Archive for June, 2020

Support Your Virtual Events With a Robust Content Strategy

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The distractions of home can make it easy to ignore a virtual event. Give your annual meeting added punch by supporting it with innovative content.

By Eric Goodstadt

There’s a certain level of commitment to attending a live event.

When someone pays money to register for an annual meeting or tradeshow, they’ve already committed to showing up and taking part in your event. And they’re generally looking forward to discovering a new or familiar place as they interact with their colleagues and peers.

But these are different times, thanks largely to the complexities of COVID-19. What was once live is now virtual. This changes the equation, not only for event organizers and sponsors, but also attendees.

In a webinar study that has some important takeaways for digital events, GoToWebinar finds that virtual marketing events have an attendance rate of just 44 percent. With everything virtual there is to choose from, and everyone working at or near a comfortable couch, how do you make your virtual event stand out as one that must be attended?

Drive Virtual Attendance with Content

Here are a few ways it could help your next event:

It can provide an additional funnel. Content can help get people in the door at a time when traditional buzz may be harder to build, which is why it needs to take on a more significant role now. For example, rather than simply sharing ramp-up content on social media a week ahead of the event, consider planning for a more robust build-out months in advance—maybe driven by a vlog, a series of behind-the-scenes newsletters to members, or perhaps even interactive quizzes.

It’s a good way to add context. Often at annual meetings, attendees tend to stumble into breakout sessions based on the title or just to see if they might find a gem—perhaps with the help of a printed conference guide or app. In a virtual context, this sort of self-discovery is a lot tougher to do. Fortunately, content can save the day. A well-considered pre-event strategy can build excitement around your speakers (keynoters and breakout speakers alike) and illustrate your event’s breadth. That can help differentiate your offering from just another glossy webinar.

It can add fresh value to your event. Virtual events pose a clear challenge, since attendees may not give them the same weight as your in-person events. But that’s only the half of it: Sponsors and exhibitors may feel shortchanged without a convention hall to highlight their wares. This is where content can save the day, not only by supplementing the digital event itself—by curating hours of coverage into thoughtful articles and video coverage—but by giving those sponsors and exhibitors effective alternatives to the convention hall. If designed right, a strong content program can offer both attendees and sponsors something very impactful: a leave-behind component (maybe an in-depth curated resource or a piece of swag), that lives on well past the event itself.

Make Room for Print, Too

Considering everything else about most events is already digital, it’s important to think about nondigital content strategies, too. While print content has been less popular than digital content in recent years, ironically, it may be just what the doctor ordered in the current climate—adding much-needed texture to your virtual meeting. There are many directions printed content for a virtual meeting can go.

For example, researchers have found that, in a learning environment, people tend to remember more when they write things down with a paper and pen. This is a clear opportunity to create dedicated notebooks for attendees that you can send to their homes, complete with additional educational resources.

But even before the meeting begins, there are plenty of ways to reach your attendees through print, which offers the personal touch we so desperately crave right now. You can send printed letters or handwritten postcards (perhaps penned by the keynote speaker); create a conference magazine or newsletter; or even offer a “special gift” to attendees pre-event—something political fundraisers are doing a lot these days. It’s a small way to close the gap between a live event and a virtual one.

Physical events give your association the important opportunity to showcase its weight and scale. Virtual events can do the same. They will just require a bit more planning and ingenuity, beyond simply livestreaming presentations, to make it happen. With a carefully crafted content strategy melding both the digital and tangible worlds, you could see success rivaling the good old days of destination meetings.

Eric Goodstadt, president of Manifest, has more than two decades of experience in the agency world, serving clients in diverse sectors—including associations, nonprofits, and Fortune 500 companies.

The post Support Your Virtual Events With a Robust Content Strategy appeared first on Associations Now.

Does Your Newsletter Need More Personality?

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Your daily or weekly newsletter may be set up as a list of links right now, but many inbox competitors these days have grown much chattier and voice-driven. Should you follow suit?

In recent years, email newsletters have gone from purely professional platforms to a preferred medium for amateurs or solo entrepreneurs to attract readers to niches as diverse as Chinese politics and dust. (Literally, I’ve read newsletters about dust.)

I think the rise of these kinds of newsletters is largely a good thing for people who like reading, but their evolution creates questions about whether association newsletters need to adapt.

