For many associations, putting together a strategic plan in 2020 may have felt like being pulled in two different directions. On one hand, strategic planning requires that boards take the long view, developing three- or five-year processes to meet big-picture goals. But COVID-19 has made the long view difficult: How do you think about the future when the pandemic is upending everything right at this very moment?
One answer has a lot to do with the Zoom window you’ve been spending a lot of your time looking at for much of the past year. Tracy Betts, CEO of Boldr Strategic Consulting, says the pandemic hasn’t so much changed strategic planning as it has forced digital issues to play a more central role in strategic discussions.
“The biggest shift that we’re seeing [in associations]—because they have no choice—is digital,” she says. Although associations have been talking about digital transformation for a while, the pandemic forced the issue. “Organizations are finally coming to us saying, ‘Our online adoption rates are miserable. Help us figure out how to create more value,’” Betts says.
Doing strategy right doesn’t mean layering more digital tools on top of strategic goals, though. The hasty virtual events that many associations assembled in 2020 are proof enough of that. Rather, Betts says, associations should be looking at the core needs of members and customers, while being more mindful of how online tools serve those needs.
“Every single association survey I’ve seen from a membership organization says the reason members want to join your association is for networking,” she says. “But when you dig deeper, you find the question isn’t how to create networking for associations. It’s how to create a sense of belonging. Because if we’re solving for creating a sense of belonging online, that’s really, really different than solving for networking.”