Member Outreach, Engagement, and Innovation Stay Strong Amid Pandemic

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Despite the challenges associations are facing, they are still evolving, shaking off barriers to innovation, and improving messaging and internal efficiency to meet member needs in a more responsive—and empathetic—way, according to a new report on the economic outlook for associations.

Marketing General Incorporated’s second Association Economic Outlook Report, released this month, reflects—not surprisingly—a lot of hardship among associations.

Thirty-nine percent of respondents said they expect their membership to decline, 78 percent have canceled or postponed their in-person meetings, and 20 percent said they have cut salaries or hours for employees or laid employees off. Despite these challenges, Tony Rossell, senior vice president of MGI and the report’s co-author, said he sees a lot in the data to be optimistic about.

“Don’t waste your association’s hardships,” he said. “Use this time to innovate, to re-engage members, and make the changes you’ve perhaps been putting off for a long time.”

<subhead> Responsive Messaging and Expediency

Ninety-three percent of respondents said they had made quick changes to their messaging, and 90 percent focused on sharing crucial information with members. The change is directly in response to the pandemic, as associations moved to provide practical guidance to members on how to handle the crisis. And members clearly needed the information. Sixty-nine percent of respondents said they had seen a marked increase in the level of member activity and engagement.

Barriers to change are also crumbling. In MGI’s 2019 research, 31 percent of respondents said that the barriers to change were institutional resistance to risk. When asked the same question for the 2020 report, only 22 percent said that it was a barrier, and respondents who said the slow pace of board and senior executive decision-making were obstacles dropped from 31 to 19 percent.

The lack of agreement among board members as a barrier dipped from 25 in 2019 to 13 percent in 2020, which points to more consolidation and expediency in decision making and less fear of risk. This is a promising sign that associations are becoming more agile and responsive and less inhibited by impediments that have held back change in the past, Rossell said.

Professional Development

Another key shift is happening in the area of association professional development. Research for MGI’s 2020 Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report, which was conducted just before COVID-19 hit, found that job services and career boards had low levels of member engagement. Fast forward more than six months into the pandemic, and that trend has reversed dramatically, with professional development services now in high demand. Eighty-four percent of respondents said they plan to increase virtual professional development opportunities for members, according to the new report.

Associations have an important role to play that goes beyond connecting people with jobs, Rossell said. “Members like to hire members,” especially members who have been certified through their professional association, he noted.

Membership Is Key

Lots of hardship, lots of adversity, and yet 47 percent of respondents said they are confident their organization will weather the storm by continuing to adapt in 2021. What accounts for that optimism? Rossell credits the staying power of associations, many of which have been in business for 50 to 100 years—and more—and the advantage of embedded membership.

“The beautiful thing about membership is, it’s a continuity product,” he said. Members pay at the beginning of their membership year, and the median membership renewal rate is 84 percent, according to MGI’s benchmarking report.

In comparison to many other businesses, which are mostly transactional and much more vulnerable to economic disruptions, “[association] membership is a wonderful insurance policy and income stream that many businesses don’t enjoy,” Rossell said.

We Are Family

For the first time, MGI included a question in the survey about empathy—not a word often associated with business (at least not in my experience). Notably, 73 percent of respondents reported empathizing with members.

“Most association executives care about their members. They have personal relationships with their volunteers, and so they feel their pain,” Rossell said. “It’s now more of a family approach instead of a business approach in many cases.”

The picture is complicated, but not entirely dire. “It’s certainly wise to anticipate a decline in your membership,” he said. But he predicts a rebound as lapsed members realize they need the community, resources, and professional development opportunities associations provide.

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How Three Rules Support One Association’s Culture

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Three years ago, the education association MISBO established guidelines for how staff would treat each other. They’ve served the organization well through the pandemic.

Damian Kavanagh, CAE, is the head of a small-staff association—7.5 full-time employees—and like most small-staff leaders, he recognizes that group cohesion is particularly critical. As the CEO of MISBO, an association of independent-school leaders, he convened his staff three years ago to answer “two pretty simple questions: What are the characteristics of people you like to work with? And what are the characteristics of people you struggle with?”

I’d argue that those aren’t, in fact, simple questions, but they’re excellent ones to explore when an organization is trying to establish a healthy culture. We know that remote work during COVID-19 hasn’t made culture any less essential and that successful leaders establish norms of conduct that work both in person and online.

MISBO’s two-question process helped it establish those norms. But it also found a way to make them memorable on an everyday basis by distilling them into “three rules that guide everything we do,” Kavanagh says. To wit:

  1. Lead with empathy.
  2. Make it easy.
  3. No more than one battle per day.

Empathy, we know, is correlated to workplace retention, among other benefits. And for Kavanagh, it’s a no-brainer that leaders need to see leadership “through the lens of the other person and really understand what it is they need.”

