How associations can help members through the COVID-19 crisis

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National associations encompass a wide range of professional, trade, and industry interests. But what they all have in common is their focus on delivering value to members.

In times like these, your members are looking to you to provide guidance in crisis response. An absolutely critical question is how to keep their staff, customers, and clients informed and engaged while “social distancing” has pushed the pause button on much of normal life.

At Acart Communications, we have been advising Canadian national associations on their marketing and communications for decades. As times have changed, the technologies and challenges have evolved. But the fundamental strategy has remained constant.

1. Response speed matters
In a crisis, speed of communication is more important than perfection in its execution. Messages to members need to be accurate and timely, but they do not need to be as artfully crafted and designed as your regular outreach. Newsletters, scheduled meetings, and other traditional communications take too long to reach the audience. For urgent and fast-changing outreach, direct and unvarnished communication is best. Traditional means, such as conference calls and email work well for this, as do channels such as social and digital broadcast (such as podcasts or video).

2. Be transparent
You may not have all the answers right now, and it’s fine to be clear about that. Your members are looking for leadership right now, but they are also seeking understanding. It’s best to let them know what you are able to help them with now, to address their immediate needs. If other plans or resources are in-the-works, tell them what they are and when they can expect to receive them. Let them know you are doing everything possible to keep them ahead of — rather than behind — a changing situation.

3. Don’t reinvent the wheel
In health-related matters, unless you are a healthcare association you do not need to be a subject matter expert. In Canada, our federal, provincial, and municipal health authorities are working around-the-clock to provide Canadians with COVID-19 information. In your communications, you can simply share advice from the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) and other official sources, and encourage them to do the same, if you have no industry-specific information to share. The PHAC page has sections for businesses as well as individuals.

4. Be cautiously optimistic
Panic is counter-productive, but it is a natural human response. Everyone is looking for reassurance, including your members. Remind them that these extreme measures are temporary, and are necessary to save lives. They will eventually be lifted. The focus now is to provide critical information, including new developments in federal assistance, while communicating that your association is working on recovery plans for members. Hard economic times lie ahead, but they will eventually get better.

5. Seek professional guidance
There are many organizations that can help you navigate this crisis quickly and effectively. In some cases, they can solve your communications problems more quickly and efficiently than you can do on your own, so that your team can focus on its own specialized roles. Consider reaching out to an outside communications agency that understands your industry or profession and can provide you with the agile strategy and content you need right now. When this crisis is over, your members will not forget the extra effort you have taken to provide guidance.

Acart Communications specializes in communications for associations. Please contact us today for a free consultation that is tailored to your unique requirements.

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