I. Develop a communication strategy to inform your stakeholders: Board, committees, employees, suppliers and associates. Reassure your members that the association is taking action to ensure the enterprise will continue to be there and serve their needs and interests. Remember, no organisation can be of much help to its members if it is operating from a weak financial position.
II. Plan to be in frequent, scheduled contact with your stakeholders going forward. Have a defined communication plan involving relevant information that may be valuable to them, including creating effective communication channels so that members can consult the association and also receive direct guidance from it.
III. The associates, either individuals, small companies or big corporations, are the raison d’être of an association, since they represent three important roles: owner, main customer and main supplier. Thus, in times of crisis, and in fact at all times, you should expand your knowledge and analysis of what the member expects from the association, through surveys and questionnaires. There is software available free of charge that offers products and services that not only track the needs of the association but also those of the associates.
IV. Make a thorough review of your sources of revenue (a mix of products and services offered by the association), from the perspective of the value they add to the members and also to the association. Direct and concentrate all resources and efforts towards those products and services that most meet the needs of the members and that offer a greater contribution margin, disregarding and/or discontinuing other products and services offered.
V. Identify and develop new products and services, which are not normally offered by the market, that meet the needs of the members and which are necessary to meet the specific realities created by the crisis. In addition, re-evaluate and adjust the processes and characteristics of current products and services.
VI. Make a thorough analysis and review of the association’s fixed and variable expenses, determining those that are essential for its survival and continuity. Bear in mind that some costs will be eliminated from this review of the mix of products and services. Remove all that are not essential. Suggestion: go beyond what you think is necessary.
While continuing with essential services, consider those less necessary for reduction or possibly elimination. Be sure to reach out to your suppliers and determine the extent to which they will work with you to cancel and/or defer contracts and existing agreements. This should be done through negotiation, engaging in the win-win mode, with patience, justice and empathy.
VII. Considering that an association’s greatest asset is the people who comprise it, carefully analyse the structure of your human resources. Make the readjustments necessary so it becomes more responsive to the current crisis, keeping in mind the principles of justice and empathy, and local legislation. Remember that the Working From Home and Co-Working models, implemented as a result of the crisis, are here to stay.
VIII. Research reveals that associations tend not to deal well with the associate’s desire to cancel their membership. During a time of crisis, disaffiliation is expected to increase. Therefore, while considering the budget, establish a contingency plan for contributions of members that specifically meet the needs of the situation. This should be done in a flexible way with the possible reduction of membership contribution, deferral of payment or expansion of benefits. Suggestion: Consider extending memberships by adding a number of extra months rather than suspending payment or refunding payments if possible.
Always remember that the fundamental principle of the association is voluntary participation and that, even those who are temporarily forced to leave will return as long as they realize the value provided by the association.
IX. One of the benefits most valued by members, especially in professional associations, is networking. With this in mind, create communication channels and promote more networking opportunities among members, especially in times of crisis.
Your network of associates should be constructed as a large B2B network and as a valuable resource for information. It should act as a mediator in the circulation of this information and should also create and promote opportunities for meetings between members. To reduce stress and create a sense of community encourage more informal online meetings to discuss the present situation.
X. Constantly monitor the needs of your members, preferably through the use of technology, such as algorithms, which can be accessed through partnerships, to develop and offer, in an individualized way, solutions that meet them, thereby avoiding the proliferation of email marketing.
XI. Involve the association’s Board when dealing with the crisis. They should be actively involved in the search for solutions, especially regarding retaining and attracting new members through their network of relationships.
XII. Establish and strengthen your local and global partnerships, intensifying the production and dissemination of relevant content for members.
We hope these 12 Steps can be a useful guide in a time of crisis.
As always, Global Alliance is here to serve its members.
Please contact us for any assistance you may need. Stay safe, we are all in this together.
Hamilton dos Santos
Board Member of Global Alliance for Public Relations and Communication Management Managing Director of Aberje – Brazilian Association for Business Communication
Board Member of Global Alliance for Public Relations and Communication Management
Former CEO – PRSA – Public Relations Society of America