Canadian associations are often bilingual, meaning they offer membership programs and services in both official languages: French and English. In this context, members, potential members and industry partners are expecting bilingual service. It is the role of the association and its board to set policies and expectations for French membership services.
The framework of their expectations has three main pillars:
- Bilingual membership service
- Bilingual communications, resources and partners
- Bilingual events
In this article, I will discuss each of these components and will list recommendations for bilingualism in associations.
Board Policies on Bilingualism
First and foremost, an association’s board of directors must create policies for serving members in both English and French. These policies will determine the availability of bilingual staff daily, web content, documents and communications that are to be bilingual, bilingual services at events, and much more. These policies will set the association’s bilingual standards, which will in turn help to manage expectations of bilingual members going forward. Once a board has passed clear policies on bilingual services, it is the duty of staff and the board to uphold these policies in all areas of the association.
Bilingual Membership Service
When French speaking members reach out to their association for support, policy should state that they are to be served in French. They expect to receive excellent client service from a staff member that is understanding, comprehensive and has ability to communicate clearly. Large organizations may have bilingual staff in each department, but this is not a viable solution for an association with limited resources. Association policies should also determine how many bilingual staff are to be available during regular business hours.
More importantly, ensure that members from French provinces or areas (i.e.: Quebec or New Brunswick) know who the main point of contact is for French membership support and inquiries. Share this contact information with French members through your newsletter, on your website and on social media.
Inevitably, French members might miss the selection of their language preference or will end up receiving an English communication. In these situations, recall your client service skills when dealing with complaints; stay calm, listen actively, acknowledge the problem and offer the solution. The solution will often be as simple as setting their language preference or sending them the French communication.
Bilingual Communications, Resources and Partners
Regardless of the size or nature of an association, many resources are created to help and support members. From the association’s website and newsletters, to booklets and event flyers, board policies must state which resources are to be available in both languages. Ensure that members can select their preferred language on their member profile and create distribution lists for these resources accordingly.
National associations should have bilingual or two versions of their website. Members expect to access online content in their preferred language. This feature will surely drive members to your website and will encourage member engagement. If the association don’t have the resources to create a separate French website, utilize a Google plugin to translate each page. While not perfect, Google’ tools do help.
In terms of content translation, associations should rely on outside translation firms for large or complex bilingual projects. Utilize an outside firm to translate any required bilingual event programs, newsletters, financial statements, etc. Bilingual staff can translate brief messages, such as social media posts or graphics, but most of their time should be spent on client service, not on translation.
Events and conferences are a major part of an association’s business. Following your board’s policies, French speaking staff should be onsite at large events. The presence of bilingual staff onsite is invaluable to members; it will increase their feeling of belonging to the group and to the association If you are operating on limited resources, at least ensure to provide bilingual signage and programs to overcome any language barriers between members and other on-site staff.
In Conclusion, bilingualism in national associations is considered an asset that brings more diversity to an association. Implementing bilingualism throughout an organization is a timely and costly step. However, it will bring an association to the next level. If the implementation process is well executed, member engagement and support will surely increase