Making it easy can be a little more complex, though. It can mean cultivating an environment where coworkers are encouraged to be crystal clear with each other about what they need, so as not to sow confusion. It can also be member-focused. For instance, MISBO was looking for ways to streamline the routes for people to access Zoom sessions for their recent virtual annual conference, making sure attendees use the desktop client instead of the web.

We should be perceived as an organization that always makes it easier for others.

“The question in the ‘make it easy’ universe is, if it doesn’t solve the problem of making sure they use the desktop client, then are we just making it harder for them?” Kavanagh says. “It may be that it’s easier for us because it guarantees we know who was in each seat when we run our reports. But it doesn’t make it easier for them. And our default position is, if it’s between members and staff, make it easier for members.”

The “one battle per day” mantra is effectively a reminder about the importance of self-care. “It looks inward,” he says. “It’s about taking care of yourself emotionally, physically, and mentally.”

The three rules have remained meaningful through the pandemic because of their simplicity, Kavanagh says.

“I’ve found that these three points are even more significant [now], but the guiding principles have not changed,” he says. “Our mission, like any association’s mission, is to help people do their jobs. So we should be perceived as an organization that always makes it easier for others, helps others, and understands their perspective and what it is they’re going through. The three statements had a timelessness before COVID, and I think it’ll be that way after COVID.”

And remote work, in itself, shouldn’t change your culture, so long as leaders are willing to monitor it. Rather than blaming the pandemic for disarray, now may be the time to establish—or reestablish—the principles your organization will abide by.

“The question to ask is, were you really a collaborative team before you went virtual, or were you a collection of independent workers?” Kavanagh says. “If you were a collection of independent workers, what do you think Zoom would have changed about that? It’s not the platform that has changed the culture. The culture was already there. The platform is just exposing it.”

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Help Virtual Presenters Shine With a Speaker Instruction Manual

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Even superstar in-person speakers may need help with online presentations. That’s why a detailed speaker instruction manual is essential for a successful virtual event.

Conference speakers are experts at delivering talks that instruct and inspire, but are your event’s presenters comfortable in a virtual setting? We’re already months into the era of virtual gatherings, but this new event environment comes with a host of challenges that many speakers are still not accustomed to. Associations can help speakers thrive during virtual events with a speaker instruction manual.

“What I’ve noticed is that speakers need a lot more help,” says Kiki L’Italien, CEO and founder of Amplified Growth. “They’re actually asking more questions: ‘Is it OK if I do this?’ ‘How does this mic sound?’”

Here are five suggestions to help develop your speaker instruction manual. Along the way, don’t be afraid to make changes based on speaker feedback.

“Create the plan, create resources, but then really watch for where people are getting stuck and iterate on what you’ve built over time,” says Arianna Rehak, cofounder and CEO of Matchbox Virtual Media.

1. Getting Started

Start with simple instructions on navigating your event platform: registering as a speaker, creating a profile, using built-in tools. There are plenty of platform options out there, so don’t assume your speaker is familiar with the one you’ve selected. If you’re using a videoconferencing platform like Zoom, tell them how and when to join and include a meeting link. List a few contacts in your organization in case speakers have questions.

Provide an event program so speakers get a rundown of the agenda. Tell them when each presentation will start, how long each one will be, and who will be moderating.

2. Preparing the Presentation

Show speakers how to deliver the content of their presentation effectively. If they’re providing their own slideshow or prerecorded presentation, explain where and when to upload files. List any slideshow design guidelines you want speakers to follow—fonts, colors, word choice, number of slides—and include a slideshow template if you have one.

3. Setting Up the Tech Tools

You don’t want a great presentation to be hampered by technical issues. In your manual, list the equipment that speakers will need—such as a laptop, webcam, and WiFi signal that can handle high-quality video—and show them how to test everything so bugs can be worked out in advance instead of in front of a live virtual audience.

You can also explain best practices for setting up equipment. For example:

  • Microphone: Use an external mic instead of a built-in laptop mic for optimal quality.
  • Webcam: Position so it’s slightly above eye level and directly in front of you.
  • Lighting: Present in a room with ample natural light, and make sure lights are above or in front of you, not behind.

“It’s very rare that speakers just log in and have a perfect camera angle and great lighting,” Rehak says. “There’s always something to improve on.”

