Is It Time to Revamp Your Association’s Job Titles?

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Finding the right person for a role starts with an effective job title. A title that’s confusing, vague, or inaccurate could keep your best candidates away. Here’s how to make your job titles stronger.

A good job title is a little like good marketing:The right words can entice the right audience. On the other hand, titles that are outdated, too broad, or too niche can give the wrong impression of the job and can get in the way of finding the talent you’re after.

“Job titles that don’t accurately reflect the role within the organization or are written to be cutting-edge will lead to prospective employees not searching for, or finding, an employment posting,” say Nonprofit HR’s Lori Kipnis, managing director of strategy and advisory, and Lisa McKeown, managing director of benefits and compensation.

Understanding how to better align job titles with the roles they’re meant to describe can give your association a leg up on finding talented people who fit the organization. But how do you know when a job title needs reworking? There are a few indicators, one being when there’s no correlation between compensation and title. For example, having a manager, an advisor, and a director on the same pay grade could indicate that your titles need an overhaul to more accurately reflect each job’s level of responsibility.

If prospective employees or staff members often ask for clarification on what a job entails, your job title may be too vague or complicated. And if certain tasks come as a surprise to those who apply, the title might not align with the job’s purpose.

Kipnis and McKeown recommend a few ways to take a closer look at your job titles:

  • Connect with your recruiting team or staffing agency for insight on job titles.
  • Search similar associations’ LinkedIn pages or websites to see what titles exist in their organizations.
  • Participate in salary surveys conducted by a third-party organization. From there, that organization can point out discrepancies between job titles and compensation.

If you determine your titles need tweaking, use the following guidelines.

Be Specific

If your job titles are vague or unusual, candidates might never even see your listing, as they’ll be looking for more common descriptions. For example, the title “human resources director” will probably get more attention than “people champion,” even if the latter is more distinctive.

“In this instance, employers may not receive as many applicants, since candidates are more likely to search for ‘human resources director,’” Kipnis and McKeown say. “Save the cutting-edge titles for internal use, and align the job posting title to reflect the external market.”

Clever or whimsical titles—such as “number ninja” for an accountant or “data guru” for an IT position—might be eye-catching, but they could hurt you during the hiring process because they don’t provide a clear explanation of the job’s role, level, or responsibilities.

Avoid Industry Jargon

While titles need specificity, they should also be broad enough that they’re understood by those outside of your organization or industry. Kipnis and McKeown say a poor job title is one that uses technical or industry jargon, is abbreviated, or refers to specific project names.

Keep It Simple

You want your job title to describe the position accurately, but there’s no need for an overly long title that explains every detail of the position. Let your job description fill in the gaps. Research suggests that titles containing 50 to 60 characters generate more applications than titles outside that range. A good rule of thumb is to be as concise as possible, Kipnis and McKeown say.

Stay Grounded

 

It might be tempting to give a position a title that inflates the job’s importance or level of responsibility to generate more interest. Examples include adding “senior” to a title without increasing the role’s job responsibilities, or labeling someone a “manager” when the person won’t actually manage a team or project. When titles are misleading, prospective employees go into the application process, or even begin the job, with an inaccurate idea of where they stand in the organization.

“Often, titles are used to provide a sense of promotion when an opportunity may not be available at a higher level in an organization,” Kipnis and McKeown say. Don’t make that mistake.

 

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How Leaders Can Transform the New In-Person Meeting

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Associations still need to be cautious and limit their goals when it comes to in-person meetings. But that leaves room for creativity too.

The face of meetings is changing, which means leaders have to think more about what they’re having meetings for.

In the spring issue of Associations Now, I wrote about the outlook for in-person meetings in 2021. To sum it up in one word: Better. But it’s also more complicated than that. Associations can’t completely reject virtual meetings, because they often opened the door to new audiences in 2020. And economic constraints mean that meetings may be shorter this year, or co-located with a related association, or simply smaller. As we reported in March, one poll of scientists found that a large majority (74 percent) wanted virtual meetings, while 69 percent lamented the lack of in-person networking.

