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Editor's note: This is the second part of a five-part industry assessment on the effects of COVID-19 on associations. Find the first part here.

As the pandemic’s impacts continue to appear around the world, innovation and the ability to fail are more important than ever. For associations, leaders have the unique ability to drive innovation. But they also have a responsibility to use these resources to pilot advancements in their respective industries. While it’s a difficult moment for all leaders, it’s also a great time to change.

“This is part of what associations are built on,” said Donna Oser, President and CEO of the Michigan Society of Association Executives. “We would rather determine industry best practices than to have the government tell us. We believe we know better than they do, so let us do the work and then we will share that information.”

As the world tries to figure out how to handle the effects COVID-19 has had on their industries, innovation  – planned or not – has meant rapid change in a number of associations. Whether it be creating new membership strategies, adjusting paywalls or even revamping entire digital platforms, some associations are taking this pandemic by the reins and determining what is necessary for their industries to survive. 

“That’s what we see right now with a lot of organizations that didn’t think they could be virtual are now being forced into it and realizing it can be pretty good,” said business coach and author John Spence when explaining the need for innovation and adaptation. “You’re just going to have to change to meet the needs of the marketplace.”

Changing to meet these needs is exactly what The Society for College and University Planning did when the pandemic began. Originally on-target in implementing plans during the second year of its five-year strategic plan, SCUP president Mike Moss said the pandemic accelerated the organization’s plans by moving its transition into different modalities and digital environments from years three, four and five to their current position in year two.

Though Moss didn’t have specific data at the time of our interview on the results of their strategic acceleration, he did share in a follow up email that SCUP is just now entering the business quarter where they expect to see the initial impact of their strategic acceleration.

“I can say that we have experienced an increased dues renewal in the past 30 days,” Moss said in an email at the end of July. “This could be tied to several of the initiatives so we will need a bit more time to make proper correlations.”

And, Moss said, since July 1, his organization has already received four inquiries from the soft launch of their fee-based coaching program.

President of Association Laboratory Dean West believes it is critical to identify what matters to your mission and your members in an effort to prioritize your association’s goals. As West outlined in “The Strategic and Economic Impact of COVID-19 on Associations,” “once you understand the programs representing the most value, you can strengthen these initiatives and focus cost-cutting or reductions activities on the programs least important to your members, saving money and improving relevance simultaneously.”

Whereas many organizations began cutting out the things that were less valuable to their members, The School Nutrition Association decided to create an entirely new product in the aftermath of its leadership conference being cancelled. 

“Instead of trying to move it online, what we actually did is create a new product I’ve been wanting to create anyway, which is basically a point in time leadership summit that deals with some critical issues related to leadership,” said School Nutrition Association Chief of Staff Rhea Steele.

Stanford University professor and author of “Limitless Mind: Learn, Lead & Live Without Barriers,” Dr. Jo Boaler believes the pandemic is a chance to overcome setbacks and struggles by trying new things and learning from their successes or failures to produce a stronger organization. 

“Nobody makes a difference that’s doing everything the same,” Boaler explained. “All of that embracing of struggle, setbacks, mistakes … people don’t really make a difference unless they’re doing something different.”

When we choose to embrace change, we choose to have a chance to better ourselves and our industries. Not only does this impact the way we look at innovation, but it changes the way we look at the world around us. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought an overwhelming amount of change to the world. But, fortunately, associations are equipped to spin this into positive innovation for their industries.

Ashley Neal
Post by Ashley Neal
August 4, 2020
Ashley is a marketing and communications professional with expertise in sales conversion, copywriting, and social media.