4. Presenting in a Virtual Setting

Even online, speakers benefit from presenting themselves in a professional way, so offer a few pointers. For example, speakers should clean up their surroundings. “It’s really hard to focus on what an expert says when they have a basket of dirty laundry in their background,” L’Italien says.

If you have a dress code, explain those guidelines, and caution speakers about technical issues related to attire, such as:

  • Wearing green in front of a green screen will cause you to blend into digital backgrounds.
  • Wearing clothing with busy patterns—such as moiré or stripes—or small prints instead of solid colors can produce strange visual effects.

5. Engaging a Virtual Audience

It’s easy to feel disconnected from an audience you can’t see, and viewers are easily distracted when tuning in remotely. To bridge the gap between speaker and audience, provide presenters with tips for keeping virtual viewers invested.

Show speakers how to enable and interact with chat functionality, explain how to use interactive elements such as quizzes and polls, and provide ideas for visual cues they can use, such as handwritten signs.

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Associations Offer Virtual Field Trip and Tour Options During Conferences

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Local field trips and facility tours were a standard offering at most in-person conferences before the pandemic. But thanks to technology and creativity, associations are still making them happen in the virtual environment.

Pre-COVID, it was fairly common for associations to offer attendees the option to go on field trips and offsite tours during their conferences. Not only were they a good way to get attendees out of the traditional conference setting, but they also gave participants the chance to see the industry in action and exchange ideas with colleagues.

The good news is that these trips and tours haven’t been completely lost in the virtual environment. In fact, a number of associations have found creative ways to keep them going. Here is a look at a few of them:

Seasonal celebration. The California School Nutrition Association’s 68th Annual Conference kicks off virtually next week. For one of its evening events, CSNA is celebrating spooky season by hosting a Virtual Haunted Pasadena Tour. Attendees will wander through the Playhouse District and Old Pasadena to “discover the sordid side of the City of Roses.” Stops include castles and courtyards, mortuaries and theaters, and shuttered shopping malls.

Design showcase. For its January 2021 SHIFT Student Conference, the International Interior Design Association Texas Oklahoma Chapter is offering virtual tours where attendees will visit top design firms, get a look at completed projects, and see products in showrooms. Students will be randomly assigned to groups, each making three virtual tour stops.

Attendee-sponsored field trips. In a unique twist, the American Water Resources Association is asking attendees to submit their own 15-minute virtual trip for consideration, and AWRA will select five to add to its 2020 Virtual Annual Water Resources Conference program.  There are even prizes involved: Attendees will vote for the best field trip host, and the winner gets a $250 gift certificate, while the second-place host gets a $100 gift certificate.

Industry in action. As part of its September Annual Conference & Meeting, the Illinois Recycling Association offered attendees a behind-the-scenes look at one of its member companies, GDB International. During the 45-minute tour, people were able to see the inner workings of the paint recycling facility. The American Concrete Pipe Association did something similar for Concrete Pipe Week 2020 when it gave participants the chance to virtually tour three concrete plants.

A look at local history. Even though the Oral History Association couldn’t hold its annual meeting in Baltimore earlier this month, it still wanted to bring some local history to the virtual event. One way OHA did this was by having a historic preservation nonprofit, Baltimore Heritage, develop five virtual tours of some of the city’s neighborhoods. Topics included “LGBTQ History in Baltimore’s Charles Village Neighborhood” and “Slavery and Emancipation in Baltimore’s Mount Vernon Neighborhood.”

What type of virtual field trips or tours have you offered during your recent online conferences? Please share in the comments.

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What to Consider When Budgeting Nondues Revenue for 2021

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As associations move forward, they must plan budgets even though meetings, sponsorships, and professional development products are on uncertain footing. Experts recommend using lessons from today to help with budget expectations for tomorrow.

Much of an association’s nondues revenue comes in the form of sponsorships, meetings, and professional development and certification dollars. Unfortunately, these funding avenues relied heavily on in-person contact previously. When looking ahead to budgeting for 2021, focus on lessons learned this year, say experts who spoke at the webinar What Will You Need to Budget for the Unexpected?

Dawn Gannon, MBA, CAE, a senior program manager at Virtual Inc., said making certain decisions in advance can help organizations better plan their budgets. For the Academy for Eating Disorders, where Gannon serves as deputy executive director, deciding soon after the pandemic to cancel its 2021 in-person event—instead hosting a 2022 meeting at the same location—allowed the group more budgetary certainty.

“Having made the decision to host 2021 virtually so far in advance was a godsend,” Gannon said. “For 2021, we can plan accordingly, knowing what to expect in terms of expense. … There were a lot of challenges that we’ve already experienced now [in creating a virtual event], and that helps us budget for 2021 and beyond.”