So while virtual meetings are unlikely to disappear soon, some kind of in-person meeting is increasingly seen as essential. As Graham Kirk, director of sales and marketing at the Audio Engineering Society (AES), said of their decision to meet in person this October: “So much business is done in person, and so much information is passed along that way, so we made the decision that it was vital that we be present again in some form.”

So much business is done in person, and so much information is passed along that way, so we made the decision that it was vital that we be present again in some form.

That means that leaders will need to be creative about their in-person meetings formats, building on input from members and customers to determine the best fit. AES is co-locating. One organization I spoke with, the Coin Laundry Association, revamped its regional meetings for a socially distanced environment; the New York Society of Association Executives decided to host a smaller version of its tradeshow in September after a majority of past attendees asked for it.

But the new environment doesn’t just mean you need to tweak the meetings you already have. It’s also an opportunity to create new meetings you hadn’t previously considered. As the story was going to press, the Association for Advancing Physician and Provider Recruitment (AAPPR) was making plans for a new hosted-buyer event in Dallas in April. Its member surveys showed that the idea was appealing and that members would likely be comfortable flying to a conference then, if costs could be kept low.

That event wrapped up last month. How’d it go? “All positive feedback,” says AAPPR CEO Carey Goryl, CAE. “So successful between acceptance of the concept and overall logistics and execution of the event.” The meeting brought in 112 people, about evenly split between members and vendors. Some attendees were vaccinated and some weren’t, and they had different attitudes about masking, but over the course of two days the group established a sensible behavioral protocol, Goryl says.

“It is hard to have strict adherence to CDC guidelines between people who are long-time friends,” she says. “It’s also challenging because events are so much about the eating and drinking—it’s happening nonstop so people are always pulling their masks down. It was interesting to watch the group take nonverbal cues from each other about whether to leave masks off or put them on quicker.”

The Dallas event became a way to feed content for AAPPR’s follow-up virtual annual conference last week. Keynotes at the in-person event were presented online, and Goryl says they improved the overall vibe of the virtual event. “The production value looks so much better with a speaker on stage, who you can tell is getting energy from the audience and they’re talking in real time,” she says. “Many of our virtual conference attendees were unsure if it was live or recorded.  Our virtual conference looks so much better because of it.”

Challenges remain—the association discounted attendance fees for members and vendors for the annual meeting. But Goryl says the mix of smaller regional in-person events and virtual conferences makes sense for now.

“My bigger challenge is continued member travel and professional development budget reductions,” she says. “But I think we can manage.”

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What Should Future Conferences Look Like?

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A new report from the American Institute of Physics examines how scientific groups should reimagine their meetings to better meet stakeholder needs. While the report is geared toward scientific audiences, its suggestions can benefit all association meetings.

With COVID-19 affecting how scientists and other people gathered, the American Institute of Physics assembled a panel of experts in various parts of association conference planning to reimagine meetings of the future to be more impactful for and valuable to society stakeholders.

The resulting report, “The Future of Association Convening: Envisioning for the Sciences,”  offers suggestions on how scientific conferences can integrate lessons learned from retooling in-person meetings for virtual formats over the past year, while also meeting changing demands of their research communities and the conduct of science.

Although the report, released earlier this month, focuses on scientific conferences, it has applications for the broader association community as organizations plan upcoming meetings. Here is a look at three areas of the report that may help inform how you execute your future events.

content and engagement

In the report, the panelists describe their desired end-state: “Our vision is that science exchange will be more broadly accessible—before, during, and after scheduled scientific conferences—and will foster dynamic interactions between presented content and conference participants,” they write. “Whichever way one attends a conference (in-person/virtual/hybrid), the experience will be equitable and useful to all participants.”

To reach this desired state, organizations must rethink conference content and increase audience engagement. The report offers several ideas for content. One I found interesting: Having poster and oral presentations take place virtually ahead of the face-to-face event, which “would allow the focus of the actual conference to shift toward questions, discussions, and networking, which have been the primary drivers for in-person conferences in the past.”

To boost audience engagement, the report suggests leveraging technology to foster interactions before and after the conference. For example, anyone chatting online during a session could be prompted via text or email to continue their conversation or to consult repositories of sessions on similar topics.

Accessibility and Audience Reach

The report also dives into how scientific societies can engage audiences more fully, help all members of the conference community feel that they belong, invite in new participants, and share the story of science to an expanded audience and an interested public.

