Archive for August, 2021

How Much Has Covid Affected the World of Virtual Conferences?

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

Leading learning firm Tagoras has launched another round of its virtual conferences survey, the results of which will be compared to its last round, conducted near the beginning of the pandemic. The use of online events, by all types of organizations, has grown by leaps and bounds. This current survey’s results “will give us a good sense of just how much impact COVID had,” says Jeff Cobb, managing director of Tagoras.

The purpose of this survey is to better understand how organizations are using online and virtual conferences, whether on a standalone basis or in conjunction with place-based conferences, meetings, and trade shows. Any type of organization that offers virtual conferences is encouraged to participate, even if you do not currently offer or plan to offer a virtual conference and regardless of the size or budget of your organization.

That includes associations, commercial businesses, academic institutions, solopreneurs, anyone who considers events to be a part or potential part of their strategy. Tagoras is hoping to get as comprehensive a view as possible into how virtual events are being used, particularly in comparison to pre-pandemic results. The report helps to raise overall visibility for virtual conferences and the results will be freely shared in a new report. Please take part in the survey now. It’s open through August 31.

The post How Much Has Covid Affected the World of Virtual Conferences? appeared first on Velvet Chainsaw.

Membership Pro Tip: Make the Login Process Easier

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

Looking for a simple, inexpensive way to consistently provide member value? Hint: It’s something obvious that you might be overlooking—streamlining the member login process.

When so many associations are transforming digital experiences, it’s important not to overlook an often-obvious problem when trying to improve membership: Be sure to update the member login process. “Great member benefits mean nothing if members can’t log in,” says Chris Gloede, chief consultant at Ricochet.

Too many associations assume digital login is a smooth, modern process when in reality it is fraught with barriers. When analyzing everything from web content consumption to online invoice payments, people tend to assume a member is logged in—and too often that’s a bad assumption, he says.

How Does It Work?

Members and their professional lives are constantly evolving, and so are login credentials. Members change employers and email addresses, forget passwords, upgrade PCs with stored passwords, and only visit association websites sporadically.

Modern logins include many features to provide immediate and secure authentication for users who need help, such as backup email addresses, “magic” login link emails that don’t require passwords, social media account login options, “turn on” password viewability, clear password length and character requirements, configurable security questions, and more.

But associations rarely offer anything other than the default “email me a password reset link.” And that is an ineffective option that doesn’t always solve the problem.

Why Is It Effective?

“The pandemic made the digital member experience the most important issue for many associations,” Gloede says. Which is why it’s especially important not to let all your hard work creating members-only virtual events, online voting, paperless journals, and new digital job boards go to waste because members can’t log in.

What’s the Benefit?

Some researchers estimate that more than 10 percent of transactions go unfinished because of account access troubles. “We often overlook the obvious problem when trying to satisfy our members,” Gloede says. A quick login process that accommodates members’ changing profiles is a good way to deliver immediate member value.

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

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Good Reads You Might Have Missed: Leadership and Diversity

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DEI issues are increasingly front of mind for many associations—but leadership plays a key role in ensuring that inclusion efforts have a true impact. Here are a few examples that underscore that point.

In recent years, the discussion on DEI has become increasingly important for many associations, as they navigate how their staff and membership can evolve more intentionally.

One thing that can make DEI efforts sink or swim? The support of the association’s leadership, which can help build validation for such initiatives as they grow within an organization—and possibly even mirror that growth through representation.

With that in mind, here are some selections from the and Associations Now archives that could help leaders gain a new perspective on their role in DEI:

How Diverse Leadership Can Help Associations After the Pandemic. This post highlights a recent study from McKinley Advisors about addressing operations amid the pandemic—with a strong emphasis on issues of diversity. “We were reminded that who leads and how they lead has an impact on perceptions of an association and its performance,” the report states.

A Better Path to a Diverse C-Suite. This piece focuses on the challenges that organizations can face in offering paths to leadership for diverse employees. As Bryan Tayan, a Stanford researcher, puts it: “You look at your own C-suite and say, ‘I’m happy with it,’ but are you happy with the potential for everyone to reach the CEO position?”

Is Bias Affecting How You Lead? This piece discusses the importance for leaders to get past their own personal biases, as well as to admit that those biases exist. “Even the best decision makers are prone to biases,” says Sal Mistry, assistant professor of business administration at the University of Delaware. “Make sure you understand that.”

What Success Looks Like for Association Diversity. In the wake of the murder of George Floyd last year, a number of leaders and figures from the association space came together over Zoom to discuss the work they’re doing on DEI. This piece highlights the discussion, as well as other efforts to improve DEI in the association industry.

