Archive for June, 2021

Good Reads You Might Have Missed: Nondues Revenue

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Looking for fresh ideas for your association’s nondues revenue strategy? These articles can help.

It may be the most evergreen topic in the association world: nondues revenue. It’s been particularly critical over the last year, as many associations saw membership decline during the pandemic, and as traditional sources of nondues revenue—particularly in-person conferences—took a major hit.

To catch up on your reading on this key topic, start with this list from Associations Now and ASAE:

How to Find Nondues Revenue Sources in 2021. The recent GrowthZone AMS annual survey highlighted an important trend—membership is dropping, and nondues revenue sources are going to have to pick up the slack. Amy Gitchell, the firm’s senior marketing communications specialist, highlights ways associations are getting creative about revenue, including “contract work” such as renting out buildings and handling grant writing.

Five Associations That Landed Nondues Revenue in 2020. If you need out-of-the-box ideas for nondues revenue, this roundup from organizations such as the Oncology Nursing Society and the Texas Medical Association should give you a few real-world thought-starters.

How Communications Teams Can Help Boost Nondues Revenue. In a 2019 report, Naylor Association Solutions uncovered potential for associations to raise revenue by leaning more on their communications teams, particularly through data. “Capturing as clean a data [set] as you can and getting some qualitative feedback from members, so you are delivering communications that your members want—that is how you will make those nondues revenue streams as effective as possible,” the firm’s Sarah Sain said.

Maximize Nondues Revenue by Optimizing Your Media Kit. MCI USA’s Brittany Shoul and Jeff Selway make the case that media kits should be more interactive, because they play a key role—introducing your brand to new and existing sponsors. “Your media kit needs to tell your association’s story in a way that buyers will find engaging,” they write. “Create content that understands your audience, communicates information about your products for them, and includes sales positioning.”

Grow Nondues Revenue With a Digital Platform Business. On a related note, Barry J. Barresi, CEO and founder of Association Ventures, argues that associations should build themselves out like platforms, along the lines of Uber and Airbnb. “Because associations have influence and central positioning within professional and industry ecosystems, they have great potential as platform leaders,” he writes.

Why Technology Can Help Small-Staff Associations Boost Nondues Revenue. A 2019 Community Brands report asserts that small associations are primed for generating nondues revenue simply by optimizing their digital offerings. One example? Job boards. “What will happen is the employers looking for candidates will pay them a premium to get in front of their niche audience,” said Dan Gaertner, then the firm’s executive vice president of membership solutions.

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Lessons From a Virtual Networking Incubator

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The Virtual Networking Incubator brought more than 150 association pros together six times over the course of 12 weeks to explore virtual networking and its potential. In a recent online discussion, Incubator hosts shared what they learned and how groups can apply those ideas.

Since the start of the pandemic, associations have tried several ways to introduce meaningful virtual networking to their online events.

Knowing that not every online networking idea has been a success but also knowing that virtual attendees are still looking to make meaningful connections with fellow participants, Matchbox Virtual Media and Kaiser Insights LLC hosted a Virtual Networking Incubator made up of “community members committed to exploring creative virtual event design made for expanding attendee networks.”

Over the course of 12 weeks, the Incubator brought together 150-plus association professionals (who applied to be part of the cohort) six times to explore virtual networking and its potential. Each gathering in the “incubator garden” was intentionally designed to explore key virtual networking concepts, practices, and considerations. Participants also tested out several tools, platforms, and technologies during these get-togethers. The goal was not only to allow participants to connect, co-create, and collaborate, but also to inspire them to bring back new virtual networking ideas to their own associations.

During this week’s “Results: A Networking Garden Party,” Incubator hosts Amanda Kaiser, Arianna Rehak, and Sze Pak Ng discussed several ideas they took away from the 12-week program and how associations can use them to improve the virtual networking experience at their own online events. Here’s a look at a few of them.

Create a Code of Conduct

For virtual networking to be effective, “you need to establish a safe space and environment,” said Matchbox CEO Rehak. For the Incubator, they created the Golden Rule Haiku:

Learn. Share. Try. Be Kind.

Support All. Be Generous.

Be Here With Purpose.

“We would literally recite it before each session and ground people in that comfort,” Rehak said. “It helped establish a safe environment where people were comfortable participating, it aligned with our event’s tone, and it was easy to refer back to.”

