Archive for June, 2021

Create More Value for Your Virtual Sponsors and Exhibitors

Written by GSF Editor on . Posted in Federation News, news-feed

When everything went virtual last year due to the pandemic, it also shifted sponsorship opportunities at meetings. Although associations have grappled with sometimes lackluster results for sponsors, one expert says there are ways to provide more value in virtual offerings.

For the past year, associations have been working to make sponsors feel they are getting value from virtual events, but it’s been a struggle as virtual exhibit halls and some other features haven’t lived up to the exposure provided by their in-person counterparts.

As many events are still virtual or hybrid, associations are getting creative in trying to help sponsors and exhibitors get value, said Lewis Flax, president of Flax Associates, a firm that specializes in sponsorship and partnerships.

“When it comes to the sponsorship arena in the last year, it’s been eye-opening,” Flax said. “Associations have learned that just running a virtual event and treating sponsorship the same way they did in the past is not going to be successful. On the [sponsor] side, they’ve learned that showing up at an event the same way that they did in the past doesn’t work. So, there has been a shift in terms of how both the association and the sponsors need to adjust.”

The adjustments that are being made depend on the type of sponsor. For example, partners, who typically make large contributions to an organization, fall in a different realm than those who might be exhibitors or smaller sponsors interested in certain items. Both bring in revenue, but have different expectations, Flax said.

The larger partners are looking beyond just the annual meeting. “They are looking at associations as a channel and not just a few days a year,” Flax said. “They usually need six or seven touchpoints.”

The good news is that these sponsors are more likely to buy into creative solutions that put them in front of your meeting audience. “The ones who are ahead of the game are the associations who try new things, who test new things, who look at how we’re going to go about it differently,” Flax said.

Associations doing it well are talking to sponsors about what they need and helping sponsors address challenges their members are facing. “Sponsors who recognize and understand what the key challenges of the attendees are and engage them related to the challenges fare better,” Flax said.

Spending time with key partners will help address their needs, even in this virtual environment. However, Flax admits it’s been tougher to ensure value for sponsors who want that standard menu of conference sponsor offerings or exhibit hall booths, because those haven’t translated well to virtual. “The exhibit hall experience in the virtual environment has not been successful,” Flax said. “Virtual exhibit halls with 1,000 exhibitors just don’t work. Exhibitors have pulled away.”

Because of this, some associations have eliminated virtual exhibit halls in favor of offering smaller virtual event sponsorship on specific interest segments.

“They’re offering tracks for different segments of their audience,” Flax said. “Instead of it being a full two days, it’s every Tuesday for two hours. It’s smaller, it’s more targeted, and then it’s easier to bring sponsors in.”

Flax noted that since associations were forced into this virtual environment by the pandemic, they weren’t afforded the normal planning and practice time before launching this new path. As technology improves and associations get better at understanding what works and what doesn’t, virtual offerings will start to better match sponsor needs—at all levels.

“We’re going to get much better at this,” Flax said. “In the next six months, we are probably going to see significant improvements.”

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Membership Pro Tip: An Easy Way to Spur Innovation

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Need some help coming up with different ways to engage members? Create a swipe file for inspiration to help you think outside the box.

Generating new ideas quickly became a necessity last spring. It was not enough to rely on standard methods of engaging members, like creating a better marketing strategy, to manage tough times. “Marketing’s not a fix if you don’t have value,” said Sheri Jacobs, FASAE, CAE, president and CEO of Avenue M Group.

To go beyond marketing, organizations need to analyze the channels they use to engage members. “You have to think about it and brainstorm,” she said. Jacobs recommends a “swipe file” exercise to encourage finding solutions beyond the usual strategies.

How Does It Work?

A swipe file is a place to store great ideas that catch your eye, inspire you, and motivate you to think about things differently. If you see something that grabs your attention, like an exciting ad campaign for a new product, then add it to the swipe file.

She suggests choosing “awesome products” you would actually buy and that you need. “The same as members coming to your association,” she said. After creating a swipe file, then meet and talk with your team about why those items stood out.