This is not a totally new phenomenon, and it’s seen some interest in associations already—five years ago this month, I featured an experimental effort by association consultant Jeff De Cagna to create a curated newsletter. But in those five years, a lot has happened to change the media landscape, turning the concept from emerging to mainstay.

In particular, services such as Substack, Revue, and the content management platform Ghost have emerged to give tiny niche newsletters a subscription-based business model. Substack has become something of a phenomenon in the writing community: Some of its largest paid newsletters make enough to be full-time businesses for their creators. And there have been some major newsletter-only success stories, including theSkimm, Morning Brew, and The Hustle, that borrow more from the more personal editorial newsletters than they do from the lists of links. (Newsletters are not immune to the economic tides, however—theSkimm recently announced layoffs.)

The result is that there are a lot more voices out there clamoring for a share of your 10-minute morning email scroll. And honestly, this could create problems for more spartan approaches down the line.

Many associations have likely invested a lot in tactics that get people to click links. It makes the results easy to track. But given the shift in the market toward chattier editorial newsletters, it’s worth questioning whether that remains the right long-term approach.

Voices Carry

For newsletters by more traditional organizations and brands, the secret to standing out given the added email competition may be to embrace some more voice-friendly strategies. A few ideas:

Give primary ownership of the newsletter to one person. For years, DC has been getting some of its hottest news from Mike Allen, the former Politico and current Axios reporter whose pitter-patter of reporting has come to define the way that many political types consume information in Washington. His style of newsletter-writing—and you can tell it’s him, right off the bat—is a model that associations might draw inspiration from, because many readers know it well. Other organizations, such as the nonprofit Poynter Institute, have followed suit with this strategy, making the voice the big star—in Poynter’s case, by handing its primary newsletter, The Poynter Report, to its senior editor, Tom Jones. (In many ways, it’s an extension of Poynter’s legacy on this front, as the longtime home of front-facing media blogger Jim Romenesko.)

Work on your voice-to-information ratio. In a blog post for the email newsletter provider Revue, writer Liza Jansen of the popular Dutch platform Newspresso [Dutch language] says that quippy comments shouldn’t come at the cost of brevity and information delivery. “Paragraphs in a newsletter, however, need to serve the reader by coming straight to the point,” she explains. “That’s because newsletters are not (yet) regarded as a go-to platform for long-form article reading, but rather for the consumption of news and facts in between work and to-dos.” Of course, some of that is also context—if you have convinced your readers to stick around for something long, they’ll stay with you.

Make sure the voice matches the content. These days, we’re dealing with a lot of heavy stuff in the news cycle—including COVID-19, stories of police brutality, and wide-scale protests—and it can often prove challenging to find the right tone to cover this information, especially if it’s not necessarily your focus. In a recent post about the COVID-19 crisis, Kelsey Bernius of SendGrid suggests taking a balanced approach. “Now would be a good time to adjust the tone and focus on the facts and developments within your control,” she writes. “But don’t over-correct so much and write in such a solemn or dire tone that you increase the recipient’s stress.”

Person or Institution?

One question I think will come up with an approach like this is whether the organization needs to take the lead or if an individual voice (an influencer, of sorts) is best for pushing the right tone forward.

This is ultimately a question that your organization will have to answer for itself, potentially with the help of an outside party. My advice, though, would be to consider how your audience reacts to messaging driven by authenticity. If they take that style of messaging seriously—and some sectors do more than others—that should be a factor in what you end up doing.

But a lot of newsletters have moved beyond being just a list of links—and they’ve found success by shifting from that model. Perhaps yours should, too.

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Daily Buzz: Attendee Engagement Can Go Beyond the Event

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How you can connect with your audience before, during, and after your organization’s event. Also: Motivate employees to stay on the path to digital transformation.

A great event occurs when attendees are engaged. However, engagement doesn’t have to be confined to the event itself—communicate with attendees before, during, and after. And that’s true whether the event you’re planning is virtual or not.

“Whether you’ll be face-to-face, all online, or some combination of the two, keeping attendees informed and engaged is imperative to event success,” says MemberClicks’ Colleen Bottorff.

Communicating before the event helps build anticipation and facilitate connections. During the event, meanwhile, give attendees the information they need.

“If you’ll have a TV or screen (or virtual waiting room) where you can share a slide presentation, put one together that’ll loop with important information,” Bottorff says.

