Leadership Through Crisis: Guiding Members Through COVID-19

COVID-19 has created a crisis in public health, the economy, social connection and more in a way most Americans haven’t witnessed in their lifetimes. It’s possibly more important now than ever that association leadership steps up to help their members navigate these uncertain times.

From the limbo of not knowing whether your Annual Conference will be held, to members and member organizations concerned for the future of their jobs and businesses; COVID-19 has created a cycle of uncertainty for many associations.

It’s important to remember that as worrisome as the situation may be, times of difficulty like this are one of the very reasons trade associations and professional societies exist. We give our members a voice to effect change on a larger scale either within their industry or on government policy impacting their profession. Learn more here about how to create member value during this time of uncertainty.

Build and trade on relationships

As associations, we have built trust among our members, vendors and political leaders every day by working with them, making good on the investments they make in us, and carrying out the values we stand for.

Use that solid history as the foundation for any contingency plan. The longtime audiovisual company that has serviced your Annual Conference likely has a livestream option should you need to convert to digital. A recurring host hotel could be more amenable to allowing you to reschedule your event instead of forcing you to cancel outright and pay an astronomical fee.

Your hospitality vendors are facing just as an uncertain future as you are. The best way for all of us to come out whole on the other side is by doing so together.

Remember the here-and-now

If your Annual Conference is anywhere in the next 4-6 months, that’s likely where most of your attention is being drawn, and rightfully so. But don’t get so focused on next month’s event that you don’t serve your members today. COVID-19 is both a long term and short term crisis.

Between local, state and federal leaders, government action is coming down nearly every day that could impact your members. Many of these policies have language your members may not understand even if they did read it all themselves. Task your government affairs committees, lobbyists, communications professionals, etc. with staying on top of these developments not just by sending out links to the raw information but by interpreting that information and breaking it down into digestible pieces.

When uncertainty and confusion are some of the biggest problems, a calm voice of reason can often be the best cure. Be that safe harbor of reliable and relatable information for your members, and they’ll remember you for it when the storm has passed.

Serve the people

Keep in the forefront of your mind that this isn’t a crisis communications incident for your members, but a threat to their businesses, livelihoods and ability to continue their missions. It strikes not just at what they do, but the heart of why they do it.

You’ll find the path you need to follow by asking yourself a single question: what do our people need right now?

  • Clarification about your area’s stay-at-home order and whether they qualify as “Essential Business” to be able to continue operations so their business stays afloat and they can keep paying their employees?
  • A platform to push government entities to protect the populations they serve?
  • Networking opportunities to form, develop, or restore the professional relationships needed to weather this storm?

Look for opportunities for basic human connection amid everything as well. Maybe it’s a “happy hour” or Monday morning coffee via video conference; something that lets your members, Board and/or staff connect when you can just talk as people without worrying about business. After doing what you can for them on a professional level, it could be what they need most is 15, 20 or 30 minutes to just unwind and connect with their colleagues. 

Get the latest COVID-19 guidance from the CDC.