Why Is It Effective?

Discussing great ideas from the swipe file motivates staff to look at different ways to engage with members. Even if you don’t have the resources to implement the great ideas, talking about them and thinking about them spurs more ways to expand beyond existing markets. “Put away all resource constraints, and once you come up with the big ideas, then come back and assess what’s realistic to implement,” she said.

What’s the Benefit?

 A swipe file spurs more innovation and encourages people to look for new solutions and ways to do things that will provide more value to members. “That’s how organizations need to expand,” Jacobs said. “You have to step away from what you’ve done traditionally.”

Do you have a membership pro tip? Please share in the comments or send me an email.


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Let Content Be the Bridge That Builds Your Hybrid Events

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Hybrid events—parallel events that differ in scope, style, and interactivity—present a tough road for associations. Well-designed content could make the road a little less rocky.

By Melissa Bouma

With the shifts in our culture that have taken place since the pandemic began, many associations have simply been trying to keep their heads above water in hopes that in-person events—and the comfortable business model they support—make their return.

The struggle is real, as they say. Even as people begin to emerge from their home offices and conduct business in person, the reality is that there’s going to be a lengthy “mushy period” in which events will live in both the digital and physical worlds. This may pose challenges for a number of reasons—not least of which is needing to plan two events that are related but have to be organized separately, with different target audiences and different distribution methods.

This, in turn, will lead to other hurdles. For example, what if your event has in-person attendees but virtual speakers? Or live speakers for virtual attendees? Recording all of these sessions could get expensive fast. Given that events make up as much as 40 percent of an organization’s revenue, according to a Personify study, juggling all of these considerations can be complicated. Equally important is that attendees continue to derive real value from events, regardless of whether they’re in person or virtual. So how do you make sure that all attendees, virtual and live, come away with, if not the same, then a similar experience? Ultimately, the goal is to make all the elements of an event available to everyone, regardless of location—and content can be a great way to do this.

Here are a few ideas for using content to conquer all your obstacles:

Find new ways to leverage the content later. People are wary of traveling right now, and many will not be in a position to go anywhere anytime soon. And as we know, while people may register for an event at a set time, they may not get to it until later. This makes it all the more important to create content recaps of key event takeaways, in either digital or print form, so virtual attendees can still engage with the event in some way. Plus, content recaps can become an opportunity to repackage and re-form information differently down the line—a concept called content atomization. Reusing content in this manner not only builds member engagement but can also help your organization find ways to experiment, single out successful strategies, and scale up what works.

Build a digital microsite. Sure, you can have a digital event, but simply trying to re-create an in-person conference in a virtual format may not be enough to keep the attention of a digital audience. Building an experience that’s tailored to what a digital audience needs—whether that’s in a live setting or after the fact—could have a strong effect on people participating at home. (Especially if it’s personalized.) There’s a good chance that people may still be working while trying to attend a virtual event, meaning that they’ll be distracted. By leading with strong content and a creative design—think Apple’s use of virtual “Memoji” heads during its Worldwide Developers Conference this year—you might be able to change the conversation. (It might also prove attractive to sponsors, too.)

Lean on a “flipped learning” model. Getting people to return to an in-person venue will take time, but you can use your hybrid events to start to encourage them. One type of nudge: What if you built your event around a flipped model, where the learning was done online, but the post-learning discussion happened in person? That way, before people even stepped into a room, you’d know that everyone was on the same page—and the in-person interactions would gain new power. Such an approach could encourage people to get back to the expo hall, as they are reminded of the real synergy and value of “live” interactions. It would also maximize the best aspects of each setting: focused learning at home, social interaction in person.

In summary, high-quality content can provide a bridge between audiences that might not be in the same room. And when trying to prove that your organization is vital to its members, that bridge may be just what’s needed to ensure that everyone ends up on the same side.

Melissa Bouma, president of Manifest, has more than 15 years of experience building insight-driven branding and content strategy, with a client base representing large companies, major universities, and prominent associations.

