COVID 19 Second Blog from Andy Friedman, 24 April 2020
How are Professional bodies Coping with COVID 19 Consequences
We are now well into the fourth week of lockdown. Many are experiencing frenetic activity in the new world of virtual working, but most are also experiencing severe financial consequences primarily from the fall off in event, sponsorship and advertising revenues. There are silver linings in these clouds. Most report staff are adapting well to the new environment and that members appreciate the efforts being made to communicate with them. The crisis has pushed many professional bodies more quickly than anticipated towards virtual working, but it is a direction that they have been contemplating for some time. In addition, decision making has been sped up with reduced governing body and committee discussions of proposals due to homeworking. However this may build pressure of critical reactions to those decisions in future.
We have garnered four types of consequences of COVID 19 and the lockdown for professional bodies. These thoughts have arisen from the COVID 19 survey we conducted and the two recent CEO Forum virtual meetings I recently chaired with over 40 CEOs.
Direct Negative Experiences.
The chief short term consequences of the lockdown have been a need to cancel planned events, meetings and exams, with associated declines in direct revenues as well as severe falloff on advertising and sponsorship income. AGMs are particular concerns due to constitutional requirements.
Falling revenue among members, particularly those that cannot easily work from home, is beginning to impact on member renewals. Professional body members in some areas are finding it impossible to work from home as their work involves touching artefacts or animals.
In addition there are problems for staff working from home, particularly for those with small children, those who are carers and those living alone.
A technical problem has arisen with communicating and distributing newsletters and journals in hard copy to members, many of the older members still expect this form of communication, but professional bodies only have work addresses for most members and so cannot post paper materials to them.
Finally access to CBILS is likely to prove difficult for professional bodies as bank criteria for loans involves assurances of profitability, which is not appropriate to apply to surplus. Surpluses are not intended to be maximised and some professional bodies will have recently shown deficits as they draw on reserves to fund large long term projects. Recent media reports show less than half of small business loan applications being approved by the banks.
Anxieties Concerning Direct and Anticipated Future Negative Experiences
Some anxieties expressed were specific to the lockdown situation, such as people being glued to laptops, or over working with the possible consequence of burn out. Many at the CEO Forum meetings expressed concern as to how long the lockdown may last and the more long term consequences. These include: how to reschedule postponed events, adjusting subscription benefits, managing annual leave earned but untaken, the continued need for social distancing after lockdown, and the willingness of people to return to office working. In addition members are looking to professional bodes for interpretations of government advice, on for example interpretation of ‘essential’ activities, and guidance on future prospects for returning to more normal working. This creates anxiety among professional body staff.
In general, concern with the long term financial consequences of the interruption in revenues, particularly from exam and event fees as well as advertising and sponsorship, were expressed with many saying they would be ok for 2020, but they expect severe financial consequences will be felt in 2021.
Overall, home working has proved to be reasonably well received by staff. Movement towards online working, virtual meetings and events is proceeding along a path that had been either achieved or contemplated in preliminary ways by many professional bodies. Staff productivity has gone up and some have found members are valuing services more with rising Net Promotor Scores (NPS). These trends have accelerated and some are unlikely to be reversed after lockdown is lifted, at least for quite some time. Environmental benefits have been noted as well.
Although some have furloughed staff, most have not because staff are all fully engaged in the transition to virtual working and virtual services provision. Many report postponing AGMs and running them virtually whilst following Charities Commission guidelines and confining issues to voting on subscription fees and approval of annual accounts.
Several also report an increase in risk taking with virtual activities and other new developments, as the usual constraints on such developments being circumvented somewhat to deal with the crisis. Flexibility with CPD requirements and easements on fees have occurred. AGM flexibility is being implemented by employing virtual eventing and flexible timing in spite of constitutional restrictions, which is supported by guidance from the Charity Commission.
There has been the suggestion of sharing CPD among professional bodies. It is important to be as open and transparent with staff to support their morale and this has been particularly important when getting furlough agreed. The main challenge reported by one is to reframe the strategic plan to incorporate accelerating delivery of services as well as new offerings.
I conclude this blog with a few website addresses with useful information.
For remote meetings etiquette guide see https://icon.org.uk/news/icons-top-tips-for-remote-meetings..
For plain English guidance on all HMRC schemes see https://www.litrg.org.uk/tax-guides/coronavirus-guidance.
For health and wellbeing support materials for staff see https://www.gtcs.org.uk/News/news/health-wellbeing.aspx
I would be happy to share other comprehensive materials from professional body websites which are sent to PARN.