The Association Adviser staff caught up with new ASAE President and CEO Susan Robertson, CAE, during August’s ASAE Annual Meeting and Exposition. The following is a loose transcript of the conversation.
Association Adviser: You transitioned into your current role as President and CEO in March – the same time the world was shutting down because of the COVID pandemic. What were your thoughts about leading ASAE through this difficult time?
Susan Robertson, CAE: Considering ASAE’s journey over the past year with John [Graham IV, CAE, former ASAE president and CEO]’s illness and death in January, we were kind of used to disruption. Our environment wasn’t normal learning up to the pandemic. Everyone has been working toward becoming more nimble in their own industries and organizations, and we began to work differently in this way, too. In the past, we always strived for perfect when we would roll out a program or event. We’ve had to get over that. Nothing will be perfect in this environment. Relevancy and timeliness have become more important goals. We acknowledge that no one has all the answers, and we’ll all learn from each other. We’re here to learn and figure out the path forward.
We’ve been able to make a difference. I’m proud of the role we have in diversity, equality and inclusion initiatives, and that we’re having hard conversations. Associations are uniquely qualified for these topics because of our mission-driven work, but it’s hard work and we need to be at the center of it to have an impact in the longer term. You have to start somewhere.
Among the changes happening now to the way associations operate and engage with members, which measures do you hope will become permanent?
I hope we become more nimble and responsive to immediate needs. We have to bring that forward. We shouldn’t continue to support processes that don’t fit our members’ needs or our individual missions. Roles and responsibilities can change; you shouldn’t bring forward all the rules from before if they’re no longer working for you.
Plus, we should focus on true collaboration. Our goal, in support of that desire, is to make engagement and access to resources as affordable as possible with fewer barriers. We believe in co-creating with members, especially now as we realize that we depend on each other now more than ever. We’re all in this together.
Associations are not immune to the big conversations happening around racism and social justice issues. How does ASAE plan to support its members as they strive to support their members on important issues?
Making a stand can change depending on the industry. I believe in expanding civil discourse and addressing polarizing issues, but we have to be able to look at diverse, differing opinions and bring those together to solve common problems. Solving problems is an art and a discourse. It’s not just being nice to each other. ASAE tries to lead by action guided by our strategic plan. There are small and large things we can do with our coalitions. How we address our members and build on programs is important going forward.