These efforts must begin during early planning stages, the panelists write: “When designing conferences of the future, it’s critical to consider the important values of diversity, equity, and inclusion in the planning process. People from underrepresented and marginalized groups must be actively included in conference planning decision-making bodies to advance those goals.”

The report offers several tactical measures to cultivate inclusivity and belonging. A couple of suggestions: Invite people from diverse groups to be plenary or keynote speakers and session presenters, and reach out to people to learn about difficulties they may face and barriers that may prevent them from fully participating. The latter can help organizations create solutions tailored to their individual communities and goals.

Conference Partnerships

This section of the report focuses on how societies might engage all types of partners—sponsors, exhibitors, industry, academia, and other societies—to create a more beneficial conference for all involved.

One idea is to partner with other societies. “The collaboration does not have to result in a joint conference; it can start small. Societies might agree to offer reciprocal attendance or discount prices to each other’s members,” the panelists write.

Enhanced outreach to exhibitors will be key, they note: “Recorded demos and information sessions can be used to reach potential consumers, and societies can extend the vendor-participant connection opportunities beyond the duration of the conference.”

How does your association plan to build better opportunities for engagement, accessibility, and partnerships at its upcoming events? Please share in the comments.

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Three Questions You’ll Need to Answer When Planning Hybrid Conferences

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Hybrid conferences may be the next big thing in meetings, but because they involve face-to-face and virtual participants, they come with their own unique set of planning challenges. As associations begin executing hybrid events, here are some questions to ask during the planning stage.

Associations and attendees alike are eager for the return of large, in-person events, and with vaccination numbers continuing to rise, that may be on the horizon soon enough.

But even with this renewed optimism, many groups are planning hybrid conferences in the near term. Planning a conference that includes both in-person and virtual components is no easy feat and requires meeting professionals to consider additional logistics and possibly new technology solutions. Before you get too far into the weeds, here are three questions to answer during the early stages of planning.

How do we staff a hybrid conference?

Association meeting pros have long known exactly who they need on their team to execute a flawless in-person event, and the pandemic has taught them how to do the same for virtual conferences. But hybrid meetings will require even more staffing adjustments to make sure attendees have a worthwhile experience, whether they join online or in person.

In a blog post this month, Bizzabo outlined several key roles to consider making part of your hybrid events team. For example, on the virtual side, they suggest an event technologist to help select the right technology for the event and get the most out of your technology stack, and an executive producer to keep the virtual aspect of your event running smoothly. As for your in-person event team, Bizzabo recommends an onsite technician to make sure microphones and internet connections are working and even a speaking coach who can help your presenters communicate effectively to both audiences.

Do we need different marketing strategies?

According to MeetingPlay, organizations should market a hybrid event using the same channels they would use to promote live events. This includes social media, content marketing, email marketing, paid advertising, and so forth.

However, marketers will need to plan differently when it comes to timing. For example, registration numbers for virtual conferences typically increase dramatically the week before and even past the event’s start date. This is a different trend than what planners typically see with in-person events. To maximize their online audience for a hybrid meeting, associations should consider increasing their marketing efforts the week before the event kicks off.

How do we facilitate connections between in-person and virtual participants?

This is a true challenge of hybrid events. After all, it’s easy to see how in-person attendees would wind up chatting with each other during a break between sessions, while virtual attendees might step away from their screens.

Some ways that organizers have overcome this challenge: putting a screen onstage to allow remote attendees to take part in a presentation and ask questions, hiring a virtual emcee to who collects questions and comments from the remote audience, and handing out tablets to in-person attendees to allow them to have one-on-one chats with virtual participants.

And, if these connections between audiences can’t be made during the live event, consider using the digital platform as a place for all attendees to connect post-conference. For instance, Michelle Hopewell, regional marketing director at the Duke Energy Convention Center, offered these suggestions to the Northstar Meetings Group blog: “Keep session chats open following the event to create a community resource center and continued networking opportunities,” she said. “[Allow attendees to] trade virtual business cards, and encourage guests to share and create connections based on the virtual meeting.”

What other questions are you keeping in mind as you plan your upcoming hybrid conferences? Please share in the comments.

