The past few months have presented unforeseen challenges and have required associations to adapt quickly. However, the onset of any crisis presents an opportunity to come together and realign for continued success. The recent COVID-19 pandemic serves as a reminder of the importance for associations to stay connected and prepared. Consider the following three best practices when navigating the uncertain waters of managing your association through a crisis.
Paragon Events’ first best practice is to foster collaborative conversations. It is crucial to maintain open discussion, not only among the members of your organization but also with other affiliated chapters or partners. Open conversations with other organizations can lead to newfound tactics for adapting to and handling a crisis. Consider coming together to discuss how to tackle industry changes, proactive financial decisions, and association crisis management timelines for the future. While what lies ahead is uncertain, it can be helpful to view situations from different perspectives.
Paragon Events’ Association Management team is responsible for overseeing nine MPI chapters across the country. Being that MPI is an association dedicated to meeting planners in the hospitality industry, it is no surprise that COVID-19 has had a heavy impact on every chapter. As an Association Management Company (AMC), it is Paragon’s job to guide our clients and offer advice and solutions to all concerns. Holding collaborative conversations has been a key component in maintaining and spreading positivity during these times. Our team has also worked to facilitate collaboration with associations outside of those we manage to further extend the conversation and our resources.
One example highlighting the power of collaborative conversation is the release of the MPI Florida Connects Education Series. The four Florida chapters of MPI, all separately managed, decided to hold a virtual meeting, bringing together the Office of the Presidents to connect. This meeting resulted in all four chapters working as one to push out the educational webinar series featuring established and respected speakers such as Cindy Novotny and Dr. Kevin Elko. These webinars covered a wide variety of topics, all pertinent to the current concerns of members. Since launching in April, the response from viewers has been so overwhelmingly positive that the series will likely be extended!
PROTECTING YOUR SPONSORS
The pause of in-person events means not only looking at new ways to connect with members, but it can also significantly impact association income and sponsorships. We believe that a reimagined approach to sponsorship offerings and non-dues revenue is the answer to protecting and strengthening partner relationships. There are many ways to ensure your sponsors receive valuable benefits while staying mindful of the current industry landscape. You may need to rethink and reshape the benefits of existing sponsorships, given the current investment of each company.
Several of the associations managed by Paragon Events have seen great success in offering virtual opportunities as a way for sponsors to get in front of membership with custom-crafted content. One of our association clients partnered with an existing sponsor to come up with a theme for a virtual happy hour, while a trusted AV partner agreed to host a virtual event on their platform. This proved to be beneficial for not only members but also for strengthening our relationship with sponsors.
Other ways Paragon Events’ association clients have been engaging members:
- Providing swag from a sponsor in conjunction with a virtual event
- Sending sponsored communications to membership, either through email blasts or social media posts
- Regularly keeping sponsors engaged in the conversation around future event plans
Thinking ahead can go a long way in reassuring your partners that your association is valuable to them and that the relationship is one worth continuing. Remind your partners of the short- and long-term benefits of your partnership.
An accurate budget is the foundation of a strong association. Not only does it provide clear guidelines to follow, but it can also help you to manage your association’s goals, especially in a time of crisis. COVID-19 disrupted our industry essentially overnight, forcing associations to react quickly to rethink strategic goals and plans. However, overcoming a crisis requires a continuous adjustment of strategies.
Our team of association management experts within Paragon Events took the time to analyze each of our association client’s budgets and propose solutions to help them thrive financially. We began by identifying the fixed expenses that “keep the lights on” for the association as well as the fees for which the association is under contract. Some of these fixed expenses may include:
- Association management fee
- Website hosting fee
- Tax preparation
- Liability insurance
- Communication tools, such as an email management platform
Our next step was to assume that the association might not receive any income from event registrations over the next few months. Due to recommendations from the CDC on the number of individuals allowed to gather at one time, in-person events had to be canceled or adjusted for the foreseeable future. It’s important to assess and factor in whether or not your association will need to provide refunds for canceled or postponed events.
These initial steps allowed us to reforecast our net income for the remainder of the fiscal year. From there we evaluated the contracts we hold with each association to identify any services not currently being used. Our team then presented offerings of supplemental services to continue assisting our clients during the changing landscape.
Additionally, we advised the associations to take a look at their other contracts and ask similar questions.
Example: If you are contracting someone to work the registration desk at your on-site event, consider pivoting their services to assist with online registrations. Or, request a fee reduction until in-person events resume.
It is important to be familiar with your budget and to constantly check it against actual income and expenses throughout the year. A good budget is one that is agile and can be adapted to meet the needs of your association at any given time.
LET OUR EXPERTS BE YOUR GUIDE
Our Association Management team at Paragon Events can help your organization strategize and pivot procedures while keeping the goals of your association at the forefront of every decision. Facilitating conversations across organizations, maintaining the value of your membership, and preserving a strong budget will keep your association resilient through any challenge. Contact us today to see how our team of professionals can help you protect your organization and adapt in times of crisis.