Part of budgeting for the future includes avoiding shortfalls due to lost revenue this year. For example, the American Association of Pharmaceutical Scientists moved its corporate sponsor program from conference-based engagement to year-round engagement in recent years. “We saw partners having a really tough time completing their ROI in 4 days [of a conference],” said Erik Burns, Ed.D., MBA, AAPS director of corporate engagement. “That gave us 365 days to be better partners.” That mentality helped AAPS retain revenue despite canceling their in-person meeting because of the pandemic.

“We were able to retain 73 percent of our revenue between 2020 and roll over to 2021,” said. “We only had to refund 27 percent for the coming year.”

AAPS is budgeting flat for next year, expecting retraction in some areas, but growth in others. “Last year, we sold one webinar,” Burns said. “This past cycle, since March, we’ve sold 16 webinars; that’s created roughly $55,000 in revenue.”

AAPS created some new engagement opportunities for sponsors to keep revenue flowing. “We created products and vehicles for those partners to engage with,” Burns said. “We built 90-minute webinars, but we also know our audience enough to address the fact that not everyone globally can sit on a 90-minute webinar. So, we created eChalk talks, which are half-hour presentations.”

J. David M. Rozsa, ACA, CAE, CEO of Metacred Inc., which specializes in credentialing programs, noted that associations that were unable to move to virtually proctored exams for their accreditation programs had losses that will impact future budgets.

“Those organizations took a significant hit, about two months out of their annual budgets this year,” he said. “They just don’t have revenue to invest in some of the certification exam development activities that you would normally do cyclically, like develop a new program, revalidate an existing program, refresh your exam questions, [or] update your authoritative references.”

As the pandemic affected industries differently, it’s important to look at how that impact might affect revenue generated from credentialing.

“Is the profession that you’re certifying, or the type of industry you’re accrediting, one that is super busy right now and doesn’t have time to pursue a credential?” Rozsa asked. He noted, for example, that some medical professionals are too busy dealing with COVID-19 to devote time to study for and take credentialing tests.

“For those super busy professionals, certification revenue is probably down for the next year, until there is a handle on the pandemic,” Rozsa said. On the flip side, “for those professions that are largely out of work—like people in the restaurant or travel or meetings industries—those people may or may not be investing in getting certified right now. The good news is they have time; the bad news is they don’t have money.”

As the future remains uncertain because of the pandemic, try to budget a cushion for unexpected expenses, if possible, Gannon said. “Is there a miscellaneous line in my budget for 2021?” she said. “Right now there is. I don’t know how long it’s going to survive, [but] I think you need to have a ‘what if’ line.”

What factors are you considering as you budget for nondues revenue in 2021? Share in the comments.

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Four Business-Minded Considerations for Virtual Event Planners

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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How to Craft a Winning Member ROI Brochure

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Demonstrating the real-dollar value of membership makes a compelling case for your prospects and members to join and renew. Here are some tips for shaping a persuasive member ROI brochure that clearly demonstrates the return on every dollar invested in membership.

“When you give stuff away, it’s an ROI killer.”

That is the central conundrum of attracting members without selling yourself short in the process. So to show the value of membership in your organization, it’s important to determine in actual dollar numbers what each feature of membership is worth, according to association researcher and consultant Ed Rigsbee, CAE, in a recent webinar, “The ROI Member Recruitment Brochure.”

Rigsbee suggests using qualitative research, such as focus groups, to help determine the dollar value of each member benefit. Now, because of the pandemic, it is still possible to conduct the research with members over the phone and on virtual meeting platforms. It’s a little harder to engage members, he says, but it still works.

Calculating Membership Value

How do you figure out what each feature of membership is worth? In the focus group, start by asking members what they get out of belonging to the association. Many benefits aren’t easy to put a price tag on, like leadership experience, access and opportunity through networking, technical advice from a consulting firm, e-newsletters and bulletins, legislative updates, and free legal advice.

Guide the discussion to determine the sustainable dollar value of each benefit of membership. Total up those values to show the annual ROI. For example, if the total value is $22,809, and annual membership dues are $545, then there is return of $41 on every dollar invested. Don’t include anything in the calculation that the association gives away for free to members and nonmembers, Rigsbee advised.

Prioritizing “What’s In It for Me?”

Design your brochure to display the most important information prominently. Most people’s eyes gravitate toward the inside right panel of a brochure, Rigsbee says, so he suggests listing the ROI figures there.

Also make sure you’re emphasizing the right benefits. Especially when seeking to attract new members, many associations focus too heavily on advocacy, he says. Advocacy and legislative benefits have long been regarded as an incentive for membership, and although members often stay with an organization because of its advocacy work, it typically isn’t what initially propelled them to join, Rigsbee argues. At the outset, most members are interested in growing their businesses and building their careers.

