Lessons Learned from a Black Swan—Solutions Day Presenters Explore Pandemic Insights


Celebration isn’t a word I would typically use to describe a conference, but there was a festive feeling at .orgCommunity’s Solutions Day. Gathering with colleagues again was inspirational. Even online, the participants could sense the excitement.

Gathering with colleagues was inspirational.

Presenter, Dean West, called the pandemic a black swan. The term comes from finance and is used to describe a unique, unpredictable, and catastrophic event that results in severe and widespread consequences.

We survived that disruption together. Our common experience colored Solutions Day in ways that I’m still absorbing. There was the exhilaration of successfully completing a difficult journey and the fulfillment of arriving at a new vision for the future.

The conference theme was Go Beyond the Challenge. Speakers encouraged us to break free from old thought patterns and use the difficult but important lessons learned during a black swan year to reinvent our organizations.

Test Unique Revenue Strategies

Teri Carden kicked off the day with this quote from author Marie Sexton, “I realized if I wait until I’m not scared to try new things, then I’ll never get to try them at all.”

Teri, who is CEO and Founder of 100Reviews and ReviewMyAMS, is never afraid to experiment and reach beyond the ordinary. Her career is focused on helping associations discover new and creative ways to build support. That’s especially important at a moment when raising dues is the revenue stream of last resort.

Teri shared her best ideas for jump-starting new funding initiatives. She offered advice on improving sponsor participation, creating unique naming opportunities, using retargeting and engagement apps like PropFuel, and launching a review site.

What I found most compelling about Teri’s presentation was her emphasis on the importance of deeply understanding the mindset of members and sponsors. This thread was woven through the day.

The annual conference is alive and well, but don’t depend on one meeting to do the heavy lifting. Your constituents are looking for a different kind of relationship. They want communication that is organic, continuous, and addresses their unique concerns.

Give Industry Partners a Home

Networking in person!

Sponsors are seeking ongoing exposure and members want an effortless way to learn about innovation in the marketplace. Greg Guenther, Director of Member Services and Public Events at the Manitoba Dental Association and Doug Coombs, Director of Client Solutions at WorkerBee.TV described how MDA delivered on those goals. By giving industry partners a home on the association’s website both groups have 24/7 access to information and knowledge.

Video plays a big role in making the platform engaging. But MDA has taken a multimedia approach to promotion and used coupons, banners, and daily email blasts to maximize the impact. The site was initially designed as a virtual exhibit hall. As MDA’s understanding of the initiative’s potential grows, they continue to discover new revenue-generating strategies.

.orgCommunity’s Solutions Center has helped our organization forge a more impactful relationship with sponsors. So, I was happy that Greg and Doug could share MDA’s success story.

Curate Knowledge

Associations revolve around information. In the early days of websites, there was a tendency to post everything. That trend has continued. Overloading the LMS with educational opportunities that aren’t curated or categorized downgrades the efficacy of the platform.

Thomas Wong, President of 360Factor, explained how with a well-organized catalog, flexible tagging, and digital tools, you can become your members’ favorite librarian. By providing them with a guided journey to their preferred educational offerings you win followers and friends. And, software that tracks the amount of time a customer spends with each product, makes it easy to monetize that interaction.

Match Systems to Users

There was food for thought and then some.

Even skills worthy of a Smithsonian curator, can’t compensate for an LMS that isn’t a good fit for the organization or business rules that don’t complement users’ needs. John Poeltler had years of experience in LMS administration, but he was new to the association world. He called on Matt Harpold, Client Engagement Manager at Web Courseworks, to help him evaluate the American Medical Technologists digital education initiative. They described their collaboration using the CourseStage LMS to restructure AMT’s business model, create more CE opportunities, and implement a reliable revenue plan for the association.

John and Matt’s partnership was another example of the benefits of a member-centric approach. Over the last year, the value that reliable data and analytics bring to that process has become apparent.

Use Data Creatively

Annette Moy, Senior Data Manager at the American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, and Ginny Graves, Senior Product Owner at Association Analytics, told a powerful story about how AAPM&R put data to work. Using the Acumen analytics tool, the team created a dashboard summarizing statistics related to the long-term effects of COVID-19. This effort focused national attention on the needs of millions of individuals who are suffering from the syndrome.

Simplify Digital Transformation

Digital transformation is the gateway to data-driven decision-making. The process can sound daunting, but our presenters explained how to approach eating the elephant in small bites. Tirrah Switzer, Director of Product Marketing at Community Brands offered recommendations for accelerating strategies to meet members’ expectations and deliver value in this changing environment. While, Beth Kampner, Senior Product Owner and Jake Toohey, Senior Digital Consultant at Adage Technologies broke getting started down to the ABCs.

For most associations, the AMS is the lynchpin of digital initiatives. Selecting the right vendor is the first step to a great outcome. Jon Stensland, Director of Finance, IT, and CFO at the Minnesota Medical Association; Jay Daughtry, Director of Business Development at Intellidata, LLC; and Denny Lengkong, President, IntelliData, LLC outlined why the Minnesota Medical Association chose IntelliData and how that decision has turned into broader solutions for MMA.

Reinvent the Future

The last portion of the day was directed toward looking ahead. Who could be better equipped than a futurist, strategist, and researcher to lead us into that uncertain environment? Dean West, President of Association Laboratory, Inc. is a creative thinker who loves turning tough questions upside down and inside out. His is the exact type of probing intellect that never settles for the easy answer. Dean proposed these three ideas that struck me as defining this unique moment in time and as important topics for additional dialogue and consideration:

  • Associations tend to look backward. But when the rearview mirror gets torn off your car where do you focus?
  • There were a lot of legacy initiatives that we felt compelled to continue. Maybe the obligation isn’t there anymore. All of us have the same tools. The baggage has been removed.
  • All we have to do is decide what we’re going to build. Some people focus on the bricks and mortar, others enjoy the work for its own sake. But visionaries keep their eyes on the cathedral or the magnificent structure they are creating one brick at a time. Imagine what your own cathedral looks like and understand you are making our profession the best it can be.


An amazing panel of leaders put the wrap on Solutions Day. Harriet Bogdanowicz, Chief Strategy Officer at the American Planning Association, Geoffrey Brown, CEO at the National Association of Personal Financial Planners, and Terrance Sykes, Chief Growth Officer at the Emergency Nurses Association explored these questions and more. When Dean asked each panelist what lesson they learned last year that they would like to remember five years from now. They answered like this:

  • Be customer-centric
  • Embrace the culture of risk-taking
  • Never be complacent


If you only learned three things from our black swan year, those are good lessons. I hope that everyone who attended Solutions Day left inspired to see their work as an ongoing creation that grows in significance with effort and time. In other words, I hope that you see yourself building a cathedral.

Three video presentations were also offered as a bonus:

Making the Switch—From In-Person to Virtual and Back Again with Benefits 

With Brent McConnell, Senior Director of Business Development, Blue Sky eLearn

Online Education Delivers Rewards for IAPMO and its Members  

With Michelle Brien Vice President of Marketing and Product Strategy, WBT Systems and Barbara Herman Instructional Designer and LMS Administrator, International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials (IAPMO)

Leveraging Content to Drive Value 

With Garrett Grant, VP Client Services, Velir and Adam Smolyar, Chief Marketing and Technology Officer, Urban Land Institute





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