This approach is similar to the meeting agreement the Western Arts Alliance developed to encourage better conversations during virtual meetings by fostering engagement and room for people who may not feel comfortable speaking up.

accommodate Different Personality Types

“In the virtual environment, it’s so important to intentionally consider the entire continuum of introversion to extroversion and to provide value no matter where your participants may land on in that continuum,” said Kaiser, member engagement specialist at Kaiser Insights LLC. “Know what makes your introverts and extroverts feel most uncomfortable or anxious about networking.”

And then knowing that information, hosts should consider how they can foster connections and environments that allow for collaborative problem solving. “People working toward overcoming a challenge or having a co-creation element is a quick way to get people talking and participating,” Rehak added.

Plan for Failure

As associations know by now, not all of your attendees are going to have an equal comfort level with technology, and technical glitches are bound to happen. So it’s important to consider what to do when your virtual participants are having tech issues.

Rehak recounted one case where some Incubator participants weren’t able to gain access to a specific tool, so they were left in the main Zoom room. However, the three hosts did their best to keep the conversation going in that room to maintain a positive experience for those who got stuck.

“We made the most of it. These were actually additional opportunities to have another conversation and collectively problem solve,” said Ng, community engagement specialist at Matchbox. “It’s important to approach any issues with, ‘Let’s solve this together,’ instead of ‘This is your problem to figure out.’”

What other elements do you think are required for virtual networking to be more successful? Please share in the comments.

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When Does Asynchronous Content Make Your Event Better?

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A meetings expert says that while asynchronous events differ from live, real-time gatherings, on-demand content offers advantages that benefit learners. But planners need to know when the format works best.

Asynchronous meetings content has become such a dominant trend that it comes up in areas as diverse as hybrid events, virtual expo halls, and membership churn. And that’s not surprising, because giving members more control over when they access event content is all about serving them better.

Asynchronous content is “very learner-centric. It’s for me to consume when I can consume it and how I want to consume it,” says Derrick Johnson, director of event strategy and development and chief diversity officer at Talley Management Group. “In the synchronous world, it takes place in real time with people there, so it’s not customized for the individual participant. When it comes to synchronous or asynchronous learning, you’re able to customize the experience for the individual user.”

This individualized approach has parallels in other areas of life, particularly in bingeable entertainment such as Netflix. “I think we’re slowly taking the lessons from our personal world and applying them to the professional one,” Johnson says.

Asynchronous content has big advantages but it doesn’t work everywhere, so association professionals need to take time to figure out where it makes sense.

Asynchronous Advantages

Since asynchronous content gives people the ability to learn at their own pace, it’s particularly well suited to certification programs, Johnson says. Educational content can be produced in multiple formats—including blogs, research reports, and video—to allow more freedom in how individual learners approach a topic.

Johnson notes that content that was initially produced in a synchronous format can be repackaged and repurposed for asynchronous events. But the tradeoff is a loss of immediacy and connection with an audience engaging with content together. Finding ways to tie the content to a broader conversation—say, in a private community or on social media—can mimic the synchronous experience.

“I’m seeing the same thing that my peers did see [at another time], but instantly, there are questions that pop up that are connected to the content that are making me think in new and different ways that I’m reacting to in the moment,” he says of this approach. “It almost takes the content and brings it to life in a different way than it would if I was just passively sitting there. I almost become an active participant in the learning.”

Asynchronous Drawbacks

As the pandemic wanes, meeting organizers and attendees are eager to bring back in-person meetings and the direct human interaction they provide. When real-time connections or collaboration are needed, asynchronous content will come up short, Johnson says.

“Whenever we need people to be together—and whenever I think of togetherness, I think of any group work where I need to enhance the scale of this concept, of this idea—that’s where asynchronous learning is probably not the best,” he says. “That’s where you need synchronous learning—you need people together in one space, at one time, to work collaboratively together.”

Johnson predicts that many associations will find a happy medium between the two approaches.

“For me, in this event space, the best model is a collaboration between synchronous and asynchronous learning, where you have the opportunities for the learners to, at their own pace, at their own leisure, engage with the prerecorded content that exists in the space,” he says. “But you’re providing opportunities of adapting this synchronous learning together so that people can connect at a later point and build upon the learning and on the concepts that they’ve gathered during that independent time.”


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Membership Pro Tip: Help Members Manage Stress

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The Massachusetts Society of CPAs goes the distance for members facing mental health issues and stress. Here is one way the group is helping members cope.

