The Strauss Blog

Navigating the Pandemic as a Board Chair: An Interview

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, Strauss’ association clients continue to work with volunteers, board members, and association staff to navigate their next steps. This article features interviews with board chairs Alex Jovetic (A), Promotional Product Professionals of Canada (PPPC), and Victor Duarte (V), Physician and Clinical Assistants of Manitoba (PCAM), to gain insight on how two different boards of directors have been coping with recent events.

What has it been like being a board member/board chair during these challenging times?

A: I view it as another challenge on the journey. Over the past few years, we have moved to make several changes to our association, providing new culture and philosophy. With that shift, we also had to tackle some serious financial issues. But, with the help of a very good board and a great partner in Strauss, we were able to not only survive, but turn the tide on the financials and swim into the black from a deep red. This is merely another obstacle along the path to where we were headed before the pandemic. We will not only survive, but thrive in the end, I believe.

V: COVID-19 has certainly posed some challenges to our activity as a board of directors and executive. Our board is run by our own members; PCAM has always been in a position where we have direct contact with all our members. We have switched from direct contact to a significant increase in email/phone conversation. PCAM is a small union made up of appropriately 150 members.

One of the benefits of being a small unit is our ability to sit with our members over a coffee and discuss issues and concerns. Being able to take those concerns and address them directly with the employer in a very short time frame is the value of a small member union.

The current situation with COVID has most certainly made our activities more challenging.

How has/has your job as a board chair changed recently?

A: Honestly, it is not all that different for me. In the past, we navigated the waters between different crises, but this one has had a greater impact on everyone, from the board members to our membership. Most of our membership has seen a stifling loss of 70% – 80% in revenue. Perhaps now more than ever, I feel as though we need to not only demonstrate the value of membership in our association, but they tangibly need to “feel” a sense of value, and I am hypersensitive to that.

V: I can’t say that our job as a board has changed as a result of the pandemic. The way we run business certainly has changed. Most of our business is now operated remotely. While we still see our members in passing at our workplace(s). We are mostly communicating via email and phone.

How has your board been supporting the association during these times?

A: We have increased the frequency of virtual professional certification and education and have provided it all at no cost to our membership. Our industry thrives on relationships, the sustenance of which can prove challenging in times of social distancing and stay at home orders form the government. To help, we have also made sure to host social and games nights via Zoom, allowing friends and colleagues to see and speak with everyone. The board has been meeting virtually every two weeks to keep projects moving, and task forces addressing Member Engagement and more have been meeting virtually throughout this pandemic to focus in on specifics to provide value to the membership.

V: The board of director’s mandate has not changed. We are business as usual. While Board meetings, employee/employer meetings are mostly remote, we continue to make every effort to be available and supportive to our members.

What have you been personally doing to keep the board moving in a positive direction?

A: I am fortunate to have a great Past Chair, a solid Executive group, and a wonderfully talented and committed board that is productive and in-tune with what we all understand is our mission; luckily little shepherding is needed from the Chair.

V: This for sure has been challenging. It is way easier to engage in productive discussions and brainstorming in a board room. I have tried to connect with Board members one-on-one to discuss different ongoing issues. We continue to seek active membership engagement and bring those ideas to the BOD meetings.

What has been the board’s biggest challenge so far?

A: One of the greatest challenges is providing an easy understanding/translation of government resources available to the members and their afflicted businesses. For the first time since our association was founded in 1956, we took on the task of lobbying the government to recognize and address the unique needs of our membership. Not easy to sway, but the membership sure let us know it is appreciated. It continues to be a part of the recipe for perceived member value.

V: Our biggest challenge continues to be our engagement with the employer. The employer’s priorities and PCAM’s priorities appear to be on different levels on many issues. This has been compounded by the challenges caused by the pandemic and changing priorities. We continue to actively seek employer engagement on many of the issues important to our members.

What has been the board’s biggest accomplishment(s) so far?

A: The feedback from the membership has been overwhelmingly positive, and it appears that communication efforts and more are enriching the experience our members receive, leaving them with a confidence that we alone are the voice with their best interests at heart. We provide to the membership a place to turn to for soothing calm in a desperate world and the hope that things will eventually be better for all.

V: Our biggest strength is that all our board members are PCAM members themselves. We all work the front lines and understand the needs and complexities of our very dynamic profession. Members can easily reach our BOD and we address most concerns by members within 24 hours of contact.

PCAM has had a very high rate success in mediating/representing our membership in significant contract and labour disputes.

How has the team at Strauss, as your association management company, supported the board during the pandemic? What’s different? What’s new?

A: Jonathan (Strauss) and his team have been rock solid in providing both input, along with the board, in strategy and then the mechanics of execution of that strategy for the benefit of the membership. Their expertise shines through, and from a board made up of volunteers, we thank them profusely.

V: Strauss has been critical in setting up the communication infrastructure to allow us to run business as usual. While we are now addressing board meetings from our homes, Strauss has provided the platform to keep us working.

Provide association leaders (committees, board members, volunteers, staff) with some words of advice for navigating the pandemic.

A: In times of crisis, people look to their leadership, whether it be government, corporate, or from within their association to calm the waters and paint a picture of hope. To do so, you must be seen and heard, and people have to “feel” that you have their back through this crisis or any other for that matter. The “voice” must stay on message and be consistent in what intent is delivered. Communication is the most important element of leadership. So, tell them you are with them…tell them how we will get there, and when we can make the journey together. There is extraordinary value in the message, so keep talking so they can hear you.

V: Stay focused and true to the terms of reference of your committee. Engage other community members with a personal conversation/discussion on ongoing matters.

Thank you to Alex and to Victor for being a part of these interviews; your words of wisdom are much appreciated.