinar series will continue to be free for AuSAE members.

    Non-members will have the opportunity to pay as you go for each webinar ($29). Or plan for your learning journey by signing up to our Webinar Subscription Pass – this gives you an all access pass to every webinar for the full year plus our previous on demand webinars ($99). To purchase your Webinar Subscription Pass please click here.

    To register for our first webinars (6th and 7th April) “Redefining Strategy During Change” with Matt Johns please click here.

    To register for our webinar on the 8th April, “Protecting your Organisation during COVID-19” with Vera Visevic please click here.

    We look forward to seeing you online and continuing to bring you relevant content that your association needs now.

  • 31 Mar 2020 3:08 PM | Kerrie Green (Administrator)

    AuSAE Member Update from CEO, Toni Brearley

    I trust you have kept safe, well and in good spirits over the past week.  I have to admit I have been overwhelmed (in a good way) with the true “connectedness” of the AuSAE community through the many phone calls and video meetings I have had with the AuSAE team, members, staff and our valued network of partners and stakeholders.  I am privileged to work among such a kind and caring community who are working day and in many cases well into to the night to support their members and their livelihoods through these extraordinary times.

    In light of the Prime Minister’s third economic support package announcement yesterday, we have outlined below what this means for you and your members.

    COVID-19 JobKeeper Payment

    Yesterday the Australian Federal Government delivered a historic wage subsidy to the value of $130 billion, impacting around 6 million workers. The payment will ensure eligible employers (including not-for-profits) and employees stay connected while some businesses move into hibernation.

    • This subsidy will see workers receive a flat payment of $1,500 per fortnight through their employer, before tax.
    • The payment will be paid to employers, for up to six months, for each eligible employee that was on their books on 1 March 2020 and is retained or continues to be engaged by that employer.
    • Where a business has stood down employees since 1 March, the payment will help them maintain connection with their employees.
    • Eligible employers will be those with annual turnover of less than $1 billion who self-assess that have a reduction in revenue of 30% or more, since 1 March 2020 over a minimum one-month period.
    • Eligible employers include businesses structured through companies, partnerships, trusts and sole traders. Not for profit entities, including charities, will also be eligible.
    • The program will commence today, 30 March 2020, with the first payments to be received by eligible businesses in the first week of May as monthly arrears from the ATO.
    • To register your interest visit the ATO website here:

    To read more about yesterday’s announcement please click here:

    Comprehensive fact sheets from Treasury can be found here:

    We hope the recent announcements and support packages over the last week have been able to provide you and your members with some certainty and parameters for decision making whilst we navigate these unchartered waters.  

    AuSAE have curated a collection of resources including the latest government announcements on our website which can be found here

    Please don’t forget that we are here for you, we understand first hand how this is affecting your organisation and your members and we will continue to provide you - our members with the information, resources and support you need to do your jobs and move your associations forward.  

    AuSAE Support Services

    AuSAE Members Virtual Coffee Catch Up – 3 April

    We are continuing our weekly member virtual coffee catch ups to provide a platform for our members to connect, share and ask questions of each other in an informal virtual environment as we navigate our changing landscape.

    In this week’s member virtual coffee catch up, we will be joined by AuSAE’s Alliance Partner, Wes O'Donnell, National Workplace Relations & Advisory Manager, FCB Group who will provide support and guidance on workplace relations topics and questions that you might be facing in these uncertain times. If you have any specific questions you would like answered please email me directly and I will send this onto FCB to answer during the discussion. To register for this week’s catch up please click here.

    Webinar Event, Protecting your Organisation during COVID-19 – 8 April

    Join AuSAE online for our webinar event with Vera Visevic, Partner, Mills Oakley Lawyers. Vera will discuss:

    • Covid-19 as a force majeure;
    • The duties of directors:
      • Particular focus on the duty to not trade while insolvent;
      • The importance of longer-term strategy;
    • Issues relating to holding conferences and AGMs during government restrictions;
    • Government incentives and how your organisation can access them; and
    • Other issues your organisation should consider, including employment and contract law.

    To register for this webinar please click here.   All AuSAE webinars and complimentary for members.

    As always please email or call me on the details below if we can be of any assistance or just an ear to listen.

