Tactics That Are Helping Associations Navigate the Pandemic

A recent survey shows that nonprofits have been surviving the pandemic by rethinking sponsorship offerings and revenue streams, while ensuring they clearly communicate value to members.

Like so many for-profit businesses, the pandemic also knocked nonprofits for a loop. As they try to remain standing, they have employed a variety of tactics to keep their organizations humming along, according to a new report, “Nonprofit Organizations Respond to the COVID-19 Pandemic” [PDF].

“The most important thing is, it showed nonprofit organizations have a great capacity for resiliency,” said the report’s author Cecilia Sepp, CNAP, CAE. “We say, ‘Oh nonprofits move slowly, they are always behind,’ but we’ve found they’re quite resilient. Resilience is a much longer attribute.”

The report surveyed nearly 100 nonprofits, including many associations, to see how they were faring before and during the pandemic and looked at their attitudes and concerns, as well as changes they made to staffing and policies.

Unsurprisingly, worries about financial stability and lost revenue jumped into the top three concerns after March. Although financial concerns were top of mind, organizations didn’t immediately shift to thinking about finding new nondues revenue streams.

“The pandemic hit people so hard, they were struggling to get through the first few months,” Sepp said. “They haven’t been saying, ‘Let me find new sources of nondues revenue.’ They were trying to deal with the present, not looking to the future.”

For example, associations were trying to hold on to deals they already had in place. Since event sponsorship is a big revenue generator, associations considered how to deliver for sponsors in an environment where meetings were canceled or converted to virtual.

“There was a lot of creativity in dealing with corporate sponsors,” Sepp said. “You had that old, inflexible model: You can buy an exhibit hall booth, you can buy an ad in the daily newspaper. Instead, they moved to: What do our corporate partners want? Can we think of something new for them? Can we find a creative way for them to reach their target audience?”

Sepp said this helped maintain—and even strengthen—relationships with sponsors and advertisers. “That led to creating more one-on-one, personal relationships with corporate sponsors and advertisers,” she said. “That is going to work out better for nonprofit organizations in the long term. They will be delivering more long-term value to those exhibitors.”

In addition, Sepp said associations have been concerned about how they show their value to members and have been working to clearly articulate it throughout the pandemic. “In a world of uncertainty, it’s harder to define that value proposition for members, and it’s hard for members to identify it for themselves,” Sepp said. According to Sepp, a lot of this effort focused on digital programming, especially transitioning learning efforts online.

As the year comes to a close, Sepp noted that associations are going to be plotting their course for 2021 and rethinking how they want to move forward.

I think they are looking at programs as they come to the end of a fiscal year, or for some, a fiscal quarter,” Sepp said. “Maybe we don’t need that program, maybe we can deliver it differently. 2021 is going to see nonprofit organizations continue to adapt and apply these lessons that we have learned now. I do think you’re going to see a lot of activity and associations and other nonprofits doing more different kinds of services. We are going to see reconfiguration of services, of program content, and the member experience.”

What tactics have helped keep your association moving forward during the pandemic? Share in the comments.

(oatawa/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Rasheeda Childress

By Rasheeda Childress

Rasheeda Childress is a former editor at Associations Now. MORE

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