The post Let Content Be the Bridge That Builds Your Hybrid Events appeared first on Associations Now.

Five Meeting Features to Reevaluate Post-Pandemic

Written by GSF Editor on . Posted in Federation News, news-feed

Time away from the expo hall might offer an opportunity to try things in a new way. Read on for ways to tweak your offerings in response to COVID-19—or just because it’s time for a rethink.

In-person events are slowly coming back—but the time away from them offers an opportunity to rethink some of their common features.

And it’s not just health and safety protocols that are getting a fresh look in the wake of COVID-19. The pandemic’s forced pause has given meeting planners a chance to see their events in a new light.

With that in mind, here are a few areas you may want to consider refreshing before your next in-person event:

1. Swag Bags

During the pandemic, branded items, or swag, took a bit of a back seat to other priorities, giving event planners an opportunity to rethink the whole swag concept while in-person events were on break.

One notable way this played out was the rise of tangible items mailed to virtual attendees’ doors, and there’s evidence that mailed swag may find useful life beyond the pandemic. How so? Well, The Wall Street Journal reports that the somewhat wasteful nature of swag has given way to a concept called “gifting as a service,” essentially giving swag recipients the option to get items that they are more likely to want mailed to their doors.

2. Exhibit Halls

Even as Americans continue to get vaccinated against COVID-19, it’s still important to come up with ways to manage exhibit halls so that they are more spread out and don’t cause crowding. The blog for Kalahari Resorts & Conventions has a few ideas for building exhibits with physical distancing in mind, including creating wider aisles, organizing booths in quads to allow extra aisle space, using dividers, and carving out additional space between exhibits.

“Whatever modifications you make, be sure to communicate these with your exhibitors and attendees so they know your exhibit hall is designed with everyone’s health in mind,” the blog explains.

As time goes on, there may be room to loosen these standards, but for now this could be an effective way to make room for social distancing while keeping the energy of the in-person exhibit hall.

3. Codes of Conduct

Codes of conduct were seeing big changes even before the pandemic, but in light of recent discussions about diversity, they have become increasingly important as a tool to ensure that members are following standards of professionalism that make strides toward inclusivity.

One other type of document that could come in handy in an in-person environment is the meeting agreement, which gained attention during the pandemic as a way to help set a standard of comfort and engagement during virtual events. Given the discussions around giving attendees room for social distancing, it could prove an important addition to your in-person event repertoire, too.

4. Planning Documents

If associations hope to get people back at events again, they need to emphasize that the organization is taking safety seriously—a job that is likely to fall on an association’s planning team.

With that in mind, creating a COVID-19 protocol document to keep attendees safe could be the way to go. Julie Ann Schmidt, CMM, CMP, the CEO of Lithium Logistics Group and a certified COVID compliance officer, told Associations Now about the importance of building a document like this back in February.

“Your protocol document is your standalone document that states everything your association is doing to keep everyone safe,” Schmidt explained. “It encompasses several elements—from cleaning, to screening and testing, to transportation, and everything in between.”

5. Food & Beverage

During the pandemic, concerns about going to restaurants were common, with the buffet facing particular challenges. While the business is slowly coming back, most notably to Las Vegas, consumers may be more wary of buffet-style dining than they used to be.

Given that many in-person events traditionally have offered buffet options for attendees in the expo hall, a rethink is likely. Some observers, such as Sean Willcoxon of Mazzone Hospitality, see the buffet sticking around—but not in the form most people expect.

“To minimize shared tools, buffets are no longer self-serve. Instead, attendants serve each guest,” he wrote for TSNN last fall. “While this may slow line speed and efficiency, health and safety must be the priorities.”

As the Cvent blog notes, others see a move toward single-serving grab-and-go dining options, as well as meals pre-placed at seats during the event.



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How to Build a Competency-Based Board

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The authors of an updated edition of Race for Relevance argue not just for smaller boards, but boards that also are more alert to the challenges an association will face in the near future.

