This is Part 2 in a month-long series where we’ll be previewing the important business aspects that we’ll need to focus on in the year ahead. The goal is to help our citizens understand where our businesses are at, and let them know how we can help them thrive in 2021. We’ll focus on 2021 events, business trends, new changes, public policy outlooks, and we’ll use concrete examples from our Southern Midcoast Maine Chamber to show how organizations may adjust to 2021.

In Part 1 last week, we looked at the overwhelming issue affecting business recovery, namely, that COVID-19 is still with us in 2021. To summarize the conclusion: the quicker we get COVID-19 behind us, the better for business. However, the speed of recovery is almost completely dependent upon how many of us follow the protocols. If one-third, or more, of citizens either consistently refuse, or make occasional diversions from best practices, then the longer COVID-19 will linger. Overcoming COVID-19 is a commitment we all need to make, and those not treating it as the key priority for the community and economic health really should start to.

This week, let’s look at how COVID-19 affects an organization’s ability to plan. Because COVID-19 is so overwhelming, organizations have a set of decisions they need to make for each program or activity. These decisions are basically the following four steps:
– Should the program be done?
– Can it be done safely?
– What changes need to be made?
– Will people attend if these changes are implemented/ is it worth it?
That’s a bit abstract so we’ll be using our Chamber as an example so you can see how these decisions get made in real time.

Let’s look at three chamber events to see how these decisions get made and what needs to be taken into account. The first event to look at is our Annual Meeting of the Membership, which is the bylaw-mandated meeting every membership based non-profit or not-for-profit is required to have annually.

The basic function of the Annual Meeting of the Membership is to vote on structural changes, which typically for our chamber is only one or two things annually: introducing the incoming Board of Directors with a vote of all members present, and making any bylaw changes. Bylaw changes are rare- happening maybe once every five to seven years- but if they are needed, then we need to present them here. Thus, most years, the Annual Meeting is only an introduction of the Board of Directors with a vote, and typically takes less than 15 minutes if that is your only item.

Many organizations tie this meeting into an annual event (like the BDA’s Breakfast coming up on Jan. 27) and our chamber did too for many years. However, in 2019 we split the meeting and our Awards Dinner up because so many organizations have their events in January (including other chambers of commerce around the state) so we tied the Meeting of the Membership to our January Chamber After Hours and did it during that monthly networking event.

That’s a lot of background information, but I give it because you need to know it for us to walk through the four-step decision-making process laid out above. Here we go:
– Should the event be done? Yes, it’s bylaw mandated to happen in January, so we must do it.
– Can it be done safely? Yes, it could be if we socially distanced or did it outside, though that’s not optimal in January.
– What changes need to be made? Let’s hold it in online.
– Will people attend/Is it worth it? Yes. It’s not as good as in-person, but people are so used to online meetings that they’ll show up for it, especially if it’s short.

Coincidentally, last week the executive team decided that the SMMC Annual Meeting of the Membership will held Friday, Jan. 29, via Zoom. The meeting will be held at 8:45-9 a.m. and will include a brief recap of the year, a preview of upcoming events and a vote on the slate of officers and directors for 2021. All member businesses are invited to attend and the Zoom link can be found on the SMMC homepage, and on the SMMC event calendar, on our website at www.midcoastmaine.com

Let’s try this again with another chamber event- the Hacker’s Ball Chamber Golf Tournament in May:
– Should it be done? Yes, it’s a fundraiser that golfers love.
– Done Safely? Yup, we created 2020 COVID safety protocols
– Changes? Use the 2020 COVID protocols if we need to.
– Is it worth it? Absolutely

What about an event that’s not so easy though, like the aforementioned Awards Dinner which is typically held in March:
– Should it be done? Yes. It’s our one event each year to spotlight individuals and businesses for their success- that’s important and spreads good will.
– Done safely? Not in-person and indoors (which in March it would need to be)
– Changes needed? Either do the event as an online Zoom meeting and honor business leaders that way or push the event until later in the year when we could do an outdoor event, or when restrictions may be lifted for gatherings.
– Is it worth it? Yes, it’s still a worthwhile event but which is more important- keeping the time frame and doing it in March online, or pushing the event later but having the possibility of doing it outdoors or in-person?

Our executive team made the decision last week to push the dinner until later in the year- perhaps May or June (more details as it gets finalized).

So that’s how we use the four-step approach that’s to make each and every decision for our programs right now and it’s what all organizations go through when they make their decisions. Next week we will look at value of dual planning for long-term projects and take a look at some policy pieces that will affect 2021.

Cory King is the executive director of the Southern Midcoast Maine Chamber.

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