Pandemic Pivots – A Series of Articles Direct from Members

By Rebecca Harris, M.A, CAE

It’s been over a year since the COVID-19 pandemic first began in Canada (the first Canadian case of the novel coronavirus was reported by Health Canada on Jan. 25, 2020); and while we have all adapted to the physical distancing and shut-downs that have come with the pandemic, we are also still learning new ways of doing business and the impact that social isolation has had on our work and personal lives. Many CSAE members had to quickly ‘pivot’ to do business in a new economy, one where our members could no longer meet in person and where everyone is dealing with added anxiety and stress.

The word ‘pivot’ has become one that many have tired of hearing…but the FORUM Editorial Committee has decided to reclaim the word and examine the power behind the “pandemic pivot” by celebrating the innovation, compassion, and enduring nature of the association sector. We will be publishing a series of pandemic pivots to share the stories behind our members successes and learnings.

If you’re interested in sharing your story, we encourage you to answer some or all of the following questions and submit it to [email protected] for publishing in an upcoming issue of FORUM.

  • What was your pandemic pivot?
  • What did you learn from this pivot – What went right? What went wrong?
  • Did you have to change any processes to allow for this pivot? If so, what did you change?
  • Did you meet any resistance to the change(s)?
  • Did the pandemic force you to confront any longstanding assumptions?
  • Is your pivot a temporary measure or is it a fundamental shift in your operations?
  • What could you have done better?
  • Did the pandemic highlight any gaps in your current member offerings, internal structures or operations? If so, what did you do to close them?

We envision the stories being shared in a quasi-interview format with the question preceding the answer – but please do not feel constrained by the questions above – feel free to structure your own interview however you like!

To start things off, I’ll share one of my own pandemic pivots

CSAE: What was your pandemic pivot?

RH: As an association, we realized relatively quickly that there was a need to synthesize information and get it out quickly to our members, and we also recognized that there was a pool of non-members who would also benefit from this information. With the Board’s support we quickly pivoted to remove our “members only” mind-set to our communications strategy and opened up our COVID-19 information and legislative updates to our “potential members” as well. Of course, we did this in accordance with CASL and only included those who we had consent to email.

CSAE: What did you learn from this pivot – What went right? What went wrong?

RH: At first, we were a little worried that there would be push-back on the number of emails, but we quickly realized that our members and non-members were more concerned with receiving “just in time” information versus keeping track of whether this was the second email in a week. We made sure not to send out too many emails but relaxed our schedule to recognize that if there was a legislative or policy change that we needed to get that out as soon as possible.

We also realized that there was a benefit in synthesizing information that may have already been communicated to our member base from other avenues and would include summary information of important changes with links to the original announcements. Some of the responses from recipients that showed us we were on the right track included “…I was anxious and confused when I received this notice, but then I thought to myself – wait a minute or two and an email will come from OARTY to clearly explain what this means to me and how I need to apply it…”.

We also leveraged our communication strategy as part of our government relations strategy to illustrate to government how we were keeping providers informed and up to date. This resulted in our association being recognized as the point place to quickly get information out to our sector.

CSAE: Did the pandemic force you to confront any longstanding assumptions?

RH: One of the longstanding assumptions that we had to confront in terms of this specific pandemic pivot was that we should only send out communications when there was something new to report. There were several times during the pandemic when support measures were announced for our sector and the there were delays in the implementation; at first, we waited for concrete news on timelines, but we quickly learned that even if we did not have news, we needed to provide updates on a regular basis. We then changed our internal process to ensure we were sending out an update at a minimum once every two weeks and if there was nothing new to report on that specific topic we would say so and also provide links to resources or information that was applicable to our sector (for example – links to resources for free educational games or a link to a mental health app).

CSAE: Is your pivot a temporary measure or is it a fundamental shift in your operations?

RH: Overall, the communications strategy that we implemented during the pandemic has been met positively by both our members and potential members. Including potential members in the communications showcased the role that OARTY plays and raised our profile. We always had a monthly e-newsletter that was sent to members and non-members, but the pandemic showed us that there was an appetite for a very specific legislative/policy focused communication.

Post-pandemic we will continue to include potential members in select legislative/policy focused communications.

We have also begun to host monthly members-only virtual roundtables as an addition to our communications strategy and see this as another way to illustrate the benefit of membership. The roundtables allow us to give more informal updates and allow members to discuss issues and share ideas, positioning this as a communications strategy versus an event keeps our focus firmly on the idea of sharing ideas and fostering knowledge exchange.

Rebecca is the Executive Director of the Ontario Association of Residences Treating Youth (OARTY). OARTY is a registered charity, whose members are private residential service providers who support and care for individuals needing temporary, short term, or long term residential care. Rebecca is a member of the CSAE Trillium Council and is an active volunteer on several CSAE Committees. Connect with Rebecca on LinkedIn – or follow her on Twitter @beckymharris.