History may remember the COVID-19 as the World’s Longest Teachable Moment, as we learn more about ourselves, our abilities, our world and one another – and of course, about our associations. Here are some lessons that associations can take away from these strange new times.

1. Webinars – they’re not just for education anymore.

Remember when webinars were dull, dreary, “talking head with slide show” affairs? Since the pandemic forced us all to give up in-person socializing, associations are finding new ways to use GoToWebinar, Zoom, Google Hangouts and other platforms for social events. In one association alone, we’ve seen virtual happy hours, online book clubs, even cooking and “create a cocktail” contests. With those, the winners are chosen based on visual appeal, but participants have fun even if they can’t taste the entries.

Of course, educational webinars are still happening, and more than before, as in-person education programs have fallen victim to pandemic precautions. Also, in addition to the usual business-related subject matter, webinars are springing up to help members cope with their new living and working situations. Here are a few we’ve witnessed:

Get creative with online event ideas for your association. Ask your members what they miss about their pre-COVID routine, or what challenges they’re facing, then brainstorm ways to respond to those issues in a virtual format.

2. This is a perfect time to build membership

How does one grow an association when there are no opportunities to, well, associate? By convincing prospective members – and expired ones, too – that they need the benefits of membership now more than ever. People are craving connection and looking for advice on everything from reopening their businesses or practices safely to courting new clients and customers without face-to-face contact. Where better to get that advice from others in their field? Where better to find those people than in a professional trade association?

Online events are a great way to build your membership. One organization converted its annual conference, which usually attracts about 400 attendees, to a virtual event that drew more than 2,000!

On a smaller scale, share some snippets from your members-only webinars and social hours with prospective and former members to show them what they’re missing. Here’s an example from the “Own Your Energy, Own Your Life” webinar we mentioned above.

Start a membership drive. Offer prizes to members who bring in one, two, three or more newbies (or former-bies). Reach out to lapsed members and show them why they need your association now more than ever, and encourage your members to do the same.

You’ll be surprised at how many people who never thought of joining a professional trade association, or didn’t think it was worth their time and money, would be willing to consider it now.

3. If you weren’t the go-to gal (or guy) for the industry your association serves, now is a great time to start.

When Governor Andrew Cuomo first put New York state on “pause,” the rules governing whether nurseries, landscapers and lawn care businesses were considered “essential” seemed to change by the hour. Members turned in droves to the New York State Nursery & Landscape Association for updates and clarification.

NYSNLA staff and leadership were on the case, pursuing and sharing that information, updating the members as things changed, petitioning the state to grant the green industry essential status, and explaining the exemption application process to members. Advocacy has always been part of this association’s mission, but this was advocacy cranked up to 11.

Situations like that can be member attractors, too. When Larry Lone Wolf or Nancy Not-a-Joiner sees how their industry’s trade association has their backs, they might just consider coming aboard.

4. Associations are not just the “go-to”; they’re the “where-to.”

Many of the changes we are living through under COVID-19 will be permanent or at least long term. People will be looking for a road map to navigate the new normal, and looking to their professional trade associations to provide those maps. Whether it’s advocating for laws and regulations covering their industry in a post-pandemic world or creating guidelines for getting back to work, associations can be a one-stop shop for the information, direction and support their members need.

5. We are surprising ourselves every day.

This lesson is not for associations only. All of us affected by the pandemic, whether forced to work remotely, furloughed from a job, or taking on extra duties, longer hours and new routines, are discovering skills and talents we didn’t know we had. We’re navigating new technology, homeschooling our kids, finding new and creative ways to stay connected with family, friends and colleagues.

As always, ADG is here to support you and your association as you continue your way down these new paths. Reach out to us anytime.