In your post-event communications, thank attendees for coming and share any highlights—photos, videos, information about prize winners. Then, lead them to any relevant material you have, such as blog posts, white papers, and e-learning courses.

“Be sure you make a regular practice of thinking about your attendees’ experience—that means their entire journey from registration to the weeks following—and what they might need to know about before, during, and after the event,” Bottorff says.

Keep the Digital Transformation Going

COVID-19 made you speed up #digitaltransformation initiatives – now how do you keep making progress?by @EevaRaita @Futurice https://t.co/3zppeBYm8d #cios #leadership

— Enterprisers Project (@4enterprisers) June 11, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has made it more difficult for organizations to keep their digital transformation efforts going. How can they stay on track? Make progress visible to employees, argues Eeva Raita, head of strategy and culture at Futurice, on The Enterprisers Project.

“Starting with ‘why’ gets people excited and engaged, but making progress visible keeps them going,” Raita says. “Focusing not only on what you have created but also what influence it has had will help satisfy the team’s sense of accomplishment.”

Other Links of Note

How can you mobilize volunteers to combat societal challenges? Make volunteering more accessible, says Erin Halley on VolunteerMatch.

Back to normal: Know Your Own Bone’s Colleen Dilenschneider looks at what would make people comfortable going to cultural entities again.

Are your e-learning courses ready for the death of Adobe Flash? A recent Learning Solutions post breaks down what you can do about it.

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What Will an In-Person Conference Look Like After COVID-19?

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When in-person events resume, they will look very different. A new white paper by the International Association of Exhibitions and Events dives into what organizers will have to change to prioritize health and safety.

Even though cities and states are in different phases of reopening, it will likely be months before large conferences and tradeshows can resume. According to the ASAE Research Foundation’s latest Association Impact Snapshot survey, almost 44 percent of association execs who responded said the earliest date they expect their organization to resume in-person events is January 2021 or later.

Even though groups may not be welcoming onsite attendees soon, that doesn’t mean they’re not already thinking about processes and protocols they’ll have to implement to maintain high health and safety standards.

To help organizers with that planning, last week the International Association of Exhibitions and Events released a white paper, “Essential Considerations for Safely Reopening Exhibitions and Events, Version One.”

“Although we are eager to get back to our usual face-to-face business environment, safety must be the top priority, and we must look to the science and medical communities for the best ways to go about producing our shows,” said IAEE President and CEO David DuBois, CMP, CTA, FASAE, CAE, in a press release. “IAEE’s Health and Safety Task Force teamed with associations across the industry to collaborate with the Global Biorisk Advisory Council in order to make sure we are applying the best information available to us as this most recent pandemic progresses.”

The white paper covers everything from general health and safety measures to cleaning procedures for venues. Here, I’ll take a look at how four conference staples could change moving forward, according to IAEE.

Registration. Increased use of technology will minimize lines and contact during the registration process. Instead of a main registration area that could cause a large number of people to congregate in one place, associations should consider placing remote kiosks throughout the venue. In addition, groups may want to require advance online registration and mail name badges to attendees ahead of the event to reduce the need for them to even visit a registration desk.

Session rooms. Planners will need to work with the venue and local health and safety authorities to establish room setup and capacity. Having eight people sitting close to each other at a round table will no longer work. Tables of one or two people may become the norm.  Planners will also need to create a meeting schedule that allows for rooms to be sanitized between sessions.

Expo hall. In the past, a successful tradeshow was typically defined as one that had a lot of foot traffic. With social distancing guidelines in place, a full expo hall will no longer be possible. To manage crowds and allow people to keep a safe distance from one another, organizers may need to expand tradeshow hours, allowing for staggered access to the expo hall. “Exhibition organizers may provide the event’s attendees with access to the tradeshow floor during designated timeslots in order to evenly spread the attendance, in combination with prearranged meeting times,” according to the white paper.

Tradeshow booths. These will have to be designed to allow exhibitors and attendees to stand six feet from one another. Exhibitors will need to rethink tchotchkes and marketing collateral typically available for attendees to grab, and they will have to account for cleaning of spaces and surfaces throughout the day.