Radically controversial opinions are rare in the association world, so the ones that emerge tend to be memorable. Ten years ago, consultants Harrison Coerver and Mary Byers, CAE, kicked off a heated discussion among association leaders when they published their book, Race for Relevance, which argued that the optimal size of a board is five members.

Five-member boards are still hard to come by, but in years since the book’s publication more associations are recognizing the need to be efficient and nimble—adjectives that don’t mesh well with a 20-person board or 100-member house of delegates. “Associations board are composed for consensus, not speed or competitive advantage,” says Byers. “And the latter two things have increased in importance over the past decade.”

So for the new revised edition of Race for Relevance, Coerver and Byers are sticking with their advice. But they note that a smarter, speedier board also requires board members who are smarter about governance in general and the needs of their association in particular. As they write in the book, selection of board members “should be guided by an understanding of what competencies will be needed to govern the association and direct it effectively into the future.”

If that seems obvious, Coerver points out that there are plenty of associations that still neglect basic vetting of their volunteer leaders. “Only a third of boards interview their board members before they come on,” he says. “Two thirds of board members don’t even get an interview to find out, What are you interested in? Why do you want to be on this board?”

Race for Relevance includes case studies of organizations that have conducted environmental scans regarding their needs for the next five years, and then vetted and recruited potential board members who can help with those needs. That could mean marketing talent, or tech savvy, or representation from previously underserved member groups. Regardless, it’s better, they argue, if that expertise resides within the board, rather than be passed on to an ad hoc committee or task force. For critical issues, having a peer speak on the topic carries more weight than if it comes from staff or a volunteer group.

Doing this involves some tricky balancing work, at least at first, they say. Associations should do more to scout for future board talent, but avoid creating a formal leadership pipeline that generates an it’s-my-turn-mentality that turns board service into a coronation, not a duty. “You don’t want that circle to be so small that there’s an idea that anybody’s being knighted,” Byers says.

Similarly, looking for particular skill sets among board members doesn’t mean they should be supplanting the role of staff members. As they write in the book, “directors’ knowledge or understanding in their area should be at a high, conceptual level—not a tactical or implementation level.”

When it comes to technology, for instance, “I don’t need somebody who knows how to write code [on the board],” Coerver says. “I need somebody who understands the potential of digital delivery, who understands the potential of technology, and can advocate for resource allocations that are necessary and investments that are necessary.”

The pandemic has borne out the need to do this work, however challenging, they say. The associations that did well in the last 18 months acted efficiently and decisively, often in small groups, and learned to double down on the competencies that were essential for progress. As the pandemic dissipates, there’s still time to take advantage of that urgency.

“I believe the pandemic has been an accelerator for the trends that we have identified in the book,” Byers says. “If there ever was a time to become more innovative, or to double down on digital transformation, or to change your governance, or to become a competency-based board, it’s now. Association professionals have a tailwind that they probably haven’t had for a decade.”

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To Make Smart Marketing Decisions, You Need a Tool That Gives You Reliable Data

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Marketing pro Rachel Daeger breaks down a digital platform that transforms growth potential for associations of all sizes.

When you’re trying to reach a wider audience with a marketing campaign, sure, you can take the old approach of throwing everything against the wall to see what sticks. But as anyone who has ever thrown a bunch of stuff at a wall knows, the results can be a big mess. Not to mention expensive.

What if instead of implementing a strategy that employs haphazard ideas mixed with wishful thinking, you tried a technological approach with a proven record of sticking to the wall and converting purchases?

That’s what Rachel Daeger, CAE, IOM, a director of communications and marketing at Raybourn Group International, was seeking. Her team’s goal was to boost the marketing efforts and increase the revenue of its trade and professional association clients. She needed something powerful that fit within the scope of organizations of any size. And she found it with association marketing platform Feathr.

“We first used Feathr with the Society for Nutrition Education and Behavior, which has a global membership, but very limited resources for marketing their events,” she explains. “Our first use of Feathr resulted in 49 conversions for in-person registration—an ROI of $11,260.”

