A Year of Reinvention

This original column by David Martin was written for and first published in ASAE’s “Associations Now 2020 Guide to Consulting Services.”

 Download the Guide Here

Greetings, fellow association professionals!

I think it is safe to say that at the start of 2020 no one saw the tumultuous year we would have ahead and the significant transformation associations would face. Organizations have felt the public health and economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, and they’ve been called on to consider how they can support a broad movement for criminal justice reform and racial equality. As consultants, we have found ourselves in the unique position of advising association clients on some of the same issues we are addressing within our own businesses.

In recent years, diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) have received increased attention in the association world. We have seen organizations address these issues more fervently and openly this year. Associations have been taking tangible steps to foster greater inclusion not only in their hiring processes, but also within their membership ranks. The services of DEI consultants are more sought-after than ever, and new positions are being created within organizations for directors of DEI.

At the same time, associations are addressing the operational and financial changes brought on by the pandemic. Most spring, summer, and now autumn meetings have gone virtual, and many organizations are already planning for virtual conferences through mid-2021. The ASAE Collaborate forum has been filled with extensive conversations and excellent ideas about new approaches, recommendations for virtual platforms, and consultants’ expertise. Staff, CEOs, strategy consultants, attorneys, and vendors have all stepped up to offer their ideas.

The pandemic has forced organizations to look at their operations from top to bottom, rapidly. Some are offering new membership models in an effort to bring in new members and encourage current members to remain involved. Any programs that were languishing but hanging on may have gone to the chopping block more quickly.

A whole new vocabulary has been introduced. Who knew we would be discussing “Zoom bombing,” “Zoom fatigue,” or “virtual happy hours”? It has been an exhausting seven months for almost everyone. Association staff members and consultants are living in an “always on” world. Managers are trying to be supportive and deal respectfully with the full array of their employees’ personal situations, as well as with the technical challenges of coordinating remote teams.

Associations are still sorting out the operational issues associated with remote work, but many are discovering numerous upsides to the arrangement. Among them are better work-life balance, less commuting time, more inter-departmental interaction, a smaller office footprint with possibly lower real estate costs, and access to a larger national talent pool. Many are evaluating how and when to safely bring staff back to the office, while some are discussing whether to go virtual permanently.

In this guide, you will find consultants with a range of expertise—everything from diversity and inclusion to information technology to business operations. They’re here to support associations as they navigate these times, offering the knowledge and perspective needed to turn 2020’s challenges into positive, long-lasting changes.

David Martin, chair of ASAE’s Key Consultants Committee, is CEO and managing partner of Sterling Martin Associates in Washington, DC. Email: [email protected]