Five things I bet you’ve learned this year

In early April or so, I remember seeing someone on twitter suggest keeping a pandemic journal. If I’d taken that good advice, I bet I’d have a fascinating record. What I thought was possible, important, interesting, worrying, likely… and also what I didn’t think about at all (yet). I’m sure it would be illuminating to read now.

It’s likely that you didn’t keep a journal either, but I bet there are things that you have learned over the course of this year – maybe without even realizing it. Here are five things I’m willing to bet you’ve learned, to some degree or another.

#1 –  You can make decisions faster than you would have predicted

So many organizations have had to just move. Boards and staff teams have had to make significant and high-stakes decisions with limited information and even less time. Dithering wasn’t an option. Punting wasn’t either. 

Decision-making doesn’t always have to be done at dizzying speed, but it’s good to know you can when you need to. (Especially if usually you have a tendency to move at a snail’s pace.)

#2 – Virtual can do more than you realized

Were you expert on Zoom before this all started? Was your organization already fully digital? Did you offer a full suite of hybrid or virtual meetings before March of 2020?

I’m guessing not.

The general learning curve on virtual was extremely steep for almost everyone, and it’s worth reflecting on how far you’ve come. Educational events, board meetings, office operations, finances… even if you’ve returned to the office, chances are you’ve broken through, into a new normal when it comes to virtual/digital operations.

#3 – You can innovate in more ways than you expected

Not all the innovations have been about going virtual, although obviously that’s been huge.

I’m willing to bet you’ve been trying all sorts of new things, both technology-related and not. Did you roll out anything new for your members? Have you started communicating more quickly and frequently? Did you test any new initiatives? I’ve been hearing about webinar series, town halls, hangouts, COVID-related newsletters, brand-new advocacy campaigns, whole new employee/team processes, and on an on.

Lots of spaghetti has been thrown against the wall. Don’t just look at what’s sticking; look at how you’ve gotten better at the throwing.

#4 – You have a deeper understanding of your value

There’s so much more going on than a pandemic, and so much more going on than a recession. It’s both, and so much more besides. What exactly will be the durable impacts remain to be seen, and depend on how the next few years goes.

So questions of organizational sustainability being asked aren’t just about single sources of revenue; they go deeper than that, to questions of fundamental value which go back to your mission. What is your purpose? Why do you exist? Who benefits from your existence? How can you induce people to contribute to your work both financially and otherwise; that is, share those benefits with you?

How are all of these elements going to be impacted by the ongoing pandemic and all that goes with it?

A crisis drives us back to the fundamentals, and I think this is no exception. I’m sure you’ve had new insights into the answers to these questions for your organization – or at the very least, you’re more clear on the right questions to ask.

#5 – You are far more attuned to organizational risks

Yes, we’ll all make sure we put “pandemic” into risk frameworks now. But going farther, I think we have all internalized a sense of risk in our operations. Overlearning this lesson of course will make us all too cautious. But I think it’s more likely that we’ll just go forward with a deeper understanding of the risk profile that accompanies our work, like a shadow that we cast.

And so, onward

What have you learned that you wish you’d learned years ago?

What have you learned that you want to bake into your practices going forward, so your organization doesn’t have to learn it again?

And what are you going to learn next?

If you’d like help figuring out where to take your organization, please get in touch.

Photo by Edwin Andrade on Unsplash. Used with permission.

Contact us at or call 416-737-3935 to discuss how we might be able to help.


We offer resources to help leaders of associations and other not-for-profits think about their approach to strategy and governance, from various perspectives.