What protocols is your association developing for future in-person events to keep your attendees, exhibitors, and staff safe? Please share in the comments

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ICCA Report: COVID-19 Could Shift Priorities for Associations

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A new study from the International Congress and Convention Association finds that many associations around the world are considering changes to their model to adapt to COVID-19, but still want the support of industry partners even if they go virtual.

Due to COVID-19’s impact, associations are more than ever ready to make a change for the sake of the future.

But no matter what happens, they’ll always have their partners to lean on.

This is a point underlined in a recent report from the International Congress and Convention Association, produced in partnership with the African Society of Association Executives, the Asia Pacific Federation of Association Organizations, and the European Society of Association Executives. The Future of Global Association Meetings: The New Association Reality [ICCA membership required], a study of nearly 200 associations globally, notes that 70 percent of respondents have had to make changes to one or more of their meetings. But in many parts of the world, nearly 30 percent of respondents are seeing evidence that things are normalizing enough that travel might be possible for events.

A few key takeaways from the report:

Desire to make changes. Roughly two thirds of respondents say that they expect COVID-19 will affect how they operate in the future, and perhaps underlining that, the report highlighted that associations were willing to make changes to a number of revenue sources in an effort to adapt. The most notable potential shift: A change in membership models or fees, cited by 42 percent of respondents. Also being considered by large portions of associations are rethinks to meetings (47 percent), online education offerings (43 percent), and sponsorship strategies. “The simple truth is that we are still learning how to maximize the tools available on digital platforms and we are creating more and more authentic ways to communicate in digital spaces at an incredibly fast speed,” the report states.

Longing for face to face. Many associations expect to have a mixture of physical and virtual events in the future, for obvious reasons. But that doesn’t mean that attendees don’t have a strong preference for meeting in person. According to the report, 60 percent of respondents say that their members are telling them that virtual meetings have limiting factors compared to physical options, with respondents underlining that the things they most like about face-to-face meetings include the opportunities to meet new people from around the world  and feel a sense of community.

Desire for partnership. The report finds that nearly 80 percent of respondents said they’re open to using a meetings management company of some kind for future events—though what, exactly, they want from such partnerships varies greatly, with half of associations looking for exhibition management needs and integrated digital platforms, but interest in help with communications, sponsorship and fundraising, and event organization also drawing significant interest.

In a statement, ICCA CEO Senthil Gopinath notes that, during a difficult time, partnerships are what will keep everyone afloat.

“It is clear the partnerships between suppliers and associations have become more important than ever, and this is exactly what we are facilitating in our global community of suppliers and associations,” he said in a news release. “It remains a trying time for our industry but there is hope for all, particularly if we are flexible and work together towards new and creative solutions.”

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Helping Members Manage Stress in a Crisis

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One association recognized well before the global pandemic that its members needed resources to help them manage stress, depression, and other mental health issues. Then COVID-19 hit, and the online resource became timelier than they ever anticipated.

The Legal Marketing Association, which supports the marketing and business development arm of the legal profession, has long understood that their members need resources to manage stress, work-life balance, and mental health issues brought on by the inherent pressures of the legal profession. A 2016 report by the American Bar Association and the Betty Ford-Hazelton Foundation that showed high rates of depression, anxiety, and substance abuse among lawyers spurred them to action.

“It was becoming a silent issue facing the entire legal community,” said LMA executive director Danielle Holland. LMA leadership realized that if these issues were a problem for lawyers in firms, they must also be affecting the rest of the professionals working in that culture.

Last year, LMA’s leadership team came together and engaged the organization’s membership to create an online Well-Being Resource Center that would help its members feel “safe, engaged, and healthy,” Holland said. LMA also surveyed members to assess their mental health needs so the organization could make sure it was providing the most relevant resources.

Just in Time for COVID-19

Holland said LMA had no idea how necessary—and timely—the Well-Being Resource Center would be once COVID-19 hit shortly after its launch. They moved quickly to update the resource center with information “front and center” on how to manage stress and anxiety during the pandemic.

LMA also hosted webinars covering general well-being and mental health but also provided tips for managing the stress of working from home, including how to maintain boundaries between work and home life and how to have well-being check-ins. (A recent Associations Now article delved into eight ways to manage stress while working remotely and noted that self-care is key.)