Lead on Diversity and Inclusion With Words and Action. This piece highlights an ASAE Research Foundation study on the role that leaders play in DEI issues. As the article puts it: “D+I initiatives are successful in organizations with leaders who actively support and participate in them.”


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#ASAE21: Five Ways to Keep Your Board Strategic

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Boards interact differently now, but they can still easily get lost in the weeds. Two strategy experts share tips for adjusting volunteers’ perspectives.

Volunteers may be getting better at handling remote meetings—research suggests board members are showing up more often—but some of the old challenges still apply. Chief among them are board members who have a habit of getting fixated on the operational business of the association. Are we sure that mailer for the upcoming conference doesn’t have too much blue in it? What kind of snacks are we going to have between sessions? And more, or sillier, or worse.

In their 2021 ASAE Annual Meeting session “Stay at 50,000 Feet! Keeping Your Volunteer Leaders Focused on the Big Picture,” Nikki Golden, CAE, and Nikki Haton Shanks, CAE, strategists at Association Laboratory, will discuss some of the ways volunteer groups go astray, and offer a few possible solutions. But as they pointed out in a conversation before the session, many of the potential problems can be addressed before they reach the board. Here are five of their suggestions:

Look at your overall volunteer structure. Unnecessary volunteer groups with no clear strategic purpose can create a culture where strategy and tactics can get tangled. “Take a look at what committees you have, and do some level of evaluation of whether or not those are the things you need volunteers for,” says Golden. “Make sure that you’re aligning your committees with your strategic goals, and they’re actually able to provide strategic direction on something.”

Assume everybody can use a refresher. Shanks and Golden agree that orientation is too often overlooked throughout an association’s network of volunteers; staff may incorrectly assume that just because somebody has served in a volunteer role before that they grasp the distinctions between strategy and operations. Don’t make that mistake. “You really have to set in place what the board will do, what the staff will do, and how they’ll work together,” Shanks says. “I think that’s often not stressed enough. And that can be what leads the board into focusing on tactical issues if it’s not covered as part of that orientation conversation.”

Keep the agenda strategic. Opening the floor to operational issues can swallow up precious board-meeting time in a hurry. To that end, Shanks says, board members should know from the schedule what they’re focusing on. “You’re setting up your agenda strategically so that you are able to cover the things that will lead to strategic decision making and that you have appropriate data to back up whatever decision making needs to take place. Having a good structure in place does help.” Or as Golden puts it: “Your leaders will look where you point.”

Give boards enough operational detail to help them feel informed. Boards don’t need to know every detail about technology procurement or membership marketing. But if they feel like they’re out of the loop, they’re more inclined to obsess over those details, says Golden. So staff needs to share enough information to inform them. “A breakdown of trust is often the reason that volunteer leaders get into the tactical weeds,” Golden says. “It’s easier for them to think about tactical issues if they don’t trust that the staff has the operations under control and there’s not that discussion [from staff] of ‘Operationally, here’s what we’re doing.’”

When in doubt, point to the strategic plan. Knowing how much information to share can be tricky. Golden suggests that the association’s strategic plan should provide the compass for what kinds of operational details need to be shared. “Use that as a guideline,” she says. “Look at what it says about what you’re trying to achieve as an organization. When you start getting further away from your overarching goals and objectives, that means you’re getting more tactical. Or just off-topic.”

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How to Get an Easy Win in Digital Marketing

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Chris Gloede, Chief Consultant for Ricochet and past Chief Marketing Officer of the American Bar Association, breaks down the art of connecting with members.

Here’s the thing about successful digital marketing for associations: it can be as tricky to execute for organizations with more than 400,000 members as it is for organizations whose ranks number in the hundreds. Chris Gloede knows this first hand. In the past, he served as chief marketing officer of the American Bar Association (whose annual dues totaled more than $80 million). These days, he is the chief consultant for Ricochet, where he teaches an Association Digital Marketing Academy course on strategic, technical and tactical elements to digital marketers working in associations of all sizes. “Generally, associations are kind of mid-size, with a marketing team of a few people,” he explains. “But often in my class, I have many students who keep reminding me that their marketing team is them — a team of one!”

Big, medium or solo, Gloede believes that a common enemy is thwarting the hard work of many association marketing teams. “I call it ‘Damage to the Email Channel,’” he says. For decades, association marketers had a distinct advantage over consumer product marketers: they knew where their customers lived and knew their email addresses. And so they communicated—a lot. “To this day, you still have organizations that email members three times a day,” Gloede notes, “And so those members have quickly learned to ignore emails from their associations.”

