Strategic opportunities for associations – right now

There is increased risk for most organizations right now – there always is in a recession alone, let alone everything else that’s going on. Yet, even now, there are strategic opportunities for associations which should not be overlooked.

A chance to connect with everyone

Activities have moved to the virtual realm, and seem likely to stay there for a while, even if some reopening is taking place. (Just because events might become legal in a particular jurisdiction doesn’t mean that people will be comfortable or able to attend. Unfortunately, there’s still no cure, no effective treatment, and no vaccine for COVID-19.)

Countries like Canada have far more geography than people. It’s always seemed surprising to me that Canadian associations aren’t absolutely fantastic about virtual access to services. (Some are great; many have been heavily reliant on in-person events, though.) Now’s a great chance to capitalize on that potential, seems to me.

Think about:

  • People in remote areas, who lack the time or budget to travel to in-person events.
  • Those whose interest is relatively low, who may not have bothered to attend an event – but who might sign up for a webinar.
  • People outside your usual geographic area entirely, for whom now there are no barriers to participating in – and paying you for – content.
  • Non-members or former who don’t see enough value in membership – yet – but who might try out a snack-sized relationship.

Even if you continue to create and develop your activities aimed squarely at, say, your traditional members within your geographic catchment area, you can market them to this broader audience. Then, think about what you would do with these folks if they do sign up. Do you cultivate, market, try to convert them to membership, something else?

Mobilize members

One of the theories for why people are so willing to engage politically right now is that there is not much else to do. (Note: this is just one small element of analysis of the current political moment.) Now, your members might be terribly busy with their work, especially if they are in a sector like health care. Many of them have extra demands on their time if they have children at home. But your members perhaps do have a little extra bandwidth, or may be craving some novelty in terms of how they engage with you and with each other.

Do you have advocacy goals where you can activate your membership to provide you with stories to tell, or with numbers to show to decision-makers? Are there new opportunities to pursue your policy agenda, given the shifting political landscape? Consider whether your members might be open to new ways to engage, precisely because of this situation.

Another analysis of the current political moment is that decades of activism and organizing has made people willing to contemplate previously unthinkable ideas. And of course that’s also an argument to mobilize your members if you can. You don’t always know when the time will be ripe for your ideas.

Out with the old

If you didn’t already have a virtual organization, chances are you’ve had a busy spring, with the quick transition to working remotely. Many organizations really just had to drop their existing operations into a remote context hastily. Now I’m hearing about a lot of kludgy setups, like dropping USB keys off at team members’ homes, or trying to do a daylong board agenda by Zoom.

Even if you are in a return-to-the-office situation, but especially if you’re not any time soon, this is a great opportunity to sweep the organization of hidebound practices. Why does something need to be done at all? Who is the best person to do it? How is the best way to do it? What oversight do you need to put in place? Are there steps you can eliminate? What activities can you automate or digitize?

Now more than ever, don’t waste your team’s precious, precious time with things that aren’t core to getting your key work done.

Time to think ahead

Did your board see this coming? No? Well, that’s not necessarily something to be hanging your head about, because neither did pretty much anyone else.

But still the organizations weathering this situation better than others are those whose leaders understand their job is to look into the future, even if nobody is a time-traveler. Management has a responsibility to lead with foresight. The board has a responsibility to apply foresight to governance.

I’m hearing about a lot of boards which have been more hands-on than usual right now. With massive shifts in operations, that’s understandable. However, now is the time to make sure your leadership invests in looking forward and thinking ahead. Now is the time for the board in particular to have high-level discussions about what’s ahead. It might be nerve-wracking, it might even seem impossible in this swirling context, but it’s their job.

There’s lots to do. Things are complex and will remain so – that’s the hallmark of the new normal. But there are plenty of strategic opportunities for associations which can help you achieve your goals, if you hop on the opportunities you see.

If you’d like to talk about how I can help you with strategy, governance, leadership, or special initiatives to help you seize opportunities, please get in touch.

Photo by Matthew T Rader on Unsplash.

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.