Aren’t you sick of hearing about the pandemic by now? Don’t mind me, writing another article with “COVID” in the title. Coming up on month fourteen of our lives being altered by this disease, I find myself at stage seven of the grieving process: hope.
That hope, in a large part, stems from seeing what still has been able to be accomplished in a year that none of us could have aptly planned for. More specifically, serving on the board for the American Advertising Federation of North Dakota (a group exclusively composed of volunteers) has instilled this hope. Seeing the efforts of our board, our members, and our community to rally and keep things going has made me not only grateful for the past year, but optimistic about what comes next.
Our story is far from unique. North Dakota is home to over 5,300 non-profit organizations, many of whom are operating with minimal staff and require maximum support from volunteers and community members. Everybody’s been impacted by the pandemic in different ways, but being a board member for AAF-ND has granted me a special lens into the challenges that non-profit organizations, in particular, have faced.
Today, I wanted to lift the curtain and give you all a little glimpse into the past several months for our organization to show how our community board has adapted and grown stronger during a time of crisis.
March 2020 – COVID Hits
Like many others, we had no idea the extent of COVID. We canceled our March speaker event and waited to learn more. Our monthly board meetings moved to Zoom, and we stayed connected with updates over our Slack channel. There was a general feeling of what’s next? Many of us transitioned into working remotely for our jobs, and adjusted to doing our board work remotely as well.
We figured we may be back to in-person events by April, and also began some early prep efforts for the 2020-21 season that would start in the fall.
April 2020 – First Virtual Speaker
After we realized this pandemic was here to stay, we determined that we needed to adapt and host events virtually. We researched the best way to do so (landing on Zoom Webinars), worked with our speaker to make sure they were comfortable with their in-home setup, and began marketing efforts to get people to the event. Attendance was a bit lower than we were accustomed to, but engagement seemed strong in the chat.
Summer 2020 – Next Season Prep
The “offseason” (June-August) is usually a time for our board to relax as we transition new members in. This year, we decided to not have an offseason. Instead, we knew that there would be major preparatory efforts required to make the 2020-21 year work.
We began by trying to really focus on what role AAF should play during this time. We had member businesses who were impacted adversely, individual members who were looking for new work, and board members whose lives had been changed. It was important for us to make adjustments all around.
We decided to start hosting bi-weekly “virtual trivia nights” to offer a relaxing, fun platform for our members to stay connected. We gave away gift cards to local businesses as a way to support the community. We created a Careers page on our website for businesses to post (and members to review) job listings. We also met as an Executive Team every Monday morning to make sure we had a good plan going into the next season.
September 2020 – New Season Starting
With the new season starting, we made the determination that we would have our speaker events take place virtually. This allowed us to deliver high-level speaker engagements for members to attend, without putting anyone (our speakers or members) in harm’s way. We sent out membership communications to get membership renewals, and saw a slight dip (~10%) in overall membership. However, we were blessed with wonderful support from sponsors who helped cover that loss. We continued to host virtual social events and hoped that, at some point in the season, we may return to in-person events.
November 2020 – Addy Planning
Our premium event, as talked about in our article a few months back, is the American Advertising Awards (commonly referred to as the “Addy Awards”). This event takes place each year at the end of February. Up until November, we planned to have this event be either in-person or a hybrid model (with in-person options). In November, we made the call to turn this event to a virtual gathering and started prepping accordingly. This also signaled our decision to have the rest of the 2020-21 season events be virtual, as well.
February 2021 – Virtual Awards
At this point, we had gotten into a pretty good groove with pulling off events in a virtual capacity. We hosted our award show the last Friday of February and were greeted with awesome feedback from our members. It also highlighted one of the small silver linings of this time: people were more tuned in to the program/what was going on on-screen as opposed to some of the drinks, food, and other festivities that happen at our ordinary ceremony.
As a board, I think we started to appreciate some of the opportunities that this new environment provided us. We learned how to adapt and innovate and add more fun layers to the ceremony. We were also able to connect even more with individuals through email, live chat, phone calls, supply box drop-offs, and more.
We currently have about two months left in our 2020-21 AAF-ND Season before we begin prepping efforts for next year. Once again, new board members will be joining and current board members will be stepping down. We’ll transition into another season where we don’t absolutely know what to expect, but we will do our best to learn from the lessons provided by this year, including:
• Making contingency plans
• Showing gratitude
• Being flexible
• Communicating exceptionally well
• Retaining hope for brighter days ahead
We survived this year due to the efforts of so many – our president (Bill Lempe), our board of directors, our sponsors, and our members who stayed committed to what AAF stands for even in a year where we couldn’t bring people together in-person. There have been a lot of long days and nights planning events and taking care of board duties, but it’s been worth it to see the great success and lessons learned throughout the year. Thank you to all who have supported our club, and the vast assortment of other non-profits in the community who have stayed working through this pandemic. It truly takes a village.
About Our Organization
AAF-ND is North Dakota’s branch of the American Advertising Federation, a national outfit focused on promoting and protecting the well being of advertising. Our specific ad club has no paid staff members. We’re a collective of marketers and advertising enthusiasts from around the community that band together to put on unique events (including the American Advertising Awards and our speaker series). We also host networking opportunities, have a public service arm committed to giving back to the community, and connect with the schools through our education efforts.