These days, Gloede says, successful marketers have moved away from the email flood tactic and turned to a far more impactful form of marketing: targeted ads that follow members wherever they might be on the internet. “What was kind of impossible just a few years ago is suddenly possible with affordable and practical tools like Feathr,” says Gloede.

Feathr, a digital marketing platform built for the specific needs of associations, solves a problem of many marketing departments: they are run by people with little-to-no actual digital marketing training. “It’s a very odd time for marketers at associations because meetings got flipped on their head last year because of COVID. So meeting planners who were used to planning in-person events suddenly had to do virtual meetings, and they didn’t have the skills to do that,” explains Gloede. “You know, negotiating a hotel contract is very different from setting up an online website and knowing how to reach out to potential attendees on the internet.”

Gloede advises new digital marketers to dip their toes with an affordable and user-friendly platform like Feathr. “We advise our students to choose a definite time period and a singular product, such as an event. Events tend to have a pretty good response rate, and because there is often an extra registration fee, there’s a positive ROI that gets you an easy win in a relatively short amount of time,” Gloede explains. “Then once you’ve got some comfort, you can start getting into what I consider more complicated sales such as membership, which can involve a longer decision cycle.”

Creating engaging ads that get click-throughs is an art in itself. Gloede advises that smaller teams (or those armies of one) utilize low-cost freelancers via sites like Upwork or Fiverr, noting that Feathr’s creative team can build ads that associations can use as-is or utilize as a starting point that they can further customize. “To be effective, we teach our students to have simple calls to action and to use as few words—and even as few characters—as possible.”

No two associations will have the exact same goals and needs, and getting started in digital marketing can be overwhelming due to a huge amount of choices (not to mention huge price tags). That’s why Gloede counsels his students to start with an easy-to-use tool that allows them to grow as they learn. “Feathr is straightforward, and they give support and help when you need it,” says Gloede. “For the first year, many of my clients sign-on for Feathr’s full-service model. And then, by the second year of using it, they’re like, ‘Okay, I can manage this. Got it.’”

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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How Boards Can Thrive Virtually

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Studies show that boards have adapted well to virtual meetings. With new COVID-19 variants disrupting in-person meeting plans, there are opportunities to improve.

Bad news first: All the talk about a hybrid “new normal” looks a lot more normal than many of us thought even just a few weeks ago. Earlier this summer, COVID-19 infection numbers were rapidly diminishing, and people were back to planning in-person meetings. With new variants causing the number to rise again, a lot of those plans are now on pause.

The good news is that boards’ ability to adapt to this situation may be better than it appeared to be earlier in the pandemic. A report last month in Nonprofit Business Advisor points to a study by OnBoard, a maker of nonprofit management software, which found that impressive proportions of board members have adapted well. A solid majority of respondents (79 percent) said their boards have improved effectiveness in the past 12 months, and 66 percent say they’ve seen improvements in collaboration.

When everyone occupies the same amount of digital space, there’s a democratizing effect.

More modestly, only 47 percent say they’re spending more time talking about strategic issues. But given the urgent issues of the past year—not to mention the challenge of getting boards to focus on strategy in the first place—let’s call that something not unlike a win. (Respondents were drawn from staff members as well as boards, so the survey isn’t just the board being self-congratulatory.)

OnBoard Chief Marketing Officer Rob Kunzler told Nonprofit Business Advisor that board meetings are improving because virtual meetings have leveled the playing field—and more board members are showing up to play. “When you move everyone into a single shared platform, effectiveness increases,” he says. “When everyone occupies the same amount of digital space, there’s also a democratizing effect. Meeting participants who may have been less vocal in an in-person setting feel more obliged to participate or say their piece, increasing collaboration. Many boards also noted increased attendance, as traveling to or from the meeting were no longer necessary.”

There’s also evidence that virtual meetings are more efficient: A report last month in Harvard Business Review on boards’ digital transformation found that not only is attendance at board meetings 20 percent higher, but meetings are also 30 percent shorter.

Virtual board meetings still present challenges. For one thing, there’s evidence that while boards are getting better at getting work done over Zoom, they’re still punting on issues relating to strategy, diversity, and volunteer recruitment. According to the new OnBoard survey [PDF], 58 percent of respondents say they have not evaluated themselves on environmental, social, and governance issues. As I wrote back in February, “Virtual boards may not be causing new problems, but they’re not eradicating old ones.”

If boards are going to continue to improve, Kunzler said, a couple of tactics are important. First, streamline online meeting tools so that boards aren’t using a “hodge-podge” of applications that generate confusion and amplify frustration. Second and perhaps more important, make “hybrid” the watchword for board meetings in general, but not for within a particular board meeting; if you do have an in-person board meeting, avoid having some participants Zoom in. “Designate some full, in-person meetings and a number of all-remote meetings per year,” Kunzler says. “Before the pandemic, we all experienced the ‘hybrid’ meeting where some are in the room, and others join by video or phone. Don’t repeat this mistake.”

