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The Effects of COVID-19 on Associations: The race to go virtual

Ashley Neal
August 5, 2020
The Effects of COVID-19 on Associations: The race to go virtual

Editor's Note: This is the third part of a five-part industry assessment on the effects of COVID-19 on associations. Find the second part here.

As the pandemic began to unravel association plans for 2020, many were already in the process of moving operations online — but the coronavirus served to speed up all of those plans. 

Now, as health leaders continue to search for a vaccine that could make large gatherings safe again, many associations and other organizations are planning to keep some events virtual even after the pandemic.

According to Association Laboratory’s Looking Forward 2020, a global survey of association strategy from December 2019, 61% of respondents said they were already expanding online education, and 52% were planning on creating or expanding online communities.

Although the Michigan Society of Association Executives had previously implemented virtual resources including a weekly curated e-newsletter, a virtual academy and lengthy CAE programming – two-thirds of which was already online – they still had much to do.

“With the exception of our AMS, our LMS was outdated, our website was outdated, and so serious decisions had to be made around that,” said Donna Oser, President and CEO of MSAE. “Because we have charted a course for our future that we want to do the connecting how of our members, we want to create that community so that their brilliance can shine and they can share with each other, that means we have to have the appropriate infrastructure to support that kind of exchange, right?”

Amplifying the support of its membership is MSAE’s next goal, with plans to restructure and rehire in order to continue to support its members.

National Association of School Psychologists Director of Communications Katherine Cowan said her organizations’ many virtual resources predated the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“Membership has pretty much been a virtual process, forever,” Cowan said. “So that hasn’t changed significantly from a process standpoint in terms of doing our renewal processes, our membership marketing, our email communications, social media and things like that via our website.”

What has changed for NASP is that its online learning center has been picking up the slack of canceled in-person professional development opportunities. For example, the organization has been adapting and trying to be as flexible as possible to allow for virtual delivery of a training curriculum they formally provided face-to-face around school safety and crisis.

For the School Nutrition Association, the pandemic forced the organization to welcome virtual resources in new ways.

“(The pandemic) actually really loosened up some of the approaches for (SNA),” said Rhea Steele, Chief of Staff at the School Nutrition Association. “The same way that you see startups – things like the lack of resources, the intensity, the need to get a product out or to get something to market – often results in more creativity and serendipity than large organizations like General Motors or others that have been bureaucratic and doing things the same way for so long.”

SNA won’t remain remote for the foreseeable future because “we just signed a 10-year lease last year, so not going back is not possible,” Steele laughed. “The biggest eye opener for our organization has been a desperate need and lack of a new product development process, and the recognition that it is not sustainable to have all of our eggs in our conference basket.”

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Ashley Neal

Ashley joined the Sidecar team as Community Coordinator in 2020 and spends her working hours focused on providing value to our members. In her free time, Ashley enjoys DIY crafts and playing with her puppy, Scooby.

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