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The Pandemic Taught Associations to Turn Lemons into Lemonade

The Pandemic Taught Associations to Turn Lemons into Lemonade

Recently, I led a CEO breakfast meeting with the Canadian Society of Association Executives (CSAE). The discussion began with the premise that associations experienced a “golden age” as a result of the pandemic.

COVID-19 disrupted all industries and their associations to varying degrees. It also forced people to rediscover the role of associations in society. Governments needed quick answers and solutions to problems. Association members, professionals, trades and the association industry as a whole needed somewhere to come together to solve problems very quickly. Associations had the knowledge, expertise and systems in place to provide informed solutions.

The pandemic was an external disruption. Associations did more than deal with the challenge – they managed to thrive and grow. They managed to turn COVID’s lemons into lemonade. One could argue that COVID-19 triggered an awakening among association leaders and members.

COVID-19 is not the only challenge affecting associations, however. Many of the other obstacles they face are also external and out of association leaders’ control. If associations could overcome the disruption caused by the pandemic, why can’t they do the same with other challenges? How can associations keep the “golden age” going by overcoming these disruptions, using what they’ve learned during the pandemic?

Associations are ripe for disruption

Associations as a class have numerous related strengths and weaknesses. And every association is facing externalities that are causing (or will cause) disruption. Leaders must take the initiative to tackle disruptions before their associations get disrupted.

The following three external challenges offer significant opportunities for disruption:

  1. Inflation is increasing costs across the board.
  • Rapid inflation makes it difficult to keep pace and adjust to rising costs.
  • Prices are up across the board, from fuel and supplies to technology and human resources.
  • How can associations manage these rising costs without passing them on to members, who are facing their own inflation challenges?
  1. The job market is strained on multiple fronts.
  • Associations are constantly struggling to hire and retain staff and to afford to pay them competitive wages.
  • Associations’ members must also deal with the retirement bubble, training highly specialized employees, developing an employee pipeline, and more.
  • How can associations meet their human resource needs while also navigating the consequences of members’ HR challenges?
  1. Communication standards have changed drastically.
  • Associations are known for being deferential – they must manage industry regulations and communicate with educated professionals.
  • Associations must become more provocative in their language and approach to cut through the noise and capture members’ attention.
  • How can associations maintain their professional approach while adapting to new communication standards?

The disruption is not over

Even though COVID-19 is coming to an end, the disruption isn’t over. There are always external challenges to address and overcome.

Whatever challenges your association is facing, you must first be aware of what those challenges are before you can do something about them. This knowledge will enable you to develop strategies and approaches to address and overcome those challenges. Because many challenges are external, you cannot change them. But your association can benefit from the disruption, just as it did during the pandemic. Taking advantage of the disruption will enable you to turn those lemons into lemonade to refresh your association.



Christine Saunders, CM
About Christine Saunders, CM
Halmyre President Christine Saunders is a marketing consultant to service-based organizations, a strategic advisor to marketing executives and leaders, an entrepreneur and a hobby farmer. Prior to founding Halmyre in 2014, Christine owned a traditional integrated marketing and communications agency specializing in financial services, public services and not-for-profits. Her education is in politics, ethics and philosophy, and she is a proud Maritimer despite living in Upper Canada today.