2020 Gave Us the Unexpected & What We Learned


Jason E. Ebey, IOM

As we look to the new year (with great relief to let 2020 go and great hope for 2021), we know that we cannot fully prepare for the new without pausing to take stock of the old.

Without a doubt, 2020 was the Year of the Unexpected. I doubt any of us will talk in the future of how a speaker arriving late to a luncheon because of travel disruptions was ‘unexpected’ or ‘the worst.’ Because we know for certain now that, while those types of things are certainly challenging in the moment, they are things we can quickly overcome.

And we also know that we and our staffs and our communities can overcome so much more. In honor of that, I would encourage each of you to take a moment to think about how overwhelmed you were at points throughout this year. And now think about how you are here today. You made it through it all. Likely not unscathed, but through.

We’re in it together.

It was a team effort. I can say that with all certainty, even not knowing each of you personally. Because one of the things 2020 taught us was that we need community. Even those of us who identify as introverts, loners. We all need community. We need people to work with us and support us, to bounce ideas off of and to collaborate with us. We need to feel like we are in it together, whether ‘it’ is a project at work or just life itself.

I would encourage you, if you are the captain of your team’s ship, to carve out a few moments in the coming days to send notes – handwritten or email – to those who work with you and to let them know how much you appreciate their hard work in 2020. Tell them specifically how their presence in the chaos made a difference.

People are motivated and encouraged by hearing that they and their actions matter.

Benefits matter.

As we have worked with businesses through the year discussing the move of programs and events from in-person to virtual environments, we have found that sponsoring businesses have been accommodating, by-and-large.

Though initially, concerns were about meeting in-person, we discovered through honest dialogue that those weren’t their real concerns. The true issues they were concerned with were getting their messaging to their target markets. And if you have built out the benefits offered with your sponsorships properly, those benefits translate to both in-person and virtual environments.

It is our hope that chamber professionals will carry this lesson with them into 2021 and years to come. Member businesses – sponsoring businesses – want options that allow them to reach their target markets while also telling the story of their business. Make sure your benefits are structured so your businesses are able to do those two things. If you have done that, you don’t need to be concerned with whether or not your events are in-person or are in a virtual environment.

Change is good.

How often do we as chamber professionals brush off a new idea because ‘that’s not the way we do it?’ Or insist upon keeping an event that uses more staff hours than it has value for simply because ‘we’ve always done it that way?’

This year has forced chambers everywhere to take a hard look at their programs and initiatives and determine what really was necessary, what served the mission, and what was simply a sacred cow, even if no one could quite articulate why. With finances tight and communities struggling, this was a good year to let some of those sacred cows move on to pasture. With that extra time and energy, it’s an opportunity to try new things.

Failure is an option.

Do you remember at the beginning of 2020 when we were all starting to use online meeting platforms? The internet would crash, or someone’s significant other would walk through, or you would hear a pet or a child in the background, and everyone would be horrified? And now, everyone asks to see the pet or child, and we now know everyone’s roommates and spouses. If someone’s internet crashes, we casually wait, knowing they will be back in a moment.

We have learned that we try things and sometimes they work and sometimes they don’t, and it isn’t a big deal. And in that knowledge, we have gained a freedom we didn’t have before. If we embrace that freedom with boldness, we will see that we can take chances with the programs and initiatives that we would like to implement in the coming months in our chambers. We can try something, knowing that even if it isn’t a traditional success, we can still learn from it and put that knowledge into the next new project. And the next. Because it is better to be consistently moving forward (even with the occasional misstep) than to be mired in perpetual sameness.

Collective and individual.

While these lessons apply to most of us, there are individual lessons that we can each only assess for ourselves. We encourage you to take a few moments and think about the year. What did you learn about how you and your chamber handle adversity? Who on your staff is your encourager? Who kept everyone on track, even when you were in separate locations?

What did you discover about your chamber and the way your members interact? What one program are you most proud of this year? What sacred cow are you looking to let go in the coming year?

May we all be more mindful in the coming year of how we can be in community and support one another.

You Might Also Like

YGM Partners with Chambers

There are changes going on here at YGM Total Resource Campaigns. We have a new look to our website, and we are making some updates to how we provide our...

Spooky suggestions for your Chamber this Halloween

It's finally Fall, y'all. It's the time of pumpkin spice everything and jackets and Halloween decorations. It's also the perfect time to start planning how to make the scary (or...
Image shows a diverse group of hands coming together to represent teamwork in a business setting. Image is a visual representation of the teamwork and employee retention.

Increase Your Employee Retention

The pandemic has changed our world in so many ways, and it has forever changed our workplaces. It is now an employee market. We are experiencing the “great re-evaluation” where...
stripe-wide - orange

Get Started on your Total Resource Campaign!

Sign your chamber up today and get step-by-step training on Total Resource Campaigns, online resources, and volunteer coaching backed by years of experience.