    Take care and stay safe


    Toni Brearley
    Chief Executive Officer
    Australasian Society of Association Executives

    M +61 458 000 155   W

  • 31 Mar 2020 9:40 AM | Brett Jeffery (Administrator)

    What to do and what to avoid when it comes to connecting with your audience during the current public health crisis.

    Have you been flooded with emails from what feels like every place you’ve ever bought a cookie?

    To be sure, some of the correspondence is welcome and quite helpful. It’s your favorite Italian restaurant letting you know they remain open for takeout and delivery or the travel company sending you information on how to easily cancel your upcoming trip to Spain.

    If your product or services are affected by COVID-19, then your customers would probably appreciate an email update, according to Campaign Monitor.

    The somewhat less helpful is what Fast Company called the “Brand Friend”—“This is where brands who have built a direct line of communication with customers feel obligated to at least acknowledge the situation, even if it’s just to say hi with a ‘We’re all in this together’ drum-circle vibe.”

    The third category are the ones marketing experts say can easily alienate recipients: emails that don’t impart anything of value, are basically a rehash of what folks already know about the pandemic, and feel almost like a cheap attempt at driving engagement.

    “Be helpful, relevant, informative, constructively distracting, or authentically compassionate,” Ryan Ku, head of strategy and brand innovation at Eleven, said in Fast Company.

    “Recipients are hungry for something new,” says Jay Schwedelson, president and CEO of Worldata, according to MediaPost.

    Another thing to keep in mind at this time? Cancel any campaigns that simply don’t make sense given current government recommendations about social distancing and travel. An example of why this matters: Spirit Airlines sent out the prescheduled email “Never A Better Time To Fly” right as COVID-19 was upgraded to a pandemic.

    So, what should you be doing? Offer resources for your community, like free livestream yoga or meditation classes, or organize food dropoffs to the people who cannot leave their homes.

    Above all, be generous. “That’s what people will remember when this is over,” Reuben Turner, co-founder of the Good Agency, told The Drum.

    SARA CUTCLIFFE - Sara Cutcliffe is a longtime editor and writer who often covers health and consumer topics. 

  • 31 Mar 2020 9:14 AM | Brett Jeffery (Administrator)

    As virtual meetings become the new norm, more associations will need to Zoom strategic discussions. Here’s how to make that process effective.

    The past few weeks have given many of us a crash course in teleconferencing. We’ve set up Zoom meetings, watched our colleagues’ cats and children stray across our feeds, and most likely discovered that short virtual meetings can be effective for small groups in your office.

    But what about more complicated, days-long strategic conversations with a far-flung board? As travel restrictions and social distancing guidelines remain in place, more associations will have to conduct their board meetings virtually. And getting that right will require more of organizations than making sure everybody has a Zoom link.

    You have to be paying attention to who has spoken, who is engaged, and who hasn’t spoken.

    Earlier this month, association leadership consultant Lowell Aplebaum, CAE, helped coordinate a day-and-a-half leadership retreat for the board of the Construction Specifications Institute (CSI). The rapidly changing situation around the coronavirus meant that some were able to travel to Chicago for the meeting, while some were stuck at home. It was, accidentally, a hybrid board event. Aplebaum shared a few of his insights about the experience on LinkedIn, and I wanted to hear more about what worked during the event and what challenges strategy sessions still face.

    The bottom line is that the system can work: “I’m not sure there’ll be a run to embrace all virtual all the time, but I think there’ll be more latitude toward hybrid approaches,” he says. “We’ve gained experience enough in this way of functioning digitally that we can blend in-person with virtual in meaningful ways.”

    Aplebaum offers a few tips for how to make the most of a virtual or hybrid board meeting:

    The conversation leader needs to be free to lead. Whether it’s the board chair or the CEO directing the conversation, that person should not be expected to be the ad hoc IT staffer in addition to moderating conversations. Assign a person to handle the technical issues. “In a digital environment it’s nearly impossible to be both a facilitator and contributor,” he says. “You need a back-end person to take care of logistics and knowledge capture.”

