The COVID-19 pandemic forced extraordinary change upon the association sector. As light appears at the end of the tunnel, Educators SA Executive Director, Rod Nancarrow, shares his thoughts on finding your association’s new normal.

There is no doubt that COVID-19 caught us all by surprise and that the efforts of South Australian associations to support their members in adapted ways has been nothing short of extraordinary. Now, looking forward, the important thing to acknowledge as we emerge from the immediate crisis is that things have changed and we are likely to be heading for a new normal. So, to be ahead of the game, we need to split our focus. Firstly, we need to manage our current plans including how we support members’ current needs. And secondly, we need to plan for the new normal and how we support members’ new needs.

The possibilities

What exactly will the new normal look like? Well, it will be different for every association, but you can count on the fact that it will include a blend of old and new ways of doing things. Consider these five possibilities:

#1 Blended meeting environments 

Through the COVID-19 crisis, most meetings and professional learning sessions moved to the online space. Poor internet connections aside, online meetings and events have multiple benefits. Of great significance is the ease of participation for country and time-poor members. Moving forward, why does everyone have to travel to one place for a meeting? Continuing online access to professional learning sessions and all board, committee and subcommittee meetings could be a better way of meeting member needs.

#2 Quick, frequent meetings 

If members can log in from home or work and don’t have to fight the traffic, could there be more frequent one-hour meetings rather than extended and less frequent meetings?

#3  Immediate, to the point information 

Everything we’ve read says people want their information to be immediate and to the point. What does this mean for your communications to members? It could mean that your 6+ page termly newsletter transforms into a short, sharp and shiny weekly or fornightly bulletin. It could also mean you communicate via innovative means, such as a Facebook group or Twitter hashtag. Frequent, concise communication can also foster a sense of connection.

#4 Adding extra value

Think about what blended professional learning sessions mean for what you charge.  I would argue that online participants get equal access to the experience and expertise from which they will be learning, therefore pricing should stay the same less catering costs and venue hire. It is important not to devalue what you are offering, and after all, you may be hosting a lot more online professional learning sessions into the future. Instead of cutting prices, think of ways you can add value for members. Access to mentoring or a free resource are just two ideas.

#5 Curation of resources

With a lot of the world seemingly online, resources have been created and shared at an extraordinary rate. What will your members need from you in this space? In addition to the resources you create, they will likely need you to curate a collection of quality resources from the vast number out there. This will position you as a trusted, go-to source.

Creating for all members

In the recent Save the Associations Virtual Summit, Sarah Sladek made the comment:

“Associations have to create for ALL members now – before they could get away with serving a small percentage of members. That one stings a bit, but it’s true.”

With this in mind, how do we create a new normal that serves ALL members? The answer is simple; ask your members what they need. You can collect information through a survey, but you can also:

  • Organise Zoom chats, coffee chats, wine chats – short online meetings where members are invited to discuss issues, outline their ideas and brainstorm what to ‘create’.
  • Reach out for people’s opinions through your association’s Facebook group.
  • Have a fun competition offering small prizes for the best ideas on how to support members.
  • Form a focus group of early career members on how to best connect with current and potential early career educators.
  • Form a working group of mixed ages, some of them from your committee and some not, to make recommendations on how you can meet member needs in the immediate future.

Over to you

Congratulations on everything you have achieved and for surviving through the COVID-19 crisis – it has been a truly remarkable effort. Now is the time to focus on and be excited about associations engaging with all members in blended, relevant, high quality and creative ways. Continue to manage the now but take action so your association is ready for the new normal; it’s months and not years away.

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