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How to Expand Inclusivity Efforts Ahead of Your Next Meeting

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4 steps planners can take to make meaningful change.

What do you think of when you hear the word “inclusivity” with respect to meetings? Probably adding more women to a panel, designing content that represents the racial diversity of the audience and having an ADA-compliant setup.

And that’s an excellent start. But truly inclusive meetings go far beyond ticking to a few of the most frequently discussed boxes. Accommodating everyone means planning for diverse ages, religious backgrounds, dietary restrictions and abilities—among many additional audience-specific considerations.

“You want everyone to feel comfortable, safe and respected at an event,” explains Jackie Quintyne, conference manager for Waste Management Symposia, based in the Greater Phoenix area. “And unless you can be inclusive of everyone, people don’t have that feeling.”

Refocusing On The Attendee Experience

When it comes to both conference content and the on-site experience, planners must consider the perspective of every single attendee at every step of the process.

Underscoring the importance of thinking outside the box on every detail, Quintyne recounts learning that a fellow industry professional received feedback from an attendee who felt unsafe because no gender-neutral bathrooms were available.

“That’s an awful feeling to have in whatever format it comes, whether it’s not finding your bathroom or not finding food you can eat,” she says. “You want to accommodate everyone’s needs and make everyone feel valued.”

Inclusivity is crucial for conference content, too. Quintyne points to former Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm, who spoke to her group right after being confirmed as U.S. energy secretary.

“Our female attendees, young professionals and students were able to look at her and say, ‘That could be me down the road,’” Quintyne explains. “For my older attendees, she was a person who could reflect on the industry’s evolution and inspire them for the next level up. We are always trying to find someone who can represent and connect with as many attendees as possible.”

Next Steps For Planners

Quintyne recommends multiple approaches for planners seeking to build inclusivity and get a “bigger-picture view” of what that means. First, she suggests that planners seek out published information and coursework that’s available through industry associations.

Second, planners can look for additional perspectives —from both within an organization and beyond, including peers. “Talk to your senior and junior counterparts,” she says. “Try to bring in people who represent your diverse audience. You have to get other viewpoints besides your own.”

Third, Quintyne notes that pandemic-related industry shifts have made it easier than ever to collect data from meeting constituents through surveys and other digital tools.

Finally, planners can learn from industry leaders without even picking up the phone: After all, conference websites are often public, and their approaches can inspire new ideas for inclusivity efforts. “There’s a lot of information out there,” she says. “A planner can do just a little bit of research to make their events so much better.”


To find out how Greater Phoenix can help foster inclusivity at your next meeting, visit visitphoenix.com/meetings.

 

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Good Reads You Might Have Missed: Member Renewals

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Getting members to renew is challenging every year—but this year in particular, associations need effective strategies for member retention. These articles have smart advice from association pros.

Membership renewal is a perennial topic in the association space, but recently the conversation has felt more urgent because of the pandemic.

This time last year, for example, some associations were considering waiving dues for new members. And while those short-term policies may have ended by now, the retention challenge always remains.

Fortunately, the association world includes a lot of smart membership strategists. Read on for a few highlights from the Associations Now and ASAE archives highlighting the latest knowledge in member renewals.

How to Craft Member Renewal Messaging Amid COVID-19 Crisis. Association consultants Scott Oser and David Patt, CAE, highlight the need for a strong value message during the pandemic. “You need to maintain people’s loyalty and their trust,” Patt says. “You don’t want people to say, ‘I really don’t need this.’ You have to come up with a way to make them still want you.”

Get More Renewals With a UX Mindset. User experience research in the ‌Membership Renewal Guide produced by Marketing General Incorporated in 2019 includes recommendations for wording, payment options, and renewal cycles. “If you’re not already testing subject lines in renewal emails, start doing it now,” writes Associations Now former senior editor Tim Ebner.

First-Year Renewal Issues? Tweak Your Onboarding Strategy. A survey from GrowthZone included a disturbing stat: Just 11 percent of survey respondents reported an increase in first-year member renewals. “It’s extremely important that new members understand the value you bring to their lives,” says Amy Gitchell, senior marketing communications specialist at GrowthZone. “In the survey, associations whose members recognized their value proposition reported higher renewal rates overall.”