    Recognize that virtual conversations aren’t introvert-friendly. A board member who is cautious about engaging during in-person meetings may feel all the more so in a virtual environment. A mass of little video boxes can be intimidating, and as Aplebaum points out, the virtual environment repels quiet—people will talk to fill the space. So be intentional about gathering input. “You have to be paying attention to who has spoken, who is engaged, who hasn’t spoken,” he says. “It’s harder for there to be moments to pause and process. A facilitator has to be really intentional about inviting voices you haven’t heard.”

    Kill oral subcommittee report-outs. Kill them dead. Extended chatter from committee chairs about finance, events, membership, and so on can be boring on a good day. In a virtual environment those reports can feel like sitting through the most tedious, slow-moving art film you can imagine. “Do you really want every group reporting out for five minutes? That’s an hour of just sitting and passively listening except for your five minutes from your group,” Aplebaum says. “Take advantage of a digital platform to have the groups report out through digital means. During a break, have the facilitator go through it and then come back to the group with overarching themes that emerged from all the groups.”

    Icebreakers and opportunities to connect still matter. Overall, Aplebaum says, the CSI retreat was a success: “We heard that every person felt that they were engaged and invited and there was space for their voice.” But the experience showed that even the best-planned virtual meeting will leave some people craving opportunities for social connection. Setting up a virtual “happy hour” where people can connect over meals can help. So can group activities that encourage people to share something personal. After all, these days people have their personal lives near at hand.

    “One thing that I would do next time is have everyone find their beverage and then pick one picture on their computer or phone that shows me something about your life,” he says. “Or a physical object in your home. Something that tells the story of who you are, that lends itself to personal narrative. That can build cohesion in the group.”

    Whether it’s leading virtual meetings, managing staff, or coordinating with stakeholders, I want to hear how you’re putting your leadership skills to use during COVID-19. If you have a story to share, please drop me a line at

    MARK ATHITAKIS - Mark Athitakis, a contributing editor for Associations Now, has written on nonprofits, the arts, and leadership for a variety of publications.

  • 31 Mar 2020 9:10 AM | Brett Jeffery (Administrator)

    nonprofit board leadership

    If there was ever a call to action for board members, this is it. Your staff needs you. Your beneficiaries need you. Your community needs you. Whether you’re a new board member or on your third term, it’s time to lead and act.

    And I’m not just talking about sitting at a table and voting, I’m talking about rolling up your sleeves, eagerly speaking up and saying, “What can we do to help?” and “What can I do to help?” This is the time for effective nonprofit board leadership. Your board should set aside busy schedules and egos to become the most active, selfless, and engaged it’s ever been, transforming itself into a “do something,” “get it done,” “you can count on me” board.

    Here’s a checklist of ways your nonprofit board can show leadership during these unsettling times:

    1. Include your staff. No one knows your programming and the intricacies of your organization better than your staff. When you hold your “crisis” meetings, include the executive director and key staff, and encourage them to share and discuss their needs and those of the organization. The last thing your anxious staff needs to feel right now is that the board is making unilateral decisions without their input. Staff members want to know you’re supporting them, not controlling them. Think inclusion and empowerment, not exclusion.

    2. Pay your staff. The nerves of staff are fragile. Many are very scared. Many young staff members live paycheck to paycheck, have insufficient savings, and have little experience with traumatic events. Older staff worry about their children, spouse layoffs, mortgage payments, and their shriveling 401k’s. Everyone seems worried about the health of their parents and grandparents. For your staff to adequately care for the needs of your beneficiaries, they need to feel secure— financially secure. This is the time to be generous at all costs. Give paid time off. Pay for childcare. Extend the number of paid sick days. Help pay bills and mortgages. Talk with your major funders, the bank, or other board leaders to raise emergency funds or provide zero-interest loans. These funds can also help pay business expenses, program expenses, and utility bills. It’s the board’s responsibility to ensure the financial sustainability of the organization. This is no longer a limp line in your Roles and Responsibilities document, it’s reality. Remove the burden from your staff. Rally together and find the money . . . it’s your job.

    3. Ensure workplace safety. Right alongside your organization’s financial needs are their safety needs. If you’re an advocacy organization, it may be easy for staff to work from home. However, if your nonprofit is a food bank, your staff is probably overwhelmed with demand right now and feel obligated to work. Effective nonprofit board leadership means you’ll protect your staff members’ health in times of crisis. Create a task force to find and buy whatever is necessary to protect your staff and sanitize their workplace. This is all pretty obvious by now and there are hundreds of websites outlining how to sterilize a workplace environment. Your job? . . . help make it happen.

    4. Provide crises and trauma counseling services. In times of crises and trauma, people often lose their sense of place and direction. You can assume many staff and volunteers are feeling quite scared and anxious, even if they won’t openly admit it. Some are traumatized by watching the news, experiencing sleepless nights, concerned about grocery scarcity, fearful of catching the virus, or worried that a loved one might die. Allocate funds to pay for crisis and trauma counseling for staff and family members. We’re talking about people’s psychological health here, and it’s just as important as investing your staff’s physical health. Find some top-notch clinicians in your area and let staff know they and their families can access these services. This is also an important time to make your staff feel valued and appreciated. Have board members do some little, unexpected things for staff: Make phone calls expressing appreciation, hand out gift certificates for take-out meals, or write handwritten appreciation cards. Brainstorm other ideas that would warm the hearts of staff and make them smile . . . something we all need more of right now.

    5. Postpone events and inform donors. If you were planning to have your annual gala this spring, or any fundraising event, postpone it. Even if the virus curve flattens, people may still be leery of crowded venues. Push your event to late summer or fall. The worst thing you can do right now is cancel your event and then scramble to try to hold it online. From my experience, these quick-fix solutions often look cheesy and the responses are typically small. Remember, many people are worried about their finances. Some have lost 10 to 20 percent of the wealth they had in stocks. Instead of putting together a haphazard online event, make specific appeals to specific donor segments for specific needs you have. I’ve had huge success creating sponsorship lists and wish lists of items I needed funded. Work with your executive director to contact donors and keep them informed. For detailed information on fundraising and donor relations, read this article I recently wrote: COVID-19 Fundraising and Donor Relations Tactics.

    6. Regularly inform the community. People who support your mission want to know what’s happening at the organization during these trying times. Create talking points and FAQ’s for board members to share in the community and on social media. Work with staff to write super short and regular updates about what’s happening with staff, programs, beneficiaries, operations, and events. I’d suggest a daily brief no longer than one or two paragraphs. Include local media on your recipient list because they might want to write an article based on what you sent them. Your board chair and executive director should be the points of contact with the media.

    7. Meet regularly. We’re all chasing a moving target. News about the virus and its impact on families and businesses changes daily. Therefore, have regular conference calls until things settle down (daily if you must). Avoid getting bogged down in details. Discuss topics of concern, create a prioritized ToDo list, assign work, do the work, share the status of the work, and then start the process over. What’s most important right now for nonprofit board leadership is to lead and act in a collegial fashion with your staff. The virus has affected everyone. Once it passes, we might just find a few strands of silver lining in all this as boards and staff learn to work together to overcome unexpected challenges as they work passionately to propel their missions.

    What are your board members doing to help right now? Let me know in the comments below!

    By Tom Iselin |March 25th, 2020 |COVID-19 / CoronavirusNonprofit Boards

  • 27 Mar 2020 6:27 AM | Brett Jeffery (Administrator)

    In the association community, talk of a recession had crept up a few times in the past year. Now, it’s at the top of the agenda. Many industries, including associations, are already experiencing recession-like conditions as revenue streams are cut short by cancellations or government mandates. How can your association help members cope with the economic impact of COVID-19?

    Steps for helping members cope with the economic impact of COVID-19

    Assess the damage

    This economic downturn could mean the end to many businesses. Ask members about their biggest challenges and needs right now, and ways you can help. Email them a survey and post it as well in your online community and on your website.

    In last week's post on the new set of member needs due to COVID-19, we also suggested using virtual town halls and smaller virtual meetups to ask members about the impact of COVID-19 and their need for resources. Meet online with survey respondents to brainstorm ideas for leveraging the collective power of your association to help your industry or profession.

    Provide recession-focused information and education

    Triage immediate challenges and focus on the ones that are do-or-die for members. For example, members need to figure out how to pay bills in the face of revenue loss. Host virtual panels with members whose businesses survived the 2008 recession and have advice to share.

    Your members may benefit from other topics, including.

    •    Leveraging online options to keep in touch with their market
    •    Understanding the requirements of federal and/or state COVID-19 response legislation
    •    Marketing during a recession
    •    Bringing their banker to the table
    •    Exploring the pros and cons of bankruptcy

    In the ASAE Collaborate forum, an executive from the Biotechnology Innovation Organization described their Coronavirus Business Resource Center. The resource center provides remote working guidance as well as other critical information. She said they’re collecting response plans to post on the website as a set of models and samples. They’re also “launching a page with information on COVID-19 related services that member companies are providing (cleaning services, webinars from law firms, etc.).”

    Take a look at these examples of COVID-19 resource pages:

    •    RIMS
    •    ISACA
    •    CUPA-HR
    •    Industrial Designers Society of America

    Consider partnering with an allied or industry-related organization. What can you do better together by splitting up the work? If your memberships can benefit from the same type of information, then consider pooling resources.

    help members cope with the economic impact of COVID-19

    Help members deal with tough times

    Business data collection. Become indispensable by doing for your members what they can’t do on their own. Collect data that will help your association lobby for financial and/or regulatory relief for your industry.

    On ASAE Collaborate, an executive from the International Association of Tour Directors and Guides said, “We've considered a survey that would track lost work for our members in the hopes this might highlight the impact and better support funding for individuals.”

    Connection and community. In last week’s post, we emphasized the increasing member need for connection and community. Promote the benefits of participating in your online community and virtual events. Even better, give members the opportunity to see each other’s faces in virtual meetups hosted on web-conferencing platforms.

    Career resources. With layoffs in the future for many, help members prepare for the next step in their career. Ramp up job board promotions to both employers and members. Include resources on your career site that will help members find a job, for example, resume and job interviewing tips.

    Credentials. Remind members about the market value of having a credential beside their name. Design learning pathways that can help members earn certificates or digital badges.

    Membership dues. Consider offering a transitional membership level for members who find themselves unemployed or unable to afford dues. You might also consider extended grace periods or payment plans.

    It might be a good time to rethink your traditional membership tiers. You could offer a less expensive digital membership, maybe even one that includes a limited number of e-learning credits. These options could help members get back on their feet so they’re able to repay you with a full membership later.

    Another option is hybrid memberships. Give companies the option of paying for one organizational membership instead of relying on individuals to make their case for membership to their employer. However, make sure your AMS can handle these types of membership structures.

    Develop talking points that help different member segments make a case for professional development and/or membership.

    Put e-learning front and center

    Education is never more needed than in times of change. Members must deal with new challenges alongside the impact of a recession. If they’re a victim of layoffs or closures, they must prepare themselves for the next step in their career.

    Take advantage of this opportunity to introduce your members to online learning—a sustainable source of education for them and revenue for you. If you had to cancel an in-person event, shift those resources into online learning. Repurpose the content for webinarspodcasts, or online courses.

    E-learning expands your audience for education. It gives you something to offer people who could never take time off to travel to events or couldn’t afford travel expenses—a large percentage of your membership and market.

    A recent Collaborate discussion provided anecdotal and evidence-based data on the low percentage of members who attend annual meetings. Discussion participants from national associations said only 16 to 27% of their members attended their annual event. A survey of 12 state society of association executives (SAEs) found that only 41.5% of their members attended their annual event, despite not having to travel far.

    help members cope with the economic impact of COVID-19

    Pricing considerations during a recession

    Here’s the conundrum: everything you want to do to help members has a cost in staff time or a budget for new technology. But, if you’ve had to cancel an event, you’ve seen your revenue plummet too.  

    You need to keep earning revenue from education, no matter the delivery format. Yet, your members’ ability to pay depends upon how badly their industry has been affected by COVID-19.

    What are your options?

    •    Split the costs (and revenue) by partnering with another organization.

    •    Ask sponsors to underwrite program expenses. Consider giving them an opportunity to participate in the design or delivery of the program.

    •    Provide sponsored scholarships to members.

    •    Offer three pricing tiers: free for members in hardship, a suggested member price, and a non-member price.

    •    Barter: members can earn promo codes by volunteering on specific tasks that would otherwise be done by staff.

    Tips for marketing online learning during a recession

    Tweak your marketing messages. Sell education as a form of career insurance. Education increases a member’s value to their employer. If they lose their job, their pursuit of professional development demonstrates their commitment to growth and better positions them in the talent marketplace.

    In many professions, credentials result in higher pay. Do you have industry research to support that?

    You could use a variant of the old networking trope… this is where the winners hang out. In tough times, successful people and businesses seek opportunities as well as the support and resources they need.

    In program descriptions, describe the value learners will receive. Highlight the impact the program will make on their business, career, and job.

    Although what we’re experiencing now is nothing like business as usual, in a sense, business must still go on as usual. Remind members that your association never stops working on their behalf—whether it’s lobbying, providing information, hosting discussions, and/or educating. No matter what’s going on, you continue to fulfill your mission and membership promise to them.


  • 26 Mar 2020 5:56 AM | Brett Jeffery (Administrator)

    It’s time to act like it.

    Several weeks ago, when it was first becoming apparent to association executives (and everyone else) that the coronavirus pandemic was, in fact, going to be quite serious, most of the industry discussion seemed to revolve around “Do we REALLY have to cancel our conference? What about our revenue!”


    Yes, it was appalling.

    I do get it – many associations derive 30-50% of their annual revenue from their conference or trade show, and – at least at that time – hotels and convention centers were being utterly intransigent about negotiating. (I’m guessing they’re going to have to change their tunes. I’m also guessing a lot of lawyers are going to be quite busy litigating this for some time.)

    Fortunately, we’ve all regained our senses, and conversation has shifted to various incarnations of: How can we do right by our members and broader community right now?

    There’s no one answer that’s going to work for every association.

    Basically everyone is cancelling or postponing any big events for at least the next several months. Some are refunding reg fees across the board, while others, looking to move events to the summer or fall, are holding onto those fees for the moment, while reassuring registrants that cancellation and refund rules will be significantly relaxed.

    Many associations are standing up COVID-19 discussion groups in their online communities and making them available to the entire profession or industry, regardless of their usual practices for non-member access.

    Association execs are also considering options for dues renewals, granting extensions by request, pausing renewal campaigns, or even extending everyone automatically across the board.

    Staff teams are vetting ways they can support local chapters that are heavily dependent on in-person events and run by small – or no paid – staff.

    One thing that seems really important to me is: Think through how the pandemic is affecting your particular profession or industry, and respond accordingly.

    If your association serves any segment of the hospitality industry, this is a MASSIVE crisis. You are going to have to take drastic steps to try to help keep your industry and association afloat. That may mean suspending dues entirely for some significant period of time, drastically changing – or curtailing – the services you offer as a result, and almost definitely dipping into your reserves.

    If your association serves a profession or industry that’s not being as significantly impacted, you may want to look to what you did to weather the September 11 terrorist attacks or the 2007-2008 Great Recession for clues as to what you should do now.

    Some industries that are being heavily impacted are not being heavily financially impacted. Grocery stores, for instance, are doing great financially, but they are in crisis related to supply chain and staffing. Medical personnel are absolutely still hard at work and getting paid, but they are dealing with significant personal and professional stress related to fears of being overwhelmed with patients, of the need to quarantine from their families at home, and of falling ill themselves. University faculty are already facing the fact that their students are not returning this term, and K-12 teachers may be facing that in the near future. They have to adapt – quickly – to remote instruction and assessment.

    Everyone is dealing with significantly disrupted day-to-day life, and uncertainty about how long it’s going to last.

    Many states and localities are moving quickly to pass emergency relief legislation. The federal government will get there eventually. Your members may need guidance about what’s available to them and how to get it.

    How can you repurpose staff – membership, meetings, GR, IT, professional development – to help your community with their REAL challenges right now?

    If you have some members who are willing and able to get on the phone with you and have frank conversations about the pressures and worries they’re facing at the moment, CALL THEM. Right now. And then bring your team together to do their best thinking about how your association can pivot to respond to those needs, which may be VERY different from what you all normally do and provide. Your association is their community. You can help them.

    Now is the time when we in the association world MUST look at the world from our members’ perspective, think carefully and empathetically about what they need from us, and respond accordingly.

    Written by: Elizabeth Weaver Engel, M.A., CAE

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