Authors: Helene Johnson, President, Bid2Win Consulting & Deirdre Murray, Principal, Deirdre Murray Consulting LLC
On September 8, 2021 we had a wonderful conversation with AFFIRM’s President, Jaclyn Rubino who expanded on why associations matter, why AFFIRM is unique, the impact of the pandemic, and more. Here are the results of our discussion.
Q: Why do associations matter in the federal space?
A: Associations are the conduit to ensuring that government and industry are aligned and possess a common understanding of the key challenges, capability gaps, and government agency priorities. The government can easily rely on associations to gain perspective on behalf of a body of members instead of hearing the voice of one company or entity. When an association raises a question, provides a recommendation, or even advocates a perspective – the government can trust that it represents many voices. Additionally, the collaboration between government and industry through associations ensures we evolve together yielding innovation, advanced solutions, and improved outcomes.
Q: Why AFFIRM? What makes AFFIRM unique in the federal government market?
A: AFFIRM’s mission is to unite government, industry, and academia to collaborate and innovate. AFFIRM has been in existence for over 40 years and, through it all, we have remained true to our roots and mission. We are a smaller association that relies heavily on volunteers as we have limited overhead expenses and no paid employees. Our operating model enables us to keep our focus on knowledge sharing programs, career development programs, and in raising funds to support our robust scholarships program. Because we know our identity at AFFIRM, we’re not trying to compete with the larger, more prominent associations. Our programs and events are generally more intimate providing opportunities for greater levels of engagement for attendees with key decision makers. Additionally, AFFIRM that organization where anyone can become involved and volunteer – we are an inclusive and welcoming group. At AFFIRM, you get out of it what you put into it!
Q: With the Biden administration’s strong focus on small business, what value and advantages does AFFIRM bring to the Small Businesses?
A: AFFIRM brings much value and advantages to our small business sustaining partners and to those small businesses that attend our events. Our sustaining partnership fees are very reasonable making the barrier to entry for small businesses to join AFFIRM quite low. Additionally, we offer sponsorship opportunities that are reasonable and attainable for small businesses, which provides them with recognition tied to our events.
Once a small business becomes an AFFIRM sustaining partner, they can immediately get involved on our committees, and even hold a position on AFFIRM’s board. As AFFIRM is a smaller association, our events provide more intimate networking opportunities and greater chances of direct interaction with government decision makers which benefits all sustaining partners, especially smaller businesses. Additionally, AFFIRM’s size enables us to solicit feedback from all of our sustaining partners and we are able to easily shape programs that are timely and relevant to our sustaining partners.
Q: Looking back on 2020 and Covid-19 and the ongoing impacts of the pandemic, how is AFFIRM adapting to the new normal? How is the association continuing to bring value to its government and industry members? What is the biggest pandemic related surprise? What are your biggest lessons learned? How can/will AFFIRM remain relevant?
A: Like many organizations, at the on-set of COVID-19, AFFIRM had to pivot quickly. We had a long history of monthly in-person luncheon programs and limited history of virtual events. COVID-19 sparked innovation and energy from our board and committees to ensure AFFIRM was successful and remained relevant by introducing new programs, such as our book club, and reimagining existing programs, such as our monthly programs. Our book club is a key example of a long-standing and respected board member’s innovative idea during COVID. We selected a timely and relevant book and brought together government executives and the author to discuss key takeaways and applicability to leading during these challenging times. Our monthly programs moved to a completely virtual format and we eliminated the attendance fee. We evolved to a sponsorship model and gave our sponsors the opportunity to introduce their company in opening remarks during the event.
As President, I heard from our sustaining partners that virtual programs lack the networking opportunities that make the events valuable. In response to this feedback, we launched a quarterly, sustaining partner and board member-only event that highlights a specific agency in a plenary session with smaller breakout “rooms” afterwards for more intimate engagement with our panelists. The events have been well received and will continue this year.
Finally, many of us are engaged in AFFIRM because we are passionate about our scholarships program. When we realized that our regular fundraising efforts would be impacted due to COVID restrictions, another energetic board member proposed hosting a “virtual 5K”. And just like that, our “Step Up for STEM 5K” was born. We sent packages to each walker with a t-shirt, bandanas, masks, a small backpack, and other sponsored goodies for use on the walk. Our team held a virtual stretch kick-off and a lively closing “awards” ceremony. Out of such a trying time came greatness and AFFIRM family delivered!
Q: How will AFFIRM handle the year’s Leadership Awards event?
A: Our event has been rescheduled to take place in early December and will honor our AFFIRM Leadership Awardees only. We have established COVID-19 safety protocols and have an approach in place to ensure the safety and well-being of our attendees. We received many worthy nominations for the awards and I certainly look forward to recognizing our award recipients.
Since the timing of the event has shifted and we typically honor our scholarships and grants recipients during an annual leadership awards event, we held a separate event in July to ensure the scholarships were issued in a timely manner. Our July event profiled the scholarship recipients who were featured on camera with their family members as their profile and accomplishments were read. It was so rewarding to see the proud families and students being honored. The event also served as an opportunity to thank our board and volunteers with care packages sent to their homes and for me to announce the AFFIRM President’s Award recipients.
Q: How can members get involved?
A: Since AFFIRM relies heavily on volunteers, there are ample ways to get involved in our inclusive and welcoming organization. We have several committees responsible for all that we do – from our fundraising efforts to our regular programs to scholarships. Wherever interests lie, there are opportunities to support AFFIRM. Anyone interested in joining a committee or learning how to get involved can reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Q: What key message would you like to share?
A: AFFIRM’s mission is timeless and with associations, such as AFFIRM, in the government landscape the future is bright. You do not need to hold an executive position or even be seasoned in your career to participate and get value out of AFFIRM. True to our mission, we pride ourselves in the diversity of our programs, in promoting collaboration and innovation, and in being an inclusive organization. We recognize it is critically important, especially in this industry, to engage and invest in upcoming talent. Our scholarships program is the backbone of why many of us are involved in AFFIRM – at one point someone invested in each of us and this is our opportunity to give back.