Pandemic planning was NOT part of my vocabulary at the beginning of 2020. Earlier this year, an association we manage had recently welcomed a pandemic planner as a new member. Many association members didn’t understand the complexity and details of pandemic planning and how it could positively impact their businesses. This article will explain the steps some associations with which I work have been taking over 2020.

My colleague’s article, Navigating the Pandemic as a Board Chair, shares two board chairs’ experiences providing leadership to their association amidst the pandemic.

Partnerships Help During a Pandemic

The greatest realization you can have during a pandemic is that everybody is living through it in their own way. Some industries and businesses are thriving, while others have been decimated by it. Many associations needed to adjust how they do business and how they provide value to their members and stakeholders. Since social distancing does not lend itself to conference planning or travelling between cities and communities, associations’ bottom lines, revenue generation, and the way they interact as a board and with members have all drastically changed.

Associations are struggling on several fronts. Members are struggling to keep their businesses or practices alive. Conferences and trade shows are restricted, making it challenging to recoup the lost revenue from the lack of these events.

But what do partnerships have to do with pandemics? As associations, it is not always clear who to reach out to and learn from when trying to plan for an uncertain future. The landscape of how associations operate has changed, therefore, joining forces or reaching out to likeminded organizations is a valid option. Together, we can discuss ways of approaching everyone’s existing issues.

Competitors Can Be Allies

Competing industries can always learn from each other, making it beneficial to drop one’s guard and open a dialogue.

Two clients with which I work rely on consumer trade shows to promote their respective industries. The restrictions on gathering sizes has forced them to cancel their shows for 2020 and 2021 so far. Approaching the government as two individual organizing to learn how their shows might proceed is difficult and resource draining, so they banded together.

They are lobbying for the government to look at the trade show industry and how it should be treated the same way as the retail sector. The arguments are solid for allowing trade shows to proceed the same way retail establishment are reopening and selling their products. The Canadian Association of Event Managers (CAEM) has colluded with local event managers to advance the cause of the industry. Combining forces makes total sense in this case to share the workload in pursuing the betterment of everyone.


The Canadian Society of Association Executive (CSAE) is holding national and regional Zoom meetings to discuss ways association leaders and suppliers can learn from each other, and to access resources to help their members and associations thrive and survive. The exchange of information between association executives has helped us tap into programs and resources that have worked for others.

Another client with which I work is a provincial regulator in which every province has its own association. When the pandemic began, the rate of meetings between the provincial bodies accelerated. The goal was to share ideas and pivot how we provide value to the members. We discussed virtual platforms, member surveys, and membership projections. Together, we helped each executive director navigate through regional challenges. We had very valuable discussions and implemented the takeaways right away.

Many Hands Make for Less Work

The pooling of minds and resources to solve problems during this pandemic will make you stronger. Associations need to reach out to similar organizations to exchange ideas and learn how we can all strengthen each other. There should be very few trade secrets during a pandemic. Don’t hoard your knowledge, share it.

Read my colleague’s article Board Succession Planning During a Pandemic to learn how to adapt to these uncertain times and effectively lead your association.

Working Together

Remember, we are all in this together and the pandemic doesn’t care about who it affects. Working as a cohesive unit makes the most sense to make sure your association survives. So, get out and talk to your competitors, your allies and anyone you think can help you manage your association better during these challenging times.

For more information on how to make a difference within your association, read How Association Leaders Can Boost Morale During a Pandemic.