Tax season is never over, as any CPA will tell you, and this year, with the tax return deadline extended to May 17, the stress level among CPAs never eased off. Add that schedule adjustment to more than a year of pandemic-related challenges, and it’s not surprising that many in the profession are feeling overwhelmed. In response, the Massachusetts Society of CPAs increased its efforts to help members cope. Here is one way, among many, they did it.

How Does It Work?

MSCPA provides articles to members on how to help combat burnout, manage expectations, prioritize whole-body wellness, and reduce stress. The aim is to offer members unique value—not the same tax articles they could find anywhere else, said Amy Pitter, MSCPA’s president and CEO.

Most recently, the group devoted a section of the May issue of its magazine to mental health in the accounting profession. The issue featured a personal story from a millennial member outlining her journey with mental health, and another on what accounting firms are doing to help staff deal with mental health issues.

Why Is It Effective?

The articles are geared toward helping people navigate their business and work lives, focusing on themes like diversity, mental health, and wellness. “People’s authentic selves include any mental health issues they might chronically have, or have at the moment,” Pitter said. “And, as with any diversity issue, you can’t be inclusive if you’re not willing to talk about it.”

MSCPA supplements the articles with corresponding webinars. This combination encourages members to look to the association for thought leadership and guidance on particular issues, she said.

What Is the Benefit?

Dealing openly with stress relieves stress, and association leaders must encourage their staff and members to pay attention to their mental health. It’s hard to let go of thinking that working crazy hours is a badge of honor, but the real badge of honor is to face your stress and its repercussions head on.

“It’s something we can uniquely offer our members,” Pitter said. “Everybody’s hungry for connection right now.”

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

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How to Effectively Assess Your Member Relationships

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Looking at the connection with members as a relationship and not a business transaction means listening to what they need and analyzing your responsiveness to those needs. An expert offers advice on ways to connect and engage more thoughtfully.

Mission-based organizations like associations are in the business of taking care of the people they serve—members. And, inherent in the process of taking care of members, there are common challenges like how to recruit, engage, and retain them.

Talking about it isn’t enough. It’s essential to delve in with intention about the specificity of how members are experiencing their relationship with an association, and how they are feeling about that relationship, said Joy Duling, founder and CEO of The Joy of Membership, during a recent “Chatting With Cecilia & Agnes” podcast.

“That makes the difference in whether someone stays in a relationship with you, or they go,” she said.

Thinking about the connection with members as a relationship is helpful in analyzing what works and what doesn’t. Duling recommends using the CAREpoints [PDF] she developed. CARE stands for consistency, attentiveness, responsiveness, and engagement. Thinking through each of the questions generated by the acronym is a start for developing strategies around engagement. Questions like: Are we being attentive to member needs, are we being consistent, and how can we be more engaging?

Talking about each of those touchpoints and assessing how your association is responding to each one is a good way to measure how the member relationship is working. It’s not about attracting people into engagement. “You actually need to lean in and be interested in what they are interested in,” Duling said.

She compared the one-sided nature of some association communications to a bad date or business networking situation where someone is talking about how great they are and trying to be impressive and saying all the “right” things. “It’s a far more engaging experience if the other person is listening and asking questions, giving you a chance to talk about yourself and what your interests and goals are,” she said.

How do you get members to tell you what they want? Good question. “You have to look at their behavior more than what they say sometimes,” she said. What messages are people listening to, what emails are they opening, what links are they clicking on, what website pages are they visiting, and what events do they attend? “There are all kinds of things people do that are in direct conflict with what they tell you,” she said.

Association membership has been in decline for the past few years, Duling noted. For example, upcoming data from Marketing General Incorporated’s 13th annual Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report will show that only 26 percent of associations saw membership growth last year, the lowest number the study has ever reported.

However, it’s not all bad news. A survey conducted by Advanced Solutions International found that membership engagement increased for 49 percent of respondents and member retention was up or held steady for 57 percent of respondents.

It’s good news that some associations are growing or staying the same, but it’s a real problem for the ones that are shrinking. “You can’t market yourself out of that,” she said. Like cultivating a relationship, Duling said it’s essential to figure out why people are leaving and what is needed to make them feel like they want to be a part of an organization on an ongoing basis.

However, Duling sees promise in the associations that have grown recently, despite adversity. The pandemic accelerated associations’ responsiveness to member needs. During the past year, with all its challenges, associations had an opportunity to reconnect with members and get reinspired around producing what they need.

“They realized that when the going gets tough, people need their industry leadership,” Duling said.

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