In March of 2020, the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic left many Lions stranded at home, with district leaders wondering how they could continue to charter new clubs and bring in the members needed to serve their communities. The idea of chartering a traditional club virtually was hard to imagine without the in-person engagement and formality.
He wasn’t going to let this virus get in the way of doing all the things we would normally do as Lions. Just finding different ways to do it.
So how did the first-ever Canadian virtual club charter of a traditional club feel like a visit to the halls of Parliament, with the warmth and camaraderie of a club meeting?
A couple of weeks before the charter night for the Baxter Ward Lions Club in Ontario’s Township of Georgian Bay, Global Action Team Area Leader Past District Governor Chris Lewis became concerned about whether or not the planned in-person charter event would actually be able to take place, given the expanding pandemic. Lewis approached the club with the idea to change it to a virtual format and worked with club members to modify the agenda.
Lewis notes that this virtual charter event celebration wasn’t very different from most in-person charter nights held in District A-12.
If we had gone ahead with the charter night, that’s probably how it would have gone down. Except, you know, we probably would have had questionable roast beef for dinner, Lewis laughed.
That said, there are a few factors that are key to both virtual or in-person charter events – and a few tweaks for virtual events.
Expand your attendee list and stay flexible
When asked how far in advance he suggests inviting speakers and guests to in-person or virtual charter events, Lewis said, “I would do that as soon as we set the date. A lot of these politicians have very busy agendas, but once they commit to something, you’ve usually got them.”
Lewis also suggests being flexible with your agenda to accommodate busy leaders. “You have to be able to adapt your agenda too, because sometimes they are trying to hit two or three events in one night. We had to do that for this one as well. It wasn’t difficult to get the mayor, provincial and federal politicians to come – they were already planning to attend,” Lewis said.
“Traditionally it would have been 30 to 40 new Lions, 30 to 40 additional guests from the district. Maybe we would have been able to pull in a cool guest speaker like International Director Tom Gordon who was nearby,” added Lewis. But being online allowed them to bring in other guests and speakers they would not have had the budget to be able to bring in for an in-person event, such as Lions Clubs International Third Vice President and Canadian Dr. Patti Hill.
Don’t miss the opportunity to connect with a wider variety of invitees – you’re online so it will be easier for them to show up.
Use compelling visuals and information to introduce and engage attendees
National anthems are often a part of Lions clubs charter nights. To engage attendees, the organizers of the Baxter Ward Charter Night played a beautiful, chill-inducing video of the Canadian national anthem, showcasing sweeping aerial views of Canada and glimpses of its culture and people.
Another moving element to the virtual charter was the land acknowledgement given by Mayor Peter Koetsier. His statement recognized that this club was “on the lands traditionally occupied by indigenous people. They continue to care for this land. They continue to shape our area today, and we want to show our respect.” Celebrating and acknowledging local culture and tradition adds a layer of meaningful experience, creating a greater connection between the club and community.
One of the most important ways to keep attendees engaged during a virtual charter night is to capture visuals of documents and people who would have been present at an in-person event. “The district governor or the district coordinator would typically do the induction at the ceremony,” said Lewis. “In this case, to make it a little more personal, they took the certificates and added a headshot. If you don’t do that, you have 30 names and lots of cameras, which could cause issues.”
With 33 club charter members, the entire web event would most likely have experienced choppy video and audio. The solution was to create individual PowerPoint slides with headshots for each charter member. The members were introduced by Charter Club President Beth Heintzman, a 15-year resident of the community.
Lewis added, “Normally they would hand a framed charter over during the ceremony, so they scanned the charter to be able to present.” The framed charter can then be presented to the club in person at a later date.
Practice using your virtual delivery tool one, two or even many times before hosting your virtual event
Lewis, a general manager with the McDonald’s Corporation, has more than 10 years of training experience. He is also an alumnus of the 2017 Lions Certified Instructor Program (LCIP) and the 2011 Lions Clubs International Faculty Development Institute (FDI). His advice for virtual events is the same as his advice for training sessions.
“One of the things you do with training sessions is to always get there plenty of time in advance,” Lewis said. “You set up the room, you check all your equipment, you make sure the projector is working – the audio and all that stuff.”
“Those are exactly the same things you do for a virtual meeting,” he added. “I think people just assume you can log in at five to one and that doesn’t happen. You still have to do all the prep work. You have to make sure that the audio is working on GoTo Meeting or whatever you are using. You need to make sure that all the people who are participating know how to use it.”
For this event, Lewis noted, “Our key players, like the emcee and others – we brought them in the day before and did a bit of a dry run.”
For people like the mayor and those who weren’t able to attend the dry run, Lewis said, “We just suggested they log in about 20 minutes to a half hour before to make sure that their audio was working, their camera worked and that they knew what to do.”
It is also good practice for both virtual and in-person events to share the agenda with key players. “We gave them a brief rundown of how the agenda was going to work,” Lewis said. “We shared the agenda with them in advance, which is an ideal practice with any meeting so that people know what to expect.”
Keep your sense of humor and keep going
As with any event, there are bound to be mishaps regardless of how much you prepare. When organizing an event of this type, Lewis always has a couple of team members in reserve to help him out when needed.
When the district governor’s audio went out for a portion of the event, Global Membership Team Coordinator Ruth Roberts filled the dead air with background information about the club, allowing Lewis to continue to manage the chat box and answer questions.
The key is to keep going and not let mistakes or glitches along the way deter you from taking action. “Don’t be overly critical of how the event turns out,” Lewis advised. “Most people won’t realize it if you skipped part of the agenda or missed something. The participants are overwhelmingly excited to be part of the event and are very appreciative of your efforts. You take what you’ve learned from it and simply work to make the next one better.”
Lewis said he gives a huge amount of credit for the success of District A-12 during the COVID-19 pandemic to District Governor James Jones. “He really recognized that you don’t stop. COVID-19 came and you don’t stop,” Lewis said. “He continues to bring all his players together to one plan, one action. He wasn’t going to let this virus get in the way of doing all the things we would normally do as Lions. Just finding different ways to do it.”
For more information on how to host virtual meetings and serve safely, visit the Serving Safely page on the Lions Clubs International website.
Christy Karnatz is a Global Action Team field specialist for the U.S. and Canada.
The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has impacted communities around the world in different ways. To ensure we’re serving safely wherever we live, Lions should follow the guidelines of the Centers for Disease Control, World Health Organization or local health authorities. Visit our Serving Safely page for resources that can help you safely serve your community.