Starting a Well-Being Resource

Thinking about creating a wellness resource for your members? Renee Branson, MA, CreC, principal and founder of RB consulting, serves on LMA’s Well-being Committee, which led the implementation of the Well-Being Resource Center. She said associations can access many free and low-cost reputable sources of information, such as the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. At a minimum, she said, associations can create a clearinghouse of vetted, reputable resources online for members as a beginning and then go from there.

Holland credits the strong support of volunteers in establishing the Well-Being Resource Center. Peer-to-peer engagement from the Well-being Committee and board of directors has been essential to support the project, she said.

From the beginning, LMA wanted the online resource to be available to anyone, not just members. “We think mental health and well-being is important and anyone should be able to get these resources,” Branson said. Open access has quickly made the Well-Being Resource Center a “go-to destination” on LMA’S website, Holland noted, adding that the most popular sections are on mindfulness and meditation.

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Daily Buzz: How to Run an Efficient Virtual Board Meeting

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Keep meetings focused to avoid wasting board members’ time. Also: What associations can do to grow their membership during the pandemic.

These days, you’re likely feeling Zoom fatigue—and your board members are in the same boat. That is why efficiency is imperative in a virtual board meeting.

“A meeting that has no direction can be unproductive and annoying—especially when the meeting is after hours for your ‘volunteer” job,’ says a recent post on the YourMembership blog.

A meeting agenda will keep you from wasting time. Match the length of the agenda to the length of your meeting so that you can address everything important without going over the allotted time.

“With virtual meetings, you might consider a few less agenda items as online meetings typically require repetition and clarification. The agenda should be focused on topics that support your organization’s strategic goals,” says the YourMembership team.

You can avoid the number of people who need clarification by sending out materials in advance of the meeting, such as the agenda, minutes from previous meetings, financial statements, membership reports, and staff reports. Do this at least five days ahead of the meeting.

“Good board members know their responsibilities and will read what you send them. Assume board members did their homework and reviewed the updates.”

While the agenda should be focused, allowing for a brief period of personal time to connect with board members can be helpful.

“Taking time to recognize how everyone is navigating through the changing times will provide your board with support and help build community.”

Grow Your Membership After the Pandemic

Associations will see a surge in new memberships over the next three months, here’s how to make sure you’re part of the surge: https://t.co/2Bhx5fDZ4c#associationfieldreport #associationhustle #associations #assnchat #associationmanagement

— The Moery Company (@TheMoeryCompany) June 8, 2020

Now is the time to show potential members what your association can do during times of uncertainty. Moery Company’s JP Moery tells the story of a trade association that produced content showing what it’s done to make a difference during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The result? Many new members [came] on board during the pandemic and economic crisis. Why? Because they are seeing the demonstration of what your association can provide to them in good times, bad times, and the worst of times,” Moery says.

Other Links of Note

How are online communities making a difference? Higher Logic examines 28 stats from the latest State of Community Management Report.

Imagery and typography have a huge impact on a website, suggests a recent post from Gulo Solutions.

How are organizations reacting to COVID-19? Association Chat tells the story of one small company’s experience.

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Leading During a Pandemic: Why Diverse Leadership Matters More Than Ever

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COVID-19 has pressed associations to build boards with people who are flexible and eager to lead, and who bring new perspectives to the table. Diversity initiatives offer a path to get there.

Among the many things that COVID-19 has revealed about associations is the need to rethink what they need in their boards. Of course, associations often struggle to build and support effective boards outside of crisis mode, but now matters are more urgent.

One example of that need for change comes from a survey published earlier this month by the National Association of Corporate Directors. The survey shows that, at least for the short term, the pandemic has pushed aside familiar matters like onboarding and succession planning as top concerns. Rather, the directors surveyed say that their top governance challenges involve “shaping a realistic post-crisis strategy,” “ensuring the ongoing health and safety of employees,” and “getting up to speed on all the emerging risk dimensions of the crisis.” Board leaders are confident in their organizations—92 percent are sure their firms will survive the crisis. But thanks to the coronavirus, the tools they’ll need may change.

Those challenges are likely not that much different in associations and the larger nonprofit industry. But will associations have the people they need for the task? That remains a struggle. According to BDO’s annual Nonprofit Standards benchmarking survey, more than half of the organizations reporting (54 percent) say that attracting quality leadership will be a challenge in 2020.

So new skills are necessary, but the old problem of bringing in engaged leaders hasn’t gone away. What to do?