Three Ways to Boost Membership Renewal With Video. In a webinar earlier this year, Gather Voices CEO Michael Hoffman made the case for video as a tool for building engagement in a member community. “Engagement is about creating something new and letting members be the star of the show,” he says.

3 Questions to Ask Before Adopting Auto-Renewal. Auto-renewals are all the rage outside associations—your phone carrier and power company probably convinced you to sign onto one at some point. But for associations, the equation is more complicated, wrote Rita Santelli, MBA, then CEO of The Savvy Org. “Auto-renewal, just like any other feature of membership, must be member-focused to succeed,” she noted. “It requires understanding your members’ needs and providing ongoing staff support to meet or exceed those needs.”

Put Two-Year Renewals to Work for Your Members. Extending member renewals over a two-year period can save money for both members and associations, according to Patricia Qvern, operations manager at Quality Contact Solutions. “In my experience, after working with several associations that offer two-year membership as an option, typically, 10 percent to 30 percent of renewing members take advantage of the cost savings and convenience of a two-year membership,” she writes.

 

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Are Microconferences on the Rise?

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As vaccination rates increase and people get more comfortable with the idea of attending meetings again, some associations are taking baby steps by hosting microconferences in several cities instead of having one large meeting. A look at the format and its benefits.

In 2018, we wrote about the rise of tiny conferences, as well as small-scale meetings. But microconferences are definitely having a moment again as organizations consider the best ways to safely bring people together.

For example, the Technology Association of Grantmakers announced last month that it would replace its larger, in-person annual conference—planned for November 2021—with “a series of hyper-local microconferences held in communities across the continental U.S.”

Called #TAGreconnect, the series will take place from August through early October in five or six different cities, which will be “selected based on their proximity to member organizations.” According to TAG, no more than 30 people will meet at each hosted location.

Then there’s the Flexible Learning Association of New Zealand (FLANZ). Last month, it held its 2021 conference at one principal venue—Victoria University of Wellington—and four satellite venues, which were other universities. The number of guests allowed at each venue ranged from 20 to 80 people.

“The principal venue enabled great face-to-face networking and fantastic spaces to both engage with presentations and to present from,” FLANZ said in a press release. “Satellite venues provided a vibrant space at key moments for attendees and for keynotes and presentations delivered from the satellite. Feedback on the satellite experience was very positive: it will remain a feature of future FLANZ conferences.”

What I like about these microconferences is that they allow people who may be more anxious about attending meetings post-pandemic to dip their toes in the water and build comfort around seeing people face-to-face again. On top of that, this format is likely to help attendees build deeper connections with each other, as well as other speakers, exhibitors, and partners who may also be onsite.

If your association is looking to develop microconferences, you may want to take advice from your peers who have successfully held these type of events. Back in June 2020, I spoke to the Society of Women Engineers about its popular WE Local events—which have been around since 2017—and why the microconference model might grow in popularity post-pandemic.

“More people may want to stay closer to home and limit who they are around, so a meeting like this could be more appealing,” said SWE Executive Director and CEO Karen Horting, CAE.

What other benefits do you think microconferences could offer associations and participants? Please share in the comments.

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The Document That Will Improve Every Meeting You Have

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A meeting agreement, especially for virtual meetings, not only sets the stage for stronger conversations but also makes room for voices that may not always feel comfortable speaking up.

Virtual meetings offer a different dynamic than in-person ones. It’s easy for people to talk over one another, privacy norms are altered, and the format means that distraction is a tab away.

A meeting agreement is one way to tackle the free-for-all that a virtual conversation can become. The agreement, which represents an extension of an association’s code of conduct or code of ethics, helps to encourage better conversations during virtual meetings by fostering engagement and room for people who may not feel comfortable speaking up.

The Western Arts Alliance (WAA) has taken this approach to heart with a meeting agreement that lists 10 guidelines for participants to follow during virtual gatherings. It addresses ways to engage, the need for time management, and the importance of confidentiality.

Tim Wilson, WAA’s executive director, emphasized that the agreement is meant to encourage members to see virtual meeting rooms as a place where people are respected.

