When COVID-19 is not an excuse any more

By Nina Gabatan

I have yet to meet someone who has not been affected by the current COVID-19 pandemic. Accept it or not, COVID-19 changed our norms, our view on things, how we work, how we socialize … simply put, our way of life.

The year 2020 is so far all about COVID-19 and it’s been easy to blame the virus when things are not going the way we want them to be. Yes, we have a valid reason as we were caught off guard. Yes, COVID-19 is causing havoc, and yes, it is hard to plan when many things are still unknown. Let’s be honest, one way or another we have used COVID-19 as a default excuse when we missed deadlines, resorted to undercuts, lost members, and scaled back on just about everything to keep afloat. It might seem so uncertain today but like many challenges we have faced in the past, this too shall pass. So, what if we cannot use COVID-19 as an excuse any more?

Strange to say, but COVID-19 has given us time to reflect more deeply on the future of our associations. What do we do post COVID-19 … a reboot, a reset or aim to be reborn?

  •  Reboot – change nothing and re-establish the same settings pre COVID-19
  •  Reset – adjust, or fix in a new or different way but based on the same frame
  •  Reborn – let the past be in the past, and start anew

Depending on where you are now and where you would like to be in your association’s journey, perhaps you need to be asking (if not yet) the same questions you have asked yourselves many, many times before. The only difference today is that we don’t know what the “new normal” is as a pre-condition. Yet, this is precisely the very reason for sound planning with a view to the different scenarios that might take place in the short, medium and long term. We should not let our guard down (again).

Whether your choice is a reboot, a reset or to be reborn, I hope you will include your members in the planning of your (new) vision of the future. Remember that in good times associations are most likely to be the last ones to receive praises but in difficult times often amongst the first casualties of cost saving measures. This needs to change.

As we look ahead to a post COVID-19 world, let us reflect and continue asking ourselves:

  •  Is our business model as an association still attuned to the needs of the time?
  •  Are we delivering value to our members? Remember that value is not an action, but rather a perception. So how then should we evaluate and communicate our value?
  •  They say that the best way to protect yourself from injuries is to strengthen your core. Be mindful though that being strong does not necessarily mean you are agile.
  •  What will be the new rules of engagement? Should we rethink the application of the Pareto principle (80/20)? We need to know better, understand better and embrace our members’ views and their expectations of us. As an association, are we representing members or the body of members?
  • Given our limited resources, we cannot do everything and be everything to our members. We need to know when to wear our different hats – as a leader, as a supporter, as a follower, as an observer or simply as a by-stander on the different areas and issues at hand.
  •  Finally, do we have a clear road map that will elevate our status from being “checked-in luggage” to a “carry-on bag”? As a carry-on bag, we should be there when needed in every important journey our members take.

These are just a few questions to start with. Certainly, we will end up with different answers, come up with different solutions and approaches but I believe that we are all wanting the same thing – for our respective associations to be classified as “essential” by our members, with or without COVID-19.

Let us all keep our eyes on the prize.

Nina Gabatan is Manager Membership and Business Development in World Steel Association (worldsteel) based in Brussels, Belgium. She has over 15 years of experience as an association professional. She has a business degree from the Philippines, marketing and an MBA degree from the Netherlands and an Executive Master in International Association Management from the Solvay Brussels School of Economics and Management in Belgium.

She will share more of her thoughts on membership engagement as key to membership retention during the upcoming UIA Associations Round Table Europe in 2021.

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