Diversity efforts are too often treated as something to check off a to-do list.

Neither report addresses it, but part of the solution may come by solving another problem that associations have often been loath to tackle: board diversity. Race to Lead Revisited [PDF], a new report from the Building Movement Project, an organization that promotes social change in nonprofitdom, notes that many of the challenges regarding diversity, equity, and inclusion at nonprofits remain persistent, both on staff and on boards. And in some cases, the problem is worse: According to the report, “people of color were substantially more likely to state that race is a barrier to their advancement, while white respondents were more likely to agree that their race provides a career advantage. People of all races were more likely to agree with statements describing obstacles people of color face in obtaining leadership positions.”

That’s all the more frustrating because the report demonstrates not just that there is a leadership pipeline of people who are prepared to bring new ideas into organizations, but that those organizations might perform better if they were brought in. According to the report, “Both people of color and white respondents report a far better experience in POC-led groups,” and a lack of engagement with people of color has an impact on workers’ tenure and satisfaction. Those working for organizations that are predominantly white-led are less likely to say they’ll be happy working there three years from now, or that they feel they have a voice in the organization, or that they’re given equitable opportunities for advancement and promotion.

And efforts to close the gap are perceived differently by different groups: While more than half of white respondents (54 percent) say their organizations are developing recruitment strategies to increase diversity, only 40 percent of people of color say that’s the case. Too often, DEI is relegated to a training session that many see as “a means to check DEI efforts off an organizational to-do list,” according to the report.

A more robust approach, the authors say, “requires setting and meeting targets for bringing on candidates, instituting effective onboarding and support for new staff and board members, and being willing to shift power—that is, to listen to the observations and recommendations of staff and board members of color, and to change the organization’s policies and practices accordingly.”

That kind of power shift, in itself, will not solve the problems associations are facing today. What it can do is demonstrate a real commitment to new ideas and processes that are essential to leading through the current crises—and what comes after.

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Leading During a Pandemic: The Need for Steady Governance

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There’s no way to make an association crisis-proof, but good governance is key to resilience. One expert shares how to help boards maintain their focus.

Successful boards look for alignments with the needs of members and customers. But what are those needs during a time when economies and social norms have transformed? Successful boards consider environmental scans to establish broad strategic goals. But what if the environmental scan you conducted before your most recent five-year strategic plan no longer resembles the world you’re in?

In short, is it time to give your strategic plan another look?

The answer may be yes, but it’s important to tread carefully when it comes to such conversations, says governance consultant and former association CEO Robert Nelson, CAE. The urge to respond to a crisis can be so strong that many might overstep their boundaries—and forget that the strategic plan is designed to provide stability in moments like these.

“During a crisis there can be a tendency for boards or individual board members to want to jump in and fix things or make decisions that are in management’s realm,” Nelson wrote recently. And such leaps can make an association’s work needlessly complex.

In an interview last week, Nelson shared a few thoughts to consider before convening your board for an emergency strategy session.

A lot of people say, what does my board have to do differently? I think your board just needs to govern well.

Are you really talking about strategy, or panicking over tactics? A strategic plan that enumerates specific efforts for things like meeting formats and membership growth wasn’t truly a strategic plan to start with. “I believe we’ll find that there are organizations that really didn’t have strategies, they actually had tactical plans, and I think they will find that their quote-unquote plan will need to change significantly,” Nelson says. “That’s why it’s so important to have a strategy truly be a strategy, because then you can change the tactics from a staff level. You’ll see two sets of associations, those that had bad strategic plans having to make significant alterations, and those that have great strategies, and maybe having to tweak one out of four initiatives.”

Use the moment to reestablish your governance processes. Rogue board members making pronouncements about the one thing the association needs to do right now may be a sign that the board and CEO roles are not in alignment. A crisis is no excuse to disrupt proper relationships. “When we ask, ‘Do we really have a system that can withstand a crisis?’ That just means we’ve got a sound strategy,” he says. “But more than that, it means that we have a board that understands this is the board’s role, and this is the CEO’s role, and we have a board that’s constantly looking forward. A lot of people say, what does my board have to do differently? I think your board just needs to govern well.”

