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Membership Management

Breaking Bad News to Members: Small Staff Edition

MemberClicks Blog Avatar MemberClicks Blog April 17, 2014
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4 min read

Yesterday Associations Now’s Joe Rominiecki posted a poignant article about how to handle telling association members about embezzlement. I have to admit, my first reaction was somewhat naive. “Yikes! Embezzlement?! That’s a little extreme, isn’t it?” It is, and it’s horrible, but many associations do have to deal with scandals like that.

But perhaps embezzlement is not quite as prominent in small staff associations where there’s only a few people on the staff. Be cautious and use checks and balances, of course, but other bad news is far more likely. 

Rominiecki emphasizes that in the cases of embezzlement, honesty and transparency are the ways to go when sharing this information with your members. He points out that in the cases of police investigation some information may be legally sealed and therefore impossible to share, but overall “filling them in on whatever can be shared will minimize rumors and show members the association isn’t trying to hide anything.”

So how does a small staff association leader break bad news to his or her members? What if the problem isn’t a six-figure embezzlement, but something smaller?


Honesty and Transparency are probably still the best tactics. Power through the initial instinct to suspect everyone’s judgment. If it’s a smaller error like a scheduling snafu or a miscommunication about an event it probably won’t be as bad as you think. True, there will still probably be some anger, but people are pretty quick to forgive a small mistake. They happen. 

Stay positive, but real. So often for Small Staff Associations the problem isn’t that money was stolen but that it was not there to begin with. If the budget just isn’t there for a much-anticipated event or purchase, be honest and emphasize what you can do instead with the money you do have. Then be clear why you're coming up short!

Have a solution in mind, but ask for opinions. The last thing that your members need is another problem piled onto their plates. They are already juggling enough. So when you present your bad news, have a proposed course of action in mind. Don’t let this close you off from their suggestions! You should be prepared for both extremes: a barrage of recommendations on how to fix the issue and absolutely no suggestions on how to fix the issue. 

Offer opportunities for leadership. If the problem is such that a task force or more support is needed, make room for it! Encourage teamwork and creative thinking. Some good may still come of this problem in the form of increased member engagement.

Note the lessons learned. So you hit a bump in the road. What are you going to do in the future so you don’t hit it again? Whether the issue is something that was ultimately avoidable or instead a completely unpredictable nightmare, try to draw some conclusions anyway. A “Bad things happen!” attitude can look cavalier to your members.

Finally, often with rough patches it’s what you don’t say that really makes the biggest impact. When you hit a snag your members will be closely watching what is said about your association, how you handle PR, and what your next moves are. Get your staff on the same page, put up a united front, and move forward while keeping your members in the loop. Emphasize open communication. Encourage leadership and forward-thinking. You’ll get through it!


Big shout-out to the great minds at Associations Now and in particular, Joe Rominiecki. Please be sure to check out his article referenced here!


For tips on engaging members when the news is good, download our free guide for Small Staff Member Engagement! It’s chock full of ideas for getting those members on board with association events, volunteering, and even stepping up for leadership roles. Click below today!

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