“I think it’s really important that members and participants, constituents, feel that they’re in a safe place,” Wilson says. “That was our primary motivation for adopting these, so that there’s a set of protocols in place that go beyond the obvious.”

This comes to life in an agreement that does more than simply address the basics of engagement, such as avoiding harassment and bullying. It takes the next step, making room for flexibility in the ways that people communicate with one another. For example, one of the rules in the meeting agreement allows for “productive silence”—that is, if the meeting goes quiet, there is no push by staff, moderators, or volunteers to prod participation.

“We can just be present with silence,” he explains.

By Members, for Members

The agreement, Wilson says, comes at a challenging time for the performing arts. COVID-19 has shut down venues, leaving many people out of work or forcing a pivot to livestreamed performances.

He says the agreement, inspired by a similar agreement used by Dance/USA, represents an attempt to directly address industry needs.

“We have an industry that is in high levels of stress or distress, and these agreements, when we adopted them, were an important step in recognizing how much distress there was, how fragile people were in this environment,” he says.

WAA developed the agreement’s tenets through its committee system. Committee members, including people representing traditionally marginalized groups, built the rules collaboratively during the early part of the pandemic.

The agreement is intended to be flexible and can be updated or changed based on need. And Wilson says there’s room for members to make suggestions on the fly.

“When we use these meeting agreements, before we start, we say, ‘Here are the meeting agreements—is everybody comfortable with them? And does anybody want to add anything?’” he says, which gives participants the opportunity to adapt the agreement to that meeting’s needs.

How to Bring a Meeting Agreement to Your Association

Wilson says that associations looking to implement a similar approach should focus on the needs of their members. In fact, members might bring up the concept themselves, so staff should be prepared to accommodate such a request.

“It’s the kind of thing where you have to be prepared for the moment when it comes,” he says. “It’s an idea that started with members—they brought it, other members say, ‘Yeah, that’s a good idea.’ And the staff has to be willing to really listen and give it a try.”

Wilson says awkwardness may emerge when first using this approach, as “productive silence” and other tenets may not immediately feel natural. And there is always the risk that your members may be “pooh-poohing and not really accepting” the strategy, he says.

But understanding where your community is can help. WAA had put in years of work on equity issues long before the pandemic, and it instituted the agreement at a time when there was a clear need for something like it for its member base. As a result, the arrangement found a warm reception.

“I think when you can create spaces where there is real trust, where people can make themselves vulnerable, that it can be a powerful way of engaging our members and of making change,” he says.

 

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Focus on Lowering Expenses Rather Than Raising Membership Dues

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Keeping members and finding ways to lower expenses is more important than raising membership dues right now, according to an expert. Here are some ideas to consider.

Raising membership dues is often a tricky proposition, as I covered in a recent blog post. And that’s during a normal year. The past year, as we all know, has been anything but normal—and the financial hardships have made the proposition even more difficult. Added to that, what happens when your dues structure is directly tied to a percentage of your organizational members’ budgets during a year when the pandemic shut down most, if not all, of their regular in-person business?

Organizations often look for short-term solutions in situations like this, said Sheri Jacobs, FASAE, CAE, president and CEO of Avenue M Group. While a long-term strategy that usually works is to have small, incremental dues increases instead of implementing a large increase every 5 to 10 years, when faced with the current situation, associations tend to go back to familiar tactics and not think creatively, she said.

Now is a good time to assess what you don’t have to spend money on until things become more stable. Look at ways to lower expenses rather than ways to raise membership dues. “You can’t squeeze money out of people that doesn’t exist,” she said. Jacobs advises keeping the members you have and pausing any dues increases—even if it means tapping into reserves.

Driving Nondues Revenue

Data shows associations are becoming increasingly more innovative and looking at ways to drive nondues revenue. Marketing General Incorporated’s fall 2020 Association Economic Outlook Report and upcoming data from its 2021 Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report show signs that associations are not only looking for creative solutions by offering different kinds of products, services, and benefits but are also open to change. For example, in MGI’s 2020 economic report, only 22 percent of respondents said that barriers to change were due to institutional resistance to risk, compared to 31 percent the year before.