We’re a long way from perfecting this system. But for better or for worse, associations now have more reasons to dedicate time to working on it.

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Meetings Pro Tip: The Power of Props

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Trying to keep virtual attendees engaged? One tactic: Give your speakers some props to work with.

After a year-plus of Zoom calls and virtual events, people need something a little fresher to keep their attention.

A pop of visual interest or energy can provide exactly that. One approach to try: Dig through your association’s prop closet so your speakers have something to handle while they’re talking. (Wait, you don’t have a prop closet? We should solve that.)

What’s the Strategy?

Kristin Arnold, founder of Powerful Panels, noted previously that one way to make a remote panel discussion more effective is to give attendees something that they can visually show off during the event, leveraging the camera frame effectively.

That could involve creating an interesting background to work within—something professional speaker Josh Sundquist does to great effect—but it can also mean giving your attendees objects that they can use to react to what’s happening in the discussion.

Arnold sends her clients “experience boxes” for virtual panel discussions, complete with thumbs-up and thumbs-down paddles or handheld whiteboards, allowing for a quick form of nonverbal communication on screen.

She also recommends having attendees pick up objects that they use in their work (during our discussion, she held up a stapler) or even carry the camera with them as they walk around.

If you’re trying to visualize this, look to TV shows—they’re already using prop-heavy tactics.

“Most people will agree that event design is more like event production,” Arnold said in an April interview. “You know, we’re looking more like TV shows.”

Why Is It Effective?

Holding attention during virtual events is getting harder as screen fatigue hits us in a serious way. A recent study from Splash found that more than half of attendees wanted meetings to last half an hour or less, and just 7 percent wanted them to last longer than an hour.

Given this preference, it’s becoming increasingly important to keep people’s attention by using novel activities.

You can even tie this in with tangible elements that you mail individual attendees. One that you might have seen on a recent virtual happy hour: interactive drink-making tutorials, taught by a professional mixologist. Giving your speakers—and your attendees—something to do is one way to keep them engaged when you have to go a little bit longer than the length of an average sitcom.

What’s the Potential?

For virtual event planners trying to keep the dream alive after a year and a half, the visual punch of a prop might be enough to keep attendees interested for a little while longer.

Of course, you may need to prep your speakers to use props.

“You have to get them to understand—you have to put it in front of the camera or hold it by your face,” Arnold said. “There are little things that you kind of have to coach people on.”


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Tactics for Sustaining High Member Engagement Levels

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Recent research shows member engagement is surpassing expectations. But now associations must work to maintain those increased levels by offering members opportunities to find connections and belonging in an ever-changing professional—and personal—landscape.

Here’s some good news about member engagement: 56 percent of association members are more engaged with their association than before the pandemic, according to Forj’s recently released 2021 State of Member Experience report, which surveyed nearly 4,000 virtual event attendees.

“Opportunities to bring members together at virtual events has created more engagement,” said Forj CEO Kurt Heikkinen. And there are clearly ways for associations to sustain that high level of member engagement, but groups need to look outside the traditional ways they have historically done business and employ other factors.

Digital First: Expected and Intuitive

For example, dependence on a single annual event—or just a few events—is a limiting strategy, Heikkinen said. In their day-to-day lives, consumers are much more engaged in a digital-first experience—and they expect it. That is a plus for associations. “Associations that match those expectations have an opportunity to increase member engagement because of the chasm that’s being created through the separation and changing landscape of the world of work,” Heikkinen said.

Significantly, the report shows that 95 to 96 percent of both association members and nonmembers rely on virtual events, webinars, online community platforms, and social media for their industry knowledge and professional networking. Members like digital experiences because they are convenient, respect their time, give them more insights, and they can connect quicker, Heikkinen said.

A digital-first strategy is also more intuitive to the next generation of members who are going to expect it as digital natives. “The pandemic has really shifted some of those paradigms,” Heikkinen said. “Associations that fall back on conventional, pre-pandemic means are going to be the ones who lose, and those who really embrace this as a catalyst for a shift in strategy are going to be the ones who win.”

Belonging and Connectedness

Another opportunity for associations to capitalize on is, now that the world has become more global, companies are skewing smaller and work is becoming increasingly specialized, which means organizations might have only one employee with a particular specialization, but they still have a desire to connect and learn from a peer group. That means these employees will be looking for connections outside of their own organizations.