The results were so immediate and undeniable that Daeger says Raybourn Group International now offers the platform to all of its clients. “At this point, Feathr is our primary marketing tool to target both members and non-members,” she says, citing its retargeting ability to be anywhere and everywhere potential attendees might be on the internet.

As much as you’d think (and hope) that association members would closely read every email an association sends regarding must-attend events and educational opportunities, the truth is they likely do not. To ensure you reach them about products and services you know they’ll want, you need to put time and resources into retargeting campaigns. And this is where the power of Feathr’s tech and marketing experts really shines. “They have been hand-in-hand with us from the beginning to make sure that we’re able to achieve our objectives—whether it’s how we structure the campaign, how we fund the campaigns or how we design our creative.”

But it’s not just about creating great-looking ads—t’s about making sure those ads are seen by the right audience. In the case of the Society for Nutrition Education and Behavior, Daeger explains that before using Feathr, Raybourn would have invested significant time and resources researching local universities, local food councils, and the like. Then they would have hit them with postcard mailings and emails to gather enough data to create a successful marketing plan. “Feathr essentially eliminated all of that,” Daeger reports. “Using this technology, you can easily target ads to the specific type of person you want to reach, whether it’s based on their online search behavior, where they are located, or another factor you want to hone in on.”

And as any marketing professional knows, once your campaigns are out in the wild, it’s critical to track how they perform to make necessary adjustments. Feathr’s robust reporting tool allows Daeger to track which ads are flopping and which are actually resulting in purchases. “I know how many member versus non-member registrations came back through a campaign and the precise dollar amount associated with that conversion,” she explains. “This has been really important for us because our resources are limited. To make smart marketing decisions, you need reliable data.”


Feathr has thought of everything to help get associations up and running with digital advertising. Its dedicated flock of experts advises on unique revenue-generating campaigns and provides graphic design and implementation services to ensure successful marketing campaigns. Partnering with Feathr ensures your association’s success for years to come.


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Two Fast-Growing Ways to Earn More Revenue for Your Association

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Offer more value to your community while earning more revenue for your mission.

In May 2021, Noora Health, a nonprofit that educates families in Southeast Asia about how to care for babies, raised $4.5 million toward that mission through an NFT. While your association might not be ready for cutting-edge fundraising tactics like this, there are other ways to take a fresh approach to earning non-dues revenue.

With millions of Americans looking for jobs post-pandemic, recruitment advertising is one such ripe revenue opportunity for associations. As hubs for industry employers and talent, associations can leverage their online career centers to help companies find the staff they need and earn revenue in the process. If your job board is languishing, now is the time to step up your offerings for employers seeking talent. Revive your paid job posting packages with options that fit your industry’s needs. Consider adding job display advertising to your homepage to give employers greater value for their ads.

To boost the value your job board offers employers, add job retargeting. Retargeting is a form of programmatic advertising that serves display ads for featured job listings to people after they leave your online career center. They’re encouraged to revisit those listings, resulting in more talent-employee connections and more revenue for you.

For job seekers, provide a mix of free and fee-based services that give value at different price points. Pack your career center with free content about industry topics and job-searching tips. Offer fee-based résumé review services, interview coaching and mentorship opportunities that can be purchased directly through your career center.

A second fast-growing area of non-dues revenue for associations is sponsored thought leadership. Help your members share their deep industry knowledge through sponsored content. Publish their blog articles or webinars for a fee. Host them on your podcast to talk about their expertise in exchange for sponsoring the episode. Offer to feature their product or service video on your website, in an exhibitor directory or on an event site as a standalone paid placement or part of a larger package.

Sponsored email is also gaining traction among associations. For a fee, your association can send an email to members on behalf of a sponsor. The content could be promotional or strictly editorial, with a nod to the business that supplied it.

No matter how you approach non-dues revenue, remember that stockpiling money isn’t the goal. It’s how your association will use those funds to enhance membership value and further enrich your industry. Try one of these non-dues revenue wellsprings and grow!

Naylor Association Solutions is devoted to building stronger associations. As trusted partners for more than 50 years, our experienced advisors create relevant association resources, software, events, and management functions that foster member engagement and non-dues revenue. Naylor focuses on your association’s daily success so that you can focus on achieving your mission.