If your brochure puts too much focus on advocacy work, “you’re leaving [other benefits] on the wayside,” he says. “That’s not the way to grow your organization.”

Instead, your brochure should lead with how membership will make a member’s life better and how it’s a good business decision. Make that case up front. “People join because of what’s in it for them,” Rigsbee says. Place information about how the association’s advocacy work benefits the overall industry lower down in the brochure.

Another benefit to emphasize is community. “Community is more important than you realize,” he says, “especially in this COVID-19 crisis time.” Members are much more engaged and want to be called upon to discuss what’s happening. “Everyone wants to know we’re not in this alone.”

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Six Attributes of Successful Women’s Conferences

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This article was originally written for the April issue of PCMA’s Convene magazine. The timing was right before the lockdown and a couple months before the 2020 social justice movement eclipsed. While things have changed, these tenets will hold true and the principles can be applied to other D&I conferences and events.

After studying and consulting on several successful association women’s conferences, I can confidently say – they need to be very different than other conferences in your portfolio.

Corporate Social Responsibility

According to the World Economic Forum “There is substantial research to show that diversity brings many advantages to an organization: increased profitability and creativity, stronger governance and better problem-solving abilities. Employees with diverse backgrounds bring to bear their own perspectives, ideas and experiences, helping to create organizations that are resilient and effective, and which outperform organizations that do not invest in diversity.”

Today, most global companies embrace the tenants of corporate social responsibility. This often includes significant budget allocations for diversity and inclusion along with targeted programs to better equip diverse talent to rise as leaders within the company. Professional associations can be a key resource to helping their members advance this area.

The six attributes of women’s leadership conferences that have stood out for me:

[1] Movement

All of the top women’s conferences that we’ve researched consistently sell out. General sessions are meaningful and inspiring personal experiences. Main room events are used to start and finish (bookend) each day with an emotional high. They deliver impact and relevance that creates a ripple effect that goes beyond the in person participants. They recognize excellence through awards, highlighting individual and company success in advancing the movement.

[2] Not About the Industry

While being in the same industry is critical for a relevant movement, the most impactful conferences do not focus on delivering industry content. Instead, the content is on growing leadership skills or equipping the participants to move the diversity needle for their careers, employers and teams. Sessions are often designed for immersive networking and story-sharing.

[3] Mission over Margin

With few exceptions, women’s conferences are not designed to deliver significant funds to the bottom line. Instead, the goal is often to breakeven while delivering a high-value experience. Women’s conferences are often shorter one or two-day programs. Most meals are group social functions.

[4] Inclusive by Example

The most successful conferences realize that they should model diversity by encouraging allies (or “Manbassadors”) to enlist and support the movement.

[5] Exhibits and Sponsors 

Because of the nature of the experience, we have yet to find a successful women’s conference that included an exhibit hall. Instead companies support the industry by investing in sponsor packages that include access passes for their participants. Sponsorship sends a loud and clear message that our company believes and supports the movement.

 [6] Women Lift Up Women

The most successful conferences/movements will have the majority of the participants be Director or higher with 11 or more years of industry experience. While not excluding emerging professionals, more experienced women tend to qualify for the budget to attend and often are in a position to greater influence the company’s diversity goals and objectives. More experienced women leaders can impact the emerging professionals in their company by reaching down and pulling them up. That support is critical to a successful movement.

 

Adapted from Dave’s Forward Thinking column in PCMA’s Convene. Reprinted with permission of Convene, the magazine of the Professional Convention Management Association. ©2020.

What are some of your key learning from specialty conferences with a diversity and inclusion focus? 

 

 

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Data Privacy at Virtual Events: How to Balance Sponsor and Attendee Needs

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One way to attract sponsors to virtual events is through data—but that’s something attendees might not be comfortable sharing. The solution involves a strong focus on compliance and transparency with attendees.

Data is not a new game for the meetings industry, but its value is only growing given the move to virtual events.

Virtual events make it easier to track attendee movements just like you might on your website—creating both possibilities for sponsorship growth and raising broader questions about privacy.

Research on virtual events shows that sponsors want data. A May 2020 AIM Group survey found that while 78 percent of respondents were interested in sponsoring virtual events, they expected a premium experience—interactivity, flexibility, the use of modern technologies such as 3D and augmented reality, and the ability to track data.

Many virtual event platforms have stepped up to the plate with a variety of offerings for proving the ROI of event sponsorship. The Virtual Event Tech Guide [registration] from the