The COVID-19 public health emergency has brought wholesale changes to our society. In the world of membership organizations like our clients, there have been a myriad of challenges. But the pandemic has also created new opportunities for reinforcing the value of associations and for highlighting the value-added role our company plays in partnering with clients.
Although working remotely like many businesses during the pandemic, McBride & Associates’ staff has shifted emphasis from managing the daily affairs of client associations to helping members adapt their business models, facilitating shared experiences, and offering a listening ear and support during these stressful, unprecedented times.
The association management implications for our clients have been especially significant in the areas of membership communication, event management, and advocacy.
Providing relevant, timely information is always an important element of association management. During the COVID-19 emergency, it has been critical. Our staff was counted on to gather, filter and interpret key information on a daily basis. Then, the most relevant information needed to be communicated to members in ways that would be most helpful.
We produced dozens of concise, targeted emails; developed and edited reference documents; compiled and organized resources and references on client websites; and organized and coordinated webinars and Zoom meetings to share information related to the pandemic.
We also helped clients meet the need for obtaining Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for their members. Our staff researched and connected with vendors and worked to connect our members with high quality, reliable and timely delivery of PPE to meet their ongoing needs. We have delivered and shipped PPE to members, followed up with the state to ensure delivery of PPE through the public health departments, and worked with PPE vendors to offer discounts and waive shipping fees. We expect that the new PPE requirements will be a permanent change, as we anticipate that healthcare workers will be expected to wear and appropriately use PPE to protect their patients as they deliver care and services well beyond the COVID-19 public health crisis. PPE has also been secured for our association client with members working in the construction industry. This is equally critical to protect the safety and health of workers at jobsites as they work to build and maintain our state’s water, sewer and underground utility infrastructure. One of the outcomes of this crisis may be solid partnerships with PPE providers that can serve and support our members for many years to come.
The second major implication is that multiple client events were impacted—and continue to be impacted—by COVID-19. With directed health measures in place in Nebraska including social distancing requirements and closures of hotels and other event venues, we have pivoted to offer conferences and meetings as virtual events. It’s been an adjustment and learning curve that most businesses and associations have had to deal with, and online, virtual events will play an increasing role in society and business in the future as a result.
One client had a major, three-day education conference scheduled two weeks from the date that most businesses and public gatherings were shut down by the Governor. We were able to reconfigure the meeting and shift to a virtual platform on short notice and the client enjoyed its largest attendance and biggest profit ever from the conference.
We have several additional educational events that are also being transitioned to virtual formats and we continue to study and develop best practices for upcoming statewide conventions. Considerations include how to offer networking opportunities, produce live and recorded educational sessions in different formats, host virtual exhibit halls, design sponsorships that create value and engage attendees and our industry partners, celebrate the accomplishments of award recipients, conduct association business and elect new leadership, and infuse fun activities into the convention experience. Pricing and packaging the convention offerings needs to be developed in a thoughtful way that doesn’t diminish the value of continuing education and interaction with thought leaders, presenters and peers – and at the same time takes into consideration the adjustments of event expenses and technology.
Staff expertise is also critical with regards to venue and vendor contracts. Language related to cancellations and liability has huge implications when plans need to change.
Time will tell whether the shift to virtual events will result in higher or lower attendance. It seems clear that there will be increasing interest by members in virtual events and we anticipate that some future events may be a hybrid format that offers in-person experiences as well as virtual components. The need to be flexible and offer convenient and accessible education and networking opportunities for members will continue to be key.
The third implication of the COVID-19 pandemic is that our efforts to advocate on behalf of our association clients have escalated. We have written and submitted waiver requests to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS) and the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services that would allow our healthcare providers to deliver services through technology in lieu of face-to-face visits for home healthcare, hospice and speech therapy services. We hosted a Town Hall meeting for members to share lessons learned and how they are adjusting their infection control practices, as the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) issue and adjust their guidance. Throughout the public health emergency, M&A staff was in contact almost daily with the Governor’s office, multiple state agencies, regulatory entities, and national association headquarters to clarify regulations and directives, advocate for resources and financial relief, and offer assistance from the members of our client associations.
Congressional action the past two months has included relief and support for small business owners. We have kept our members apprised of these changes and how to apply for the Paycheck Protection Program (PPE) and small business loans. In partnership with our national associations, we have invited our members to participate in numerous webinars on these topics as well as regulatory updates.
We also focused on consumer advocacy during the pandemic. On behalf of one client, M&A developed and produced a television public service announcement addressing the availability of essential services. Then, when businesses began re-opening, a new PSA was developed. A statewide news release alerted consumers to the possibility of misleading, virtual substitutes for healthcare.
Now more than ever our members count on us to be their advocates, while they remain steadfast in sustaining their businesses and serving their clients. A strong collective voice is essential as we work in partnership with association leadership and members to protect their businesses, scope of practice and industries, and help them navigate and survive these unprecedented times.
In every crisis, there are opportunities as well as challenges. We’re committed to helping clients take advantage of the opportunities for demonstrating their value to members.