Most of us won’t be celebrating Thanksgiving as usual. Gatherings will be a slimmer version of the traditional mega feast. There’s no need to hunt down the extra table leaf and chairs. The good news is maybe Uncle Harry, who you love to hate, won’t be there. The bad news is that you’ll probably miss him more than you think. You might even imagine yourself saying, “Sure, Harry, enjoy that cigar. Nobody minds a little smoke.”

We’ve had eight months to get used to separation, but it remains stressful and difficult, perhaps more so than ever. Like me, you’ve probably found your bright spots and moments for gratitude. Although I would be thrilled if my daughters could be back in school full-time, the extra days with them are a gift.

I’ve also been inspired by how associations are facing extreme disruption with resourcefulness, grit, and focus. .orgCommunity, our education and networking organization, has facilitated several discussion groups for colleagues to exchange strategies and information. During those conversations, I’ve learned that:

  • Leaders care deeply about the well-being of their teams.
  • They are stretching beyond their comfort zones for the benefit of the organizations they serve.
  • And they are facing uncertainty with courage and determination.

I am always inspired to learn how people overcome adversity. During this season of challenge, I thought you might enjoy reading several stories that my business partner, Kevin Ordonez, and I heard when we interviewed executives for our Association 4.0 books. I hope these happy endings provide you with motivation, encouragement, or a smile for your day.

Opportunity Knocks With a Pink Slip

Kevin Hostutler

Kevin Hostutler, President, CEO and Co-Founder, ACGI Software (Excerpt from Association 4.0: An Entrepreneurial Approach to Risk, Courage, and Transformation.)

“On Friday the 13th of September 1996, a day I’ll never forget, my co-workers and I were called into a conference room and handed pink slips. My wife was expecting our third child in three years. The hardest thing I had to do was go home and tell her that I had no practical means to support our family. Even though I knew it wasn’t my fault, I remember thinking that this is what failure feels like. That didn’t last long.

“The next week my customers started calling. My business partner, Dan Kasprow, and I had been working on some large project implementations. Those clients hadn’t gone live yet, and they needed our help. 

“One customer had a partially built membership renewal customization. All the organization’s cash flow was riding on bringing in those dollars by the end of the year, and they were desperate for us to complete the job. That association was just one of many organizations who had been abandoned by the company and were begging us for help.

“Necessity is the mother of invention. It took Dan and me eight business days to incorporate. A week later we were open for business. Dan was a bachelor, and we were working at his dining room table. Needless to say, that didn’t last long. With our first check we bought two laptops, and we rented an office. I began my career with a great job in a company I loved until they kicked me out of the nest.

Twenty-three years later ACGI software is thriving and many of the customers who needed us back then are still with us today.”

Recession Triggers Expansion

Dawn Sweeney

Dawn Sweeney, Executive in Residence, Georgetown University, McDonough School of Business, former CEO, National Restaurant Association (Excerpt from Association 4.0: Positioning for Success in an Era of Disruption)

When Dawn Sweeney joined the National Restaurant Association in 2007, the food culture in the United States was thriving and so was the restaurant business . . . Then in 2008, after 19 years of consecutive growth, the Great Recession hit the United States economy hard. Sweeney was prepared. She understood that opportunity lay in helping the industry weather the storm . . .

“One of the first things I learned coming from a very large organization like AARP to a trade association is that there is no room for making a (big) mistake. You must really think through the essence of the scope and scale of what you are doing. We developed products and services for an industry experiencing extreme challenges.”

Although membership grew during the recession as restaurant owners were searching for coping strategies, dues were not the answer to helping members or the association through the economic downturn. Sweeney understood that Instead of retracting during the recession, she had to be proactive and fill industry needs. Programs and services had to grow.

Building on a firm base of existing initiatives, the association launched a health insurance offering customized to the restaurant industry, expanded its food safety programs, supported advanced credit card processing, grew the trade show, and engaged more actively in advocacy. The industry and the association emerged from the recession stronger than ever and have continued to grow. NRA increased its annual revenue from $50 million in 2007 to $116 million in 2016.

Warrior Spirit Revives an Ailing Culture

Sandy Marsico

Sandy Marsico, Founder and CEO, Sandstorm Design (Excerpt from Association 4.0: An Entrepreneurial Approach to Risk, Courage, and Transformation)

“Ten years ago,” Sandy Marsico recalls, “I woke up one morning and realized that I didn’t want to go to work.” As Marsico struggled to understand why she wasn’t happy at her own company, she realized that she needed to look in the mirror. “I kept asking what was wrong with my staff, and I realized that they were not the problem, it was my fault. I thought I could lead by example, and I understood that was not enough.

“I called a staff meeting. The agenda was The Best Company You’ve Ever Worked For. We had note cards and a big whiteboard. We posted and recorded everyone’s ideas. I promised the group that I would make our vision reality. But I also told them that the unproductive behavior had to stop. It was a successful bargain. Our values grew out of that meeting. They are each important, but the warrior spirit is our defining characteristic. Being a warrior means that we are all in this together. No one is left behind.”

Marsico says this concept plays out daily in the company. “For example, no one likes to be the last person working late in an empty office—especially when you could use another brain. We’ve made it a practice to offer help or simply to stay and keep a colleague company. The warrior spirit describes how we feel about collaboration and putting clients and our people first.”

Community Lights the Future

These stories represent the best in leadership—hope, ingenuity, and the willingness to face hard truths and create positive change. My Thanksgiving wish is that we all discover those qualities in ourselves when we need them most.

I am deeply grateful for my family, this community, my outstanding colleagues and friends, and my wonderful clients. Thank you for all the ways that you make my life and my profession more meaningful. You are the light that keeps me looking forward to 2021 and a better year for us all.