In this interview, Sandra Harssar, an executive member of the Promotional Products Professionals of Canada (PPPC), discusses her journey as a board member and how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected association member engagement and involvement.

Q: What prompted you to run for a position on the board?

Sandra: I was always interested in association trade shows. Ten years ago, I joined the board of the Ontario chapter for PPPC. I like being involved in member engagement and meeting others in the industry. I served on that board for seven years and specialized in ethics issues during that time. Then I decided to run for the National Board; Alex Jovetic (PPPC Chair) was very supportive and encouraging.

Q: What are the greatest challenges you face in member engagement?

Sandra: A few years ago, the association faced financial issues and members were unhappy. We experienced a decline in member confidence and numbers. We had to do a lot of rebuilding to bring members back. Communicating with the members is an ongoing challenge. It is also a challenge to get the message out and engage members in events to keep them involved with the association. We use many platforms to get our messaging out. The association distributes a weekly newsletter, hosts Facebook and Instagram pages and is active on Twitter.

Q: How has the COVID-19 pandemic changed the way you maintain and build member engagement?

Sandra: Our business is a very personal endeavor, therefore moving everything we do online has been a challenge. Our association’s members interact through trade shows, so finding a replacement for those face-to-face interactions has been hard and engaging new members is even harder. Our new webinars have been a very successful way to keep a very social industry engaged. We are also producing a virtual trade show on a specially designed platform. The challenge with a virtual trade show is to get buy-in from our members. We are at the cutting edge of the virtual world and are convincing members to sign-up.

Q: What steps has the board taken to maintain membership engagement?

Sandra: We have organized several successful events. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, we organized golf tournaments for members across Canada. Since the pandemic began, we have organized online panel discussions and presentations from experts who already have an online following. Members have responded with positive feedback. I find that the best formula for online networking is to have two educational events and one social event per month.

Q: What is the toughest part of keeping members engaged during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Sandra: The toughest part is not being able to have in-person events. The challenge in keeping members consistently engaged is to keep things fresh. It is important that board members are constantly getting involved in recruiting new members. Members were quick to embrace social networking via Zoom, but now talk about Zoom fatigue.

For more on member engagement, read Board/Senior Staff Optimal Levels of Engagement.

Thank you to Sandra Hassar for the interview and for her insight.