Cultivate one-on-one communication ahead of any big group meeting. The most successful associations, Nelson says, establish close conversations between the CEO and board that are casual but effective. “The CEO should be able to easily call up board members and say, ‘Look, I recognize that it’s my responsibility to make this decision on Topic A, and I’m not shirking my responsibility, but I’d love to get your insight to see what you think,’ and the board member will really give that,” he says. “But the board member realizes that in the end the CEO is going to make the decision on Topic A, B or C, because it’s their job. That’s the kind of communication we need and want.”

Don’t get waylaid by term-length conversations. Nelson says this can be a good time for association boards to take a look at their bylaws to make sure that they’re not outdated or overly restrictive. But if you’re going to make tweaks to term lengths for board members, make sure you’re doing it for the sake of what’s best for an association—not for the interests of a board chair who might be disappointed because COVID-19 means they can’t take the stage at an in-person meeting this year. “Being a chair is supposed to be about what’s best for the organization, not what’s best for Mike or Joe,” Nelson says. “I’ve heard conversations about these shifts, and most of the time it’s because the chair won’t be able to do the fun things they’d normally do because they’re tied to this crisis. But is that really sticking with your organization’s values?”

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Four Business-Minded Considerations for Virtual Event Planners

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When it comes to virtual events, many associations are running into questions about how to raise revenue from them, according to a Tagoras report. Part of the challenge may be strategy—nearly 60 percent of associations surveyed said they didn’t have one for virtual events.

More than 90 percent of associations say they’re offering virtual events essentially because of COVID-19. How does that change the business approach for what is traditionally a major revenue driver?

It’s one of many questions highlighted in a new report from Tagoras, a consulting firm focused on adult learning. The latest edition of The Virtual Conferences Report, which gains new relevance amid the COVID-19 crisis, touches on three key topics related to virtual events—operations, business, and performance—at a time of unprecedented growth for the event variant.

Case in point: Two thirds of survey respondents say their organizations have never offered a virtual event, but plan to within the next year.

“Clearly current circumstances are driving a major near-term surge in the format,” authors Jeff Cobb and Celisa Steele write.

But given the sudden shift in interest toward virtual events, it’s clear that some business considerations might have been lost along the way. Some business-minded highlights from the report:

Many virtual events struggle with strategy. The report notes that just a fifth (20.7 percent) have a documented strategy for virtual events, while 59.8 percent say they don’t have one, and 19.5 percent aren’t sure either way. The authors diagnose this as something of a missed opportunity. “There are thousands of decisions when it comes to offering a virtual conference—how long should it be, should it be part of your annual conference or its own beast, what should you charge, how do you find sponsors, and so on,” the authors write. “You need a strategy for your virtual conferences so you and others in your organization can translate that strategy into the right answers to the myriad questions.”

Virtual events need to be financially sustainable, but tend to be less expensive than in-person events. Nearly 60 percent of respondents (59.7 percent) stated that it was important for a virtual event to be profitable, while 25.4 percent said such an event needs to at least be self-sustaining. And perhaps for that reason, nearly two thirds of respondents (65.2 percent) charged for such events, compared with 15.2 percent that didn’t. Despite the tendency to charge, virtual events tend to be less expensive than in-person events, with 30.4 percent charging significantly less and 39.1 charging somewhat less.

The calculus of pricing has changed with the pandemic. Despite the general push to make virtual events less expensive, respondents to the survey told Tagoras that some events are not cutting costs compared with in-person events due to the nature of the pandemic, though some are offering different options that make educational resources available to all members, while charging extra for those who can afford a more in-depth approach. “We have heard from many, many of our people who have said their entire training budget has been cut through the end of 2020,” explained Shannon Lockwood, the events and programs manager at the National Institute of Governmental Purchasing. “So we now know that if someone is coming to our event, it’s likely—not just possible but likely—that they’re paying out of their own pocket.”

Sponsorships are more prominent than exhibitor fees in virtual settings—if they’re collected. More than 40 percent of associations haven’t yet monetized sponsorships or exhibitors at prior events, but given the changing environment, demand could rise in the coming years as associations look for new ways to make events profitable. (According to supplemental data from Tagoras, 36.1 percent of respondents expect to integrate a virtual tradeshow component into an upcoming event.) But if they are drawing revenue from vendors, the way to do it most commonly seems to be through sponsorships (31.3 percent), or in tandem with exhibitor fees (20.3 percent). Just 4.7 percent rely on exhibitor fees alone.

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