Plan for the One

This is an exciting year for AMC’s, and the associations they manage. The shutdown in the United States has lifted, business travel has resumed, and conferences are being held in person. Your staff are now tasked with guiding your associations into planning and executing these events in a still ever changing environment. While building your conferences and programming to best serve the bulk of your membership, it is important to take time to consider the outliers. Taking time to consider the consequences of each change or policy you implement will pay dividends down the road.

One of the primary challenges you will face this year, and potentially beyond, is how to implement communicable disease safety protocols. Several industries are tackling this issue, and there are going to be many differing opinions on how to proceed. There is a reason why many Fortune 500 companies still have their employees working from home. Guiding your boards through these decisions exposes both you and them to significant increased risk.

While everyone scrambles to prevent the risk of their attendees contracting COVID, it is just as important to consider the new risks that you introduce by implenting new attendance policies. Some of the most common policies we are seeing implemented are masking requirements, health censuses, daily temperature checks, and vaccination requirements. Consider the one attendee who is both afraid of COVID, but also the vaccine. This person agrees to attend your event, but only because of the strict masking, distancing, and census policies you’ve implemented. However, once the event is underway you realize your staff is having difficulty enforcing those policies. You also have an overwhelming majority of your attendees who seem fine with lighter or no restrictions. This policy that you implemented to keep your attendees safe, and give them confidence to attend your event in the first place, could now create a significant problem. Those health questionnaires you are recording now expose your association to privacy breach risk. Any mandate on vaccination could result in a religious discriminations claim. When considering your COVID safety protocols, encourage your teams to consider the consequences.

In additional to planning for COVID, we advise boards to implement a broad stroke code of conduct.  Having a clear code of conduct that attendees agree to prior to attending has wide ranging benefits.  It makes clear attendees’ expected behavior, and thus transfers personal responsibility onto them.  It also can be tied to a guideline for staff on how to handle incidents such as harassment, complaints, and disorderly conduct. Your staff knows that they have to adapt once your events are underway. Crisis management has always been part of their job. Giving them scripts to handle violations of the code of conduct relieve some of the pressure of having to handle everything else on the fly. COVID, however, presents a unique challenge due to the rapidly changing public opinion, the variance between different associations’ memberships, and the local response. In this instance we are all learning on the fly. AMCI will be a great place to share our collective experiences and learn from them.

All the above planning still is not fool-proof. People behave badly, employees make mistakes, and circumstances outside your control may still result in a loss. The last line of defense should be carefully considered insurance policies. Bodily harm, illness, and death due to COVID or any other communicable disease are excluded. This fact may alarm your boards into doing everything they can to avoid a claim.  However, no firewall is fool-proof, waivers don’t prevent injury, and codes of conduct don’t stop people from harassing fellow attendees. Insurance policies are not comprehensive coverage. However, a well considered risk management plan and complementary insurance policies are the best way to protect you and your clients.


Calvin Gilman is the founder and principal of Association Risk Management, a division of Advance Insurance.  Association Risk Management runs an insurance program for AMC’s with the objective of improving service to their clients by making risk management a more active part of their service offerings.


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