Four Ways the Pandemic Affected Your Members

After an onslaught of not-so-great news over the past two years, a newly released Association Laboratory report on the pandemic’s effect on members shows lots of promising signs about associations like reduced anxiety, better adaptability, and a chance to capitalize on new opportunities.

If you’re analyzing what a post-pandemic world would look like, you might start by asking if people are attending sporting events, flying on planes, and going out to restaurants. They are. Based on that rubric, “on a practical level, the pandemic is over,” said Dean West, FASAE, president and founder of Association Laboratory.

Well, that’s good news—and there’s more.

Four themes emerged from Association Laboratory’s Looking Forward Impact 2022, an environmental scan that looks at 60-plus factors that affect association members and their challenges.

The main themes reveal that associations demonstrated resilience and adapted successfully to meet and surpass challenges. And while things seem to be going back to normal, no one is the same as they were before the pandemic—and neither are associations.

Pandemic Comeback

After lengthy uncertainty, fears are subsiding, which is reassuring. Forty-five percent of respondents, down from 57 percent last year, identified the long-term cost of adapting to the pandemic as a significant force impacting members in analyzing factors specifically linked to the pandemic.

“Concerns about the impact of the pandemic have substantially decreased as associations and association leaders have learned to successfully navigate the pandemic and serve members as a result,” West said.

For example, a lot of things that were emergencies in 2020, like how to work from home and how to host a virtual conference, are now routine. “We’ve learned how to do them after the last two years,” he said. And it shows up in the data, which was collected in December and January during the height of the Omicron surge. And the level of concern about face-to-face meetings has gone down from 70 percent to 49 percent in 2021.

Members Have Changed

The historical behaviors of members have changed, so the way they have interacted with associations in the past may not be the way they interact with associations in the future. For example, if a member has attended an association’s annual meeting for 20 years, but they have missed it for the past two years, and their budget doesn’t have a line item for it, there is a chance they could forego it this year.

A member’s interaction with an association is defined by whatever it has done for members over the past two years. If the group has ignored members during that time, then they will need to convince them why they should come back to the annual meeting if they’ve adjusted to life without it.

“The way the pandemic influenced our members’ lives is now their habit, it’s not an outlier,” West said.

The Death of Boundaries

Everyone can communicate with anyone at any time now, everything can be virtual, and nothing is bound by geography anymore. Getting up to speed on that new reality is essential, especially for association leaders. “There is a class of executives who don’t know how to lead people if they don’t see them,” West said. “You get an ego boost walking around being the boss. That’s not nearly as fun when no one is there.”

Technology allows for that—but you must find people who can work independently without supervision, lead differently, and have a different technological infrastructure, he said.

Workforce Realignment

As the Great Resignation dominates news feeds, 80 percent of respondents, up from 63 percent last year, identified recruiting as a significant factor. Creating a more attractive career path, looking for nontraditional sources of workers, and developing a more diverse workforce will be key.

It requires thinking outside the box. For example, if you can’t find an insurance actuary there are other people who know how to build risk models, like data scientists. So, it’s time to look for people with different competencies who can accomplish the job.

“Everything built on historical assumptions of competency needs to be reviewed,” West said. “A workforce in flux favors organizations that help companies and people adapt. If someone needs a new competency for a new job, what better place to go than an association?”

Competitive Advantage

The competitive environment is tough right now, which means there is pressure on people to differentiate their skills and experience from others in the market. “In a workforce crisis, employers are turning to other professionals more often than technology,” West said. That’s a good sign.

The more disruption, the more professionals and organizations are going to be forced to build new relationships and meet other needs. That means adaptability, innovation, and abandoning traditional modes of operating are going to be key.

“The more static your leadership, market structure, strategy, and organizational structure, the less likely you are to be successful in an environment characterized by speed, change, and uncertainty,” West said.

(Nuthawut/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Lisa Boylan

By Lisa Boylan

Lisa Boylan is a senior editor of Associations Now. MORE

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