Creating an Association COVID-19 Response Plan

Creating an Association COVID-19 Response Plan

By Meg Drumm, CAE

COVID-19 has affected every person and organization across the world, and the association community is no different. With the constantly developing news and sweeping measures being taken to address the coronavirus outbreak, it’s important for associations to respond quickly and thoughtfully when acting on behalf of their constituents.

At AMC, where we primarily serve professional and healthcare associations, our client and service teams are heeding that call and mobilizing resources for all client members, particularly those who are healthcare workers on the frontlines of this crisis. In the short term, the following are examples of some of the immediate strategies our client associations—including the American Academy of Pain Medicine (AAPM), the client I primarily serve as its director of marketing & communications—have put in place, and that other associations may benefit from adopting, too.

Communicate with members in a way that is laser focused on their specific needs and concerns related to COVID-19.

At a time when seemingly every retailer and organization that has a database of customer emails is sending out mass communications about how they are responding to COVID-19, help make your communication stand out by focusing your message on information and resources that are specific to your member base. An email with a subject line “COVID-19 Update” may not get opened when competing with dozens of similar messages, but if you opt for “COVID-19 Coding & Billing Strategies for Pain Medicine Providers,” you might get more attention to your message.

Open lines of communication for peer-to-peer discussion in real time.

Especially among groups like healthcare workers who are vigorously working and organizing to prepare and respond to COVID-19, associations can help drive conversation and discussion among professionals by providing them with communication channels. Member listservs and communities may be especially useful in these efforts. Using groups and hashtags on social media to help connect members is a great option, too (AAPM is encouraging pain medicine professionals to tweet using #covidpainmed, following the lead of AAHPM members who are sharing COVID-19 palliative care resources using #pallicovid). When feasible, opening these communication channels up to nonmember constituents offers a great opportunity to demonstrate the value your association provides to someone who is a nonmember in hopes that they might join in the future.

Connect members with the information and resources they need using reputable sources and a plan that ensures information is up to date.

Many associations have established resource web pages and packets of information for their members so that they have the COVID-19 tools and information they need readily accessible. These are excellent efforts that I think should be pursued, with the caveat that these resources should be designed in a way that they provide ongoing value and accurate information. At a time when statistics, guidelines, and recommendations are changing so rapidly, this may be harder than it sounds. A few simple strategies:

  1. Be judicious with the information you publish directly on your website and always include source links where readers can access the most up-to-date information. For example, do say “Refer to for information about the number of confirmed positive cases in your areas.” Do not say “100 people have tested positive for COVID-19 in the state of Illinois.”

  2. Publish a revision date on web pages that include recommendations related to COVID-19 so that readers know when you last updated that information.

  3. Establish a plan to update COVID-19 resources regularly. So, you’ve responded to your volunteer leadership’s request to create a page on your association’s website dedicated to COVID-19 resources. You published the page, shared the resource with members, and posted links to the resource across your social media channels. The next step here is to enjoy a sense of accomplishment for about 15 minutes and then realize that the resources you just published may already be out-of-date. Establish a plan to make sure an association team member or volunteer leader, when appropriate, is reviewing and vetting this information for ongoing accuracy.

Be flexible and responsive to your members’ most pressing responsibilities and adjust expectations, deadlines, and fees accordingly.

Business as usual doesn’t exist right now and demonstrating flexibility and understanding as members grapple with their primary responsibilities is a real way associations can respond to this crisis. For example, AAPM has extended the dues payment deadline for anyone set to expire on March 31, 2020, and we will continue to make those extensions as appropriate in the coming weeks, knowing that our membership base of pain medicine providers may be too busy helping their patients access vital care in the midst of a crisis and assisting their hospitals in preparing for COVID-19 patient surges to make a nonessential bill payment right now. Other AMC clients have similarly extended abstract submission deadlines.

Mobilize advocacy efforts and/or support and amplify the efforts of partner organizations.

Like many people, I have been fixated on the news these past weeks. It’s notable how many of the individuals speaking about COVID-19 and the need for resources relevant to specific groups—be they hospitals, healthcare providers, small businesses, or otherwise—are association professionals representing their members. Associations have the opportunity right now to demonstrate one of their most important and vital functions: organizing and unifying constituents so that they can amplify their collective message, needs, and values. Even small associations that may not have extensive advocacy or lobbying arms can join in that work by supporting and promoting the advocacy efforts of larger groups or partnering with fellow smaller groups in order to pool resources.

Establish a system to gather and vet ideas on an ongoing basis.

The window for associations to immediately respond to COVID-19 is closing quickly, and the next phase of this crisis will undoubtedly include more established education, advocacy, and member resources designed to help individuals and organizations grapple with COVID-19’s ongoing impact. Preparing for that phase and being ready to offer value includes sourcing and vetting ideas for new resources now. The AAPM team has started to organize ideas coming in from different committees and individuals, as well as those that come from external sources, in one place so that we can keep track of them as they are received and decide whether, how, and when to begin developing the ideas into action in the coming weeks. Establishing a task force of volunteer leaders who are dedicated to assisting in that idea generation and vetting process may also assist your association in making resource allocation decisions.

Above all else, stay safe and encourage your members to do the same.

I write this post from the comfort of my home where I have been working remotely for several weeks now, thanks to AMC’s quick response to COVID-19 and the need for its employees to social distance. Encouraging association members and constituents to do the same—while also acknowledging that they might not have that luxury—offers vital workers like those in the healthcare profession to stay as safe as possible themselves.

Meg Drumm is the director of marketing & communications for the American Academy of Pain Medicine

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