One potential new revenue generator to try could be a staff-run consulting service. Benchmarking information is also popular and could be a quick way to drive nondues revenue by collecting data and creating an online access portal. The information is useful for members and they would likely be willing to pay to access it, Jacobs said. “There’s never been a better time to test any idea, no matter how outrageous it is,” she said.

Another possibility is offering a tiered approach where a lower tier of member benefits is more affordable, and the current membership is the higher tier. The risk, however, is that everyone might move to the lower tier. To counter that, Jacobs recommends thinking through what the one key benefit is that you know from past performance will keep members in the higher tier. Organizations could also consider creating a lower-cost tier for younger members. Also keep in mind that younger generations like more flexibility with payments and so installment options might be preferable for them rather than annual dues payments.

Bottom line? “Keep your members and figure out other strategies to lower expenses, much as you would do with your own household budget,” Jacobs said.

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The Document That Will Improve Every Meeting You Have

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

A meeting agreement, especially for virtual meetings, not only sets the stage for stronger conversations but also makes room for voices that may not always feel comfortable speaking up.

Virtual meetings offer a different dynamic than in-person ones. It’s easy for people to talk over one another, privacy norms are altered, and the format means that distraction is a tab away.

A meeting agreement is one way to tackle the free-for-all that a virtual conversation can become. The agreement, which represents an extension of an association’s code of conduct or code of ethics, helps to encourage better conversations during virtual meetings by fostering engagement and room for people who may not feel comfortable speaking up.

The Western Arts Alliance (WAA) has taken this approach to heart with a meeting agreement that lists 10 guidelines for participants to follow during virtual gatherings. It addresses ways to engage, the need for time management, and the importance of confidentiality.

Tim Wilson, WAA’s executive director, emphasized that the agreement is meant to encourage members to see virtual meeting rooms as a place where people are respected.

“I think it’s really important that members and participants, constituents, feel that they’re in a safe place,” Wilson says. “That was our primary motivation for adopting these, so that there’s a set of protocols in place that go beyond the obvious.”

This comes to life in an agreement that does more than simply address the basics of engagement, such as avoiding harassment and bullying. It takes the next step, making room for flexibility in the ways that people communicate with one another. For example, one of the rules in the meeting agreement allows for “productive silence”—that is, if the meeting goes quiet, there is no push by staff, moderators, or volunteers to prod participation.

“We can just be present with silence,” he explains.

By Members, for Members

The agreement, Wilson says, comes at a challenging time for the performing arts. COVID-19 has shut down venues, leaving many people out of work or forcing a pivot to livestreamed performances.

He says the agreement, inspired by a similar agreement used by Dance/USA, represents an attempt to directly address industry needs.

“We have an industry that is in high levels of stress or distress, and these agreements, when we adopted them, were an important step in recognizing how much distress there was, how fragile people were in this environment,” he says.

WAA developed the agreement’s tenets through its committee system. Committee members, including people representing traditionally marginalized groups, built the rules collaboratively during the early part of the pandemic.

The agreement is intended to be flexible and can be updated or changed based on need. And Wilson says there’s room for members to make suggestions on the fly.

“When we use these meeting agreements, before we start, we say, ‘Here are the meeting agreements—is everybody comfortable with them? And does anybody want to add anything?’” he says, which gives participants the opportunity to adapt the agreement to that meeting’s needs.

How to Bring a Meeting Agreement to Your Association

Wilson says that associations looking to implement a similar approach should focus on the needs of their members. In fact, members might bring up the concept themselves, so staff should be prepared to accommodate such a request.

“It’s the kind of thing where you have to be prepared for the moment when it comes,” he says. “It’s an idea that started with members—they brought it, other members say, ‘Yeah, that’s a good idea.’ And the staff has to be willing to really listen and give it a try.”

Wilson says awkwardness may emerge when first using this approach, as “productive silence” and other tenets may not immediately feel natural. And there is always the risk that your members may be “pooh-poohing and not really accepting” the strategy, he says.

But understanding where your community is can help. WAA had put in years of work on equity issues long before the pandemic, and it instituted the agreement at a time when there was a clear need for something like it for its member base. As a result, the arrangement found a warm reception.

“I think when you can create spaces where there is real trust, where people can make themselves vulnerable, that it can be a powerful way of engaging our members and of making change,” he says.

 

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