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New Member Category Leads to More Revenue, Happier Members

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Discovering an underserved segment of its membership gave one association an opportunity to create a new category to better meet needs. Bonus? A smart pricing strategy allowed them to double its price point and increase renewal rates.

Here’s a scenario: You create a new member category, rename it, introduce new benefits, double the price, and people still sign up—and you meet all projections. Sound impossible? It turned out that way for the Intellectual Property Owners Association (IPO).

While looking at membership categories, Director of Membership Development Matt Rankin, CAE, and his team noticed a small business category that was not thriving in comparison to other ones, which were in the 80 percent renewal rate range.

When they dug a little deeper into the data, IPO discovered that they weren’t actual small businesses, in the way the group traditionally defined them. They were vendors who were joining IPO to attract customers—and when they didn’t find the resources they needed, they bounced.

‘A Perfect Opportunity’

By looking at the types of companies that were lapsing and conducting exit interviews and follow-up conversations, the team realized these members were interested in business development rather than IPO’s main mission of protecting intellectual property. So, Rankin’s team took the leap and created a new member category—Intellectual Property (IP) Service Provider—that was more targeted to their needs. Because they wanted to improve their business growth, “they had a vested interest in participating in our focus groups, interviews, and surveys,” Rankin said. “It turned into a perfect opportunity.”

During this same time, IPO was looking at a larger dues restructure. Discovering an underserved membership segment gave them an opportunity to test some new benefits and different pricing models. Serving this new member category in different ways was also considered low risk because it only involved tens of thousands of dollars in revenue, compared to millions of dollars in other categories. And because it was low risk, IPO’s board was much more receptive to taking a chance.

“Each membership segment is important to an organization’s revenue and mission,” Rankin said. “If you start off with one that is the least risky—both in terms of mission creep and revenue—it’s safer.”

A Smart Dues Pricing Strategy

A big surprise came when they began figuring out the pricing for the new member category. They used the Van Westendorp Price Sensitivity Model to determine the willingness of what members would pay. They asked members and nonmembers, who didn’t have a current reference point about what the cost should be, what they thought a fair price would be by giving them several options.

They told them all the benefits for the category and then asked what they would consider a bargain, what was too expensive, and what was too cheap. They took all those responses and plotted them to figure out the price elasticity. That process allowed them to statistically determine where the pricing sweet spot was.

Here’s the kicker: The price point for the original membership was $675. But once they made a few tweaks to the new membership category, changed its name, and asked people what they would pay for it, the price doubled. “We heard from members and nonmembers that the price should be $1,350,” Rankin said. “We rolled with it and hit all of our projections.”

The current renewal rate is 73 percent, nearly 10 percent higher than the previous small business category. The number of IP Service Providers had a net increase since launching in late 2019, which declined during the second half of 2020, and is currently up 14 percent.

While people are often afraid to ask what they think membership is worth, Rankin says it’s a smart move. “You have to get comfortable hearing the reality from your members and potential members about what the price ceiling is for what they’ll do,” he said. “Otherwise, you’re leaving money on the table.”

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Good Reads You Might Have Missed: Board Selection

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Competency, diversity, and distinct skills matter more than ever when determining who will serve on an association’s board.

No two organizations approach board selection in quite the same way.

But broader trends around the process are changing what exactly a good board selection process looks like—and it’s focused less on who you know and more on the knowledge and skill a board member can bring to the table, as well as the competencies your board already has.

With that in mind, here are some pieces from the Associations Now archives that highlight recent trends in the board selection process:

The Evolution of Board Selection. This story from our recent Lead2021 report highlights the shift in board selection away from a secretive process and toward an approach that reflects the need for diversity and leadership competency. “We are finally advancing beyond looking in the rearview mirror of who we are, to looking in the front windshield of what we want to be,” says Mark Engle, FASAE, CAE, principal at Association Management Center.

