Before there was FaceTime, the app, there was face time, the thing – as in good old-fashioned in-person interaction.

As life has gone online, associations have had to find new ways to connect with members and keep them engaged. Online events, from webinars to virtual happy hours to entire conferences, are one way to do this, but what about in between events? What about the members and prospective members who may not have the time to participate?

To stay connected with these folks, we recommend faces – lots of them. Faces create a personal connection, and members who feel personally connected to their association are more likely to stay members and bring in others.

At ADG, we commission a caricature of every member of our team. These drawings by artist Jeanne A. Benas are featured on our website (hover over the head shots to see them), and many of our team members use their caricatures in their outgoing emails, Zoom profiles and PowerPoint presentations.

Each drawing captures not only the person’s appearance and their role – or roles – at ADG but also their hobbies and interests. Kelly enjoys cooking and vacationing at Cape May, and she has a daughter who is the apple of her eye. Beverly is musical and lives with a Siamese cat. Sean is a foodie, a runner and a Boston Celtics fan. Kevin is an outdoorsman who enjoys working with his hands.

Not everyone can afford to hire a caricaturist, but there are online resources you can use to get creative with the faces you show your members and the public in your association’s e-communications and social media. Sites such as and allow you to upload a photo and convert it to a cartoon, sketch or other type of image with a single click.  You can even reimagine yourself as a character from “Peanuts” or “South Park.” Most of these are free, and some offer a paid version that gives you more options.

A word of caution: Avoid Facebook’s avatar generator. It’s another way for the social media platform to capture your personal information.

Of course, you don’t need to go the caricature or cartoon route. Photos can be fun, too. Set aside the stodgy head shots in favor of photos that showcase people’s personalities. Encourage your members to share theirs as well.

We are all inundated with email, and it’s easy for our members to dismiss yet another association communication as inbox clutter. When they discover that those emails are actually fun and entertaining to view, they’re less likely to fall victim to the “delete” or “unsubscribe” button.

Have you found a compelling way to reach your members visually in the time of COVID-19? Share them with your fellow association executives on our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram feeds. And if you need help overhauling your online presence, give us a call.

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:

  • Love in the Time of Corona: Survival Tips for Couples Working From Home
  • The Secrets to Successful Virtual Work
  • Own Your Energy, Own Your Life
  • Dear 2020: None of This Was in My Strategic Plan – Now What?

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.

By Beverly Seinberg
Lead Copywriter

Several years ago, I attended a community “networking event” for women. I had been laid off from a job I’d held for almost 20 years and was having trouble finding another. A friend suggested I attend in hopes of making a connection that would lead to new employment.

Although I’d rather have root canal than make small talk with strangers, I went for it. I had business cards printed advertising my skills, dressed in my best business attire, and walked into what I have since come to call the Desperation Derby – because “Hunger Games” was taken.

Everyone in that room was looking for something. There were unemployed women – like me – looking for jobs. There were business owners looking for new clients. There was even a multilevel marketing “consultant” looking to build her downline. (If you’re blessedly unaware of what MLM means, think Amway, Herbalife and other legal pyramid schemes.) In short, everyone there was trying to get something, and nobody there had anything to give.

I haven’t been to a networking session since – mainly because I was hired by ADG shortly afterward, no thanks to that night – but the word “networking” still makes me think of events like that one.

Then, through a client webinar, I “met” Kari Mirabal, an IT recruiter-turned-networking coach and author of “You Already Have the No.” Kari’s presentation, based on her book, had lots of advice about what I think of as capital-N Networking -- building relationships to help one’s professional growth -- but she also shared two memorable stories that didn’t fit that mold.

One day, she was on the phone with a client who had recently lost his job as a high-level manager with a major retailer. The man cleaning Kari’s swimming pool overheard the conversation and told her he also serviced the pool of a district manager for the company’s largest competitor. Kari had him deliver her client’s resume and business card on his next visit to this customer – and you can guess the ending.

Kari’s son dreamed of a certain job with another major retailer, but it had a minimum age requirement for the position, and he wasn’t there yet. During a visit to a competing retailer, Kari met a young employee who was doing essentially the same job her son wanted. She learned this young man aspired to a full-time IT position. She helped him polish up his resume and LinkedIn profile and gave him some job-search tips. Within three weeks he had three offers in his chosen field – and shortly afterward, Kari’s son had his former position at the store. (He’s still there.)

The moral of these stories is that networking isn’t about schmoozing CEOs and passing out business cards. It’s a game of “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon,” where anyone you meet may know someone who can help you, or someone you know – or need help that you, or someone you know, can give them.

The opportunity to network is one of the most valuable benefits associations offer. In taking advantage of that benefit, however, we shouldn’t keep our capital-N Network contacts separate from our small-c connections. A professional colleague might be the source of a career opportunity, but they may also have a connection to someone who can address a personal issue – and vice versa.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, as associations spend more time in the virtual space, let’s save room for personal connections. Webinars and other virtual educational programs are important but it’s those online coffee hours, luncheons and happy hours where members can chat about their lives, their families and their personal challenges and use their connections to help solve those challenges.

Maybe Jack in Cleveland mentions at an association coffee hour that his son is struggling with schoolwork since classes went online. Jill in Boston hears this and remembers that her neighbor’s mother is a retired teacher. Jack hires Jill’s neighbor’s mom to tutor his son via Skype. Later, when Jill’s niece in Akron is looking for work in Jack and Jill’s mutual field, Jill knows just whom to hook her up with for advice and possible job leads.

At ADG, we have lots of success stories to share about how the associations we work with are forging those connections, which will benefit our members long after the pandemic is over. Please reach out to us if you’d like to know more – and please stay healthy and safe.


View ADG's Library of Association Buzz Articles

Yes, There Is Such a Thing as Too Much Digital

There’s no doubt technology has transformed the way associations – and everyone else – conduct business. For the most part, that’s a good thing.

Email allows us to connect instantly with members and supporters while saving postage and trees. Research can be completed with the click of a mouse instead of a trip to the library.

With video and phone conferencing, boards and committees can conduct business without the expense of time and money to meet in person. When face-to-face events do happen, conference apps enable attendees to find one another and organizers to make last-minute program changes.

Connectivity makes it possible for employees to work from anywhere. Social media present a wealth of opportunities for marketing, member engagement, event promotion and more. Online analytics give us feedback at our fingertips on how well our messaging is working – or isn’t.

As with all good things, however, too much digital has its downside.