What’s next after COVID? Is your association ready for the next “black swan” event?

Time to Read: 19 minutes

Three steps association executives can take now to safeguard their organizations from future catastrophic events

Swan swiming in the water

Remember when the phrase “black swan” mostly conjured up thoughts of the Oscar-winning 2010 movie about cut-throat ballerinas? Now that COVID-19 has brought the term into our everyday vernacular, it’s association executives who find themselves pirouetting madly as they work to clip the wings of the ongoing pandemic’s effect on their bottom lines.

And COVID has proved to be a particularly nasty bird with an insatiable appetite that ate into associations’ bottom lines. One big bite came when members didn’t renew their memberships after losing their jobs or moving into new professions.

In-person meetings and conventions, the other critical revenue sources for associations, took an even bigger hit as most association meetings were canceled last year. Ninety-six percent of association executives report a loss to their annual revenues due to event cancellations — and things haven’t improved much since then. According to UFI – The Global Association of the Exhibition Industry, event revenue is only expected to reach 47% of 2019 levels by the end of this year.

Crying fowl: Ugly ducklings and black swans

So, what exactly is a “black swan”? It’s an unpredictable event that has an extreme impact and compels us to try to make it explainable after the fact. COVID-19 – major black swan.

An “ugly duckling,” on the other hand, is an unfortunate event, but it’s typically something you can plan for, such as weather-related disasters, VIPs injuries or deaths, fires, protesters in a city during a time of civic unrest, or even a smaller-scale disease outbreak.

For example, an ugly duckling that should already be in the contingency plan would be a weather event at a conference in the Southeastern U.S. during hurricane season. But something the size and scope of Hurricane Katrina? Total black swan.

While COVID-19 may be the most recent, most widespread, and longest lasting black swan event, it won’t be the last. But who knows what the next black swan may be? It could be another pandemic: According to scientists, COVID-19 is likely just the first in an escalating wave of more severe infectious disease outbreaks. It could be a natural disaster caused by climate change. It could even be a devastating cyber-attack.

The bottom line is that a black swan could swoop in at any time from any direction — even while we’re all still trying to find ways to survive and thrive during the ongoing pandemic. That’s why, as leaders, it’s incumbent upon association executives to take steps now to ensure their organizations are as prepared as possible for any contingency, from ugly duckling to black swan.

White Paper:

The 4 Pillars of a Pandemic-Proof Association

The 4 Pillars of a Pandemic-Proof Association

Three steps to pandemic-proof your association

The COVID-19 pandemic has made it clear that association executives can no longer afford to feel complacent about their contingency plans. Here are three steps you can take now to ensure your organization is not as vulnerable to another catastrophe like COVID.

1. Increase member engagement

Conventions and meetings are a great way to get members involved and engaged, but as COVID-19 has shown us all too starkly, in-person events are more vulnerable than we had thought. Even in normal times, member engagement tends to peak during the three to five days of most association’s live events.

Now is the time to deepen member engagement for the other 360+ days of the year. An added benefit is that the more members engage with your association and its content, the more valuable they will perceive membership to be, which could help reduce member attrition during tough times.

The best way to deepen member engagement is to create more frequent touchpoints that offer value to members. This can be accomplished in any number of ways, including more robust social media activity, launching a virtual event series, online learning workshops, and digital resource libraries that syndicate relevant and useful content addressing members’ informational needs.

For ideas on how to deepen member engagement, see 3 Surefire Ways to Revitalize Association Member Engagement.

2. Invest in digital

COVID-19 caught many associations unprepared when they had to transition to digital as travel bans and shutdowns made in-person meetings impossible. You likely have already begun your transition to digital — but as in-person meetings begin to resume, now is not the time to take your eye off the digital ball.

This continues to be a challenge for associations. According to a recent study by Salesforce, only 16% of nonprofits demonstrate “high digital maturity.”

It’s important to keep in mind that the transition to digital requires more than simply replacing analog programs with digital counterparts; it requires a cultural shift to a digital-first mindset that influences all aspects of your organization, including management, communications, internal and external workflows, member programming, and more.

If your learning management system (LMS) platform is not yet optimized for your internal and external educational needs, it’s time for a refresh. Likewise, if you had to settle for a virtual meeting platform that didn’t meet all your needs in the mad rush of pivoting to virtual during the pandemic’s early days, invest in one that can both serve your ongoing hybrid needs and make the pivot to fully digital seamless should the need arise.

3. Build a year-round digital library

Create a fully interactive digital resource library that can boost engagement by providing the curated content members want when times are good and may very well be needed when a crisis hits.

Being able to provide relevant, frequently updated, audience-specific content will make your members more successful while also solidifying your organization’s reputation as an industry leader. A digital resource library can also provide new revenue opportunities by hosting sponsor-supplied thought-leadership content. It offers a new way to foster meaningful connections between members and vendors beyond a trade show exhibit hall.

Organizations can build a customized digital resource library from the ground up, but another, more cost-effective approach is to partner with Lead Marvels. Lead Marvels’ turnkey digital resource libraries provide real-time analytics that will enable you to fine-tune the content to what members need, when they need it.

Lead Marvels’ digital resource libraries can be seamlessly integrated into your existing site with no heavy lifting required on your part. And the lack of heavy lift required by associations is an important benefit. According to the 2021 Association Communications Benchmarking Report, more than half of associations feel understaffed right now, despite the desire to improve content creation capabilities.

Plus, by providing your members with a steady supply of new, sponsor-supplied resources, your organization will stay top of mind throughout the year, increasing member engagement and loyalty.

Case Study:

APTA Innovates to Keep Its Members Connected in Unprecedented Times

APTA Innovates to Keep Its Members Connected in Unprecedented Times

Now is the time to pandemic-proof your association

The COVID-19 pandemic caught many associations off-guard, resulting in lost revenue streams that are still having devastating impacts on bottom lines. Traditional approaches to risk mitigation are no longer robust enough to withstand a black swan assault like COVID-19 — or whatever the next catastrophic event may turn out to be. While no one wants to move into future planning before we first get clear of the COVID crisis, the reality is that the next black swan event may not wait until we’re ready for it.

Don’t get caught unprepared again. Now is the time to start working on boosting member engagement and your association’s digital footprint so that when the next crisis hits — and it’s highly likely that it will — you won’t have to go into a 2020-style pivot to avoid losing vital revenue and even more vital member loyalty.

Lead Marvels partners with associations to create a 24/7/365 digital solution to build non-dues, monthly revenue streams. There is no cost to associations and requires minimal effort. To request a demo of Lead Marvels’ platform, visit https://www.leadmarvels.com/demo.

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