Executives & Board Nominations: A Delicate Dance. This 2020 magazine piece highlighting ASAE Research Foundation findings on board selection makes the case for association executives to offer input during the selection process—while knowing when to hold back. “You would be overstepping your bounds if you were telling the committee to nominate or to not nominate an individual for your own personal reasons,” says Vicki Loise, CAE, CEO of the Society for Laboratory Automation and Screening.

Defining Board Competencies. A common element in board selection involves finding members who have specific competencies. This 2018 resource breaks down five key kinds of board competencies—group skills, interpersonal skills, personal leadership skills, technical skills, and personal attributes—as well as how they can come together to build a qualified board.

Effective Board Performance Starts With the Right People. In this piece, Emily Rabbitt, CAE, explains how nominating committees and competency-based board selections can work together. “Changing to a competency-based board recruitment and selection model may be a significant shift for some organizations, but many leaders have found the effort worthwhile,” she writes.

Practical Steps Toward More Diverse Boards. This piece, also from our recent Lead2021 report, discusses the considerations associations should have around diversity when planning board selection strategies. “The most effective way to approach board diversity is to acknowledge that it takes time. It is a continuous journey and has to mirror the evolution of our communities,” says Samira Salem, Ph.D., vice president for diversity, equity, and inclusion at the Credit Union National Association.



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Partnerships, Precision Planning & the Love of Puzzles Makes for a Successful Event

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When enormous firetrucks and ladders fill an exhibit hall, precision space planning is a key priority.

Planners know that meetings are like Jenga—intricate sets of parts must be handled gingerly and masterfully to guarantee a successful outcome. That’s certainly true for Peggy Tucker, the planner behind the annual meeting of the Virginia Fire Chiefs Association.

That’s because this group’s conference brings enormous apparatus—think fire trucks and ladders—to the 150,000-square-foot Virginia Beach Convention Center (VBCC). “The exhibits are a huge part of our event, and we take up all of the column-free exhibit space,” Tucker says, adding that it’s precisely laid out for them on a 10-by-10-foot matrix that is permanently etched on the tradeshow floor allowing for easier load ins, especially since this tradeshow floor is on grade with unlimited floor load.

“It’s like a puzzle,” she explains. Direct competitors can’t be adjacent, and small exhibitors need to be given as much exposure as possible alongside the big-spending, space-dominating companies displaying on the show floor. Tucker says one exhibitor alone requires 28,000 square feet because it brings six vehicles and other enormous pieces of apparatus to the show floor.

The challenge is laying out the space so that it’s fair to all of the exhibitors: “You have to assign move-in times, work hall by hall, use three entrance bays,” she explains. “And they all come in, and somehow it fits together. And it all happens within an hour.”

The load-in and out is so intricate that Tucker says she’d love to see what the effort looks like in time-lapse footage—and hopes to make that happen someday to capture the awe-inspiring logistical feat.

Overall, the show comprises exhibits and four days of concurrent education sessions. Paid attendees for the full show numbered about 800. Another 400 attendees came per day just to visit the exhibit hall, and as many as 500 people participated in the general sessions. A group this large means individual needs and preferences vary among the attendees. Tucker explains that Virginia Beach offers appealing options for the wide range of participants.

Staff and speakers stay in an on-site hotel. But the group books eight additional properties for attendees to “let them decide what appeals most to them,” she says. “Virginia Beach has so many great hotels less than a 10-minute drive to the convention center.”

The destination offers other perks for attendees. For example, other destinations required visitors to pay steep parking rates on top of their room rates. In contrast, “Virginia Beach Convention Center has an enormous amount of parking spaces, and they’re free,” Tucker says.

As a planner responsible for challenging logistical feats, Tucker finds the destination is an ideal solution for this association’s needs. “The thing that has always impressed me about Virginia Beach is that the [convention] bureau employees act as our partners,” she says. “It is a great collaboration among so many people who come to the table to make our event successful. That partnership: We feel it, we know it and we trust in it. That’s what keeps us coming back.”

For more ideas on how Virginia Beach can boost your attendance and simplify your next meeting or event, visit

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