“Members don’t join associations to pay dues,” Heikkinen said. “Members join to learn, grow, and have a sense of belonging and connectedness.”

Members expect to be able to connect at any time throughout the day—and the year—and have a personalized experience where they can network with like-minded colleagues, without waiting for an annual event to happen, Heikkinen said. Increasing the frequency of events could be a factor in increasing member engagement and return on investment.

“There’s a great opportunity for associations to offer up more,” Heikkinen said. And it doesn’t have to be for the entire community at one event. “Through virtual, there’s a way and a means to pop up more frequent events that are more personalized and keep members engaged throughout the year,” he said.

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More Thinking—and Meeting—Outside the Box

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The pandemic has turned the meeting world upside down, and as a result, we’ve all had to adjust to new challenges. This has fueled innovative solutions like never before, and many of these solutions will continue to evolve. Let’s look at what some of those likely changes will be in the next few years.

The demand for outdoor meeting and event space means venues will need to offer more adjoining indoor and outdoor spaces. Weather adaptations will require consideration, with accommodations such as cooling stations for hot weather, warming stations for cold weather, and covered areas to protect from rain.

Across the board, venues should embrace new technology and ideas to create more productive and memorable meetings. To justify the expense of meeting in person, venues will need to offer more meaningful networking and teambuilding experiences. For example, instead of venues offering just basic group dining experiences, they can provide interactive experiences with a chef. This is the kind of creative, outside-the-box thinking that will help make venues more desirable.

Venues will also need to offer more hybrid meeting capabilities, enabling event hosts to engage both in-person attendees and those attending virtually from anywhere in the world. From systems that support live Q&As to mobile event apps, technology will be key in making experiences as interactive as possible for the virtual attendees of hybrid meetings. Another area where technology will make an impact is in hygiene standards. Venues that adopt the most advanced tools to ensure cleanliness and safety will be preferred. Part of this will be contactless offerings such as facial recognition, sensor beacons and cashless food payment options.

Innovations in sustainability are perhaps one of the most important areas that venues will need to stay on top of over the next few years. As climate change continues to produce negative effects worldwide, venues that can prove a commitment to green meetings, such as LEED certifications, will become the preferred choice of brands who want to show their commitment to a more eco-friendly future.

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How One Meeting Planner Prioritizes Convenience and Inclusivity for her Diverse Constituency

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The event has a packed agenda—and a goal to reach as many of its 20,000 members as possible.

Selene Serrano oversees the annual springtime conference for the Spanish Eastern District of the Assemblies of God. The membership of the religious organization comprises women’s ministries from Maine to Tennessee—that’s about 20,000 women and 700 churches overall. And with such a diverse membership, Serrano’s top goal is inclusivity.

As many as about 3,500 women make their way to the conference held each year on the third weekend of April. The destination rotates in an effort to make attendance feasible for as many constituents as possible, whose ages and ability to travel comfortably range as widely as their home states. “We try to go to different places within our district to make sure that people that are farthest away are included,” Serrano says. “We want to make sure that everyone has an opportunity to go.”

In addition to geographically inclusive destinations, Serrano explains that her group requires a family-friendly environment: It is a religious organization with family values at its core. “Because of the nature of our event, it brings people who prefer peace and quiet,” she says. This rules out destinations known above all for casinos or a wild bar scene, in favor of places like Virginia Beach — with its all-ages-friendly atmosphere and beautiful natural environment—from where attendees’ feedback was overwhelmingly enthusiastic.

The conference also operates a kids camp, although the group of children who attend is generally small compared with the total adult delegation. This accommodation exists for families, but Serrano finds the women tend to attend without their children so they can focus on their own experience in a desirable destination with thought-provoking content and face-to-face interactions. “They know the kids are welcome, and the kids [who come] have fun,” she says. “But the majority of the women are just so excited to go away for the weekend.”

With the action confined to a single weekend, there’s a lot to pack in. And that means convenience and practicality are key in the planning and execution. “We don’t really have a lot of time to wander around and do many different things [off the schedule],” she says. “We are pretty packed from Friday to Sunday afternoon, so there’s really not a lot of wiggle room.”

That’s why, “having a convention center close to the hotels is important,” Serrano explains, noting her event blocks about 1,000 rooms across about 12 different hotels. Virginia Beach has an abundance of options, with excellent walkability.

Her attendees are also looking for quick options such as grab-and go eateries that allow them to spend less time sitting in restaurants and more time connecting and exploring—she relishes seeing the group running through the sand at springtime.”

Having the beach, the beautiful views, was definitely a big motivation for our women, because some really don’t go away much during the year,” she says. “For them, the convention is the time when they get to enjoy themselves.”

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


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