Taking a stance poses risks and opportunities. It may be time to re-evaluate your association’s policy.

In a quick poll conducted by Avenue M in mid-July 2022 with 21 CEO/Association Executives, 67% indicated their association does not comment on policy issues outside the scope of their mission. However, as times are changing, members want to know what their association thinks. It is important to be prepared and know your members and what they care about. (Click HERE to participate in future polls.)

According to one association executive who participated in the poll, their association historically did not comment on social issues because it was not within their scope. However, the murder of George Floyd changed this and resulted in the association developing a plan to increase participation among its minority members. Since then, they admit their association has been inconsistent when it comes to commenting on issues, usually sticking to domestic matters. The association is currently in the process of developing a task force to plan for speaking out on more of these issues as they come up.

Another association executive revealed they address issues that pertain to their scope or their work, as well as issues that deeply affect the community and/or such catastrophic issues that there is no choice but to respond. They cite the murder of George Floyd as one of these cases.

When asked, another association executive shares that their association has never made statements on any issues, with the two exceptions to this being the murder of George Floyd and the Russian Invasion of Ukraine. However, they try to provide their members and staff with access to needed resources. Recently, their association has discussed possibly issuing more statements moving forward, as silence is slowly becoming less acceptable, but they are determined to only speak out on issues within the parameters of their mission.

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Want to learn more? Read our quick summary of the following articles and click the links below.

When Should You Speak Out on Social Issues?

  • Be transparent about the process for determining how your organization makes the decision to make a statement on an issue.
  • Develop a way for individuals to provide feedback directly to your organization and its leadership. Provide an alternative for members who wish to voice their concerns through social media posts and/or your organization’s private forums.
  • Don’t shy away from speaking out on social issues. Doing so may be unsatisfactory for members and could be a missed opportunity for new avenues of advocacy.
  • Consider the downsides to speaking out on unrelated issues. It might become divisive to your wide member base, or there may be differences in what your organization and your members consider important. Evaluate the impact and communicate with stakeholders.

Is it Time to Take a Stand?

  • Timing is crucial when speaking out on certain topics. Make sure your organization has a process in place before it rushes to speak. Plan for what this message might look like when looking back in a few years.
  • Find out if the issue is important to your members.

Boost Your Brand by Taking a Stand

  • Ensure your organization has taken the time to really understand the issue before making a statement.
  • Act quickly once you’ve made a decision. If your organization waits too long to put out a statement, it could reflect worse than not putting out a statement at all.
  • Know your members. Know what they’re worried about, the issues they’re interested in, and focus any statements on this, regardless of if they’re in your organization’s wheelhouse or not.

Associations Reevaluate Russian Ties Amid Calls for Unity with Ukraine

  • The Russian Invasion of Ukraine has had an impact on associations and their ties to both Russia and Ukraine. Many are supporting Ukrainian members but not boycotting Russian members. While this decision has been questioned, associations often firmly state that doing so would punish all Russian members indiscriminately, whether they support the war or not.
  • Groups that have bases in Russia or Ukraine are far more pressured to take decisive action, and many are revoking licenses from these bases in protest of the war.
  • Other groups are more focused on providing any aid they can to Ukraine.

Note: One interviewed organization is banning Russians from entering their events; however, they did not specify if this meant banning events in Russia or banning all Russians from their events, regardless of if they are involved with Russia or the war. When taking a stance on current events, make sure you don’t go so far as to exclude innocent members.

When Organizations Weigh in on Social Issues

  • Getting involved with and supporting rights movements can have a positive impact for organizations.
  • Now that issues regarding people’s rights are more strongly in the limelight, the time when associations could wait out big issues has passed.

Note: If your organization decides to support a rights movement, it can’t do it halfway. When a company decorates with rainbows during pride month in the U.S. but makes no mention of it in countries where LGBTQ+ rights are contested, people take notice. If your organization doesn’t fully support what it claims to stand for, your members might perceive the organization as superficial and hypocritical rather than supportive.

Association Advocacy Needs a Plan in Election Year

  • Elections will impact your association’s mission, whatever that mission may be. As such, many associations are already planning to advocate for their issues. Plan for what your association is going to do in advance so it can quickly react when it’s time to speak up.
  • Choose your priorities and keep your facts straight.
  • Determine how your organization will be involved in elections. For example, this could be by helping people vote, sending out election updates, or whatever else will fit best for your association and members.

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Contributor: Jillian Getter, Intern

(Image: Adobe Stock)