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IT is tough enough to manage an association in normal times, balancing limited resources with varying members’ needs. But it is toughest when you’re operating in a pandemic that is lingering, ever-evolving and with many uncertainties. It’s definitely the worst nightmare that an association executive could ever have!
In my 29 years leading an international association, this is the first time that I’ve encountered this kind of devastation and disruption in all aspects of our organization. True, there have been ups and downs year in, year out, but, most often, they are short term and manageable. So when this tsunami of a crisis came, I was having blank stares all the time, trying to make sense of the unfolding developments. These episodes later became sleepless nights.
As an association CEO, I have huge responsibilities—keeping the association afloat, ascertaining continuing payroll for the staff and planning for a turnaround—all happening at the same time. I started to think hard and fast, even “going up to the clouds” for answers. When I finally came back to Earth, I had devised a pathway that hopefully could work. The first step was to talk (virtually) to the staff and laid out to them the following 4 “Ps”:
Pivot to digital
While this has been ongoing before the pandemic, we’re still at the beginning stage, both internally (operations) and externally
Operationally, we have been using a cloud-based platform for membership and events management. We also took an inventory of our unique content with the intent of converting this into e-learning and certification programs.
For communication, we use other platforms for our e-newsletters, emails, surveys and marketing efforts.
Partner to hit the ground running
Having not much experience on webinars and podcasts, we quickly partnered with members and other same-purposed organizations and networks that are experienced and advanced in these areas. This gave us a fast track to offer virtual events to our members in a short time while we are building our own capability.
Pump-prime staff for up-skilling
Providing staff with additional skills, alongside our move to digitalization, is equally essential. Noting the top ten skills for the future (according to the World Economic Forum), our goal is to undertake training sessions on creativity, critical thinking, and cognitive flexibility—disciplines that require an open mind and passionate determination to succeed in this “new normal” environment.
Plan for a turnaround
This is the hardest part to do and it’s still evolving. To me, it’s back to basics. In my column of August 10, 2016, Are Associations Headed for Extinction?, I wrote about the ‘3Rs’ we learned in grade school—reading, (w)riting and (ar)rithmetic—and which I’ve adapted in association management as relevance, relationships and resources.
Relevance is about sticking with your purpose and unique value proposition. Relationship is building and nurturing engagement with your members and beyond. Resources (human and financial) are about pursuing new opportunities and maximizing revenues.
These will be the bases of my turnaround plan. It sounds easy but it’s tough!
The column contributor, Peralta, is concurrently the secretary-general of the Association of Development Financing Institutions in Asia and the Pacific and the Founder & CEO of the Philippine Council of Associations and Association Executives. PCAAE is holding the Associations Summit 8 on November 25 and 26, 2020 at the Philippine International Convention Center, which is expected to draw over 200 association professionals here and abroad. The two-day event is supported by Adfiap, the Tourism Promotions Board, and the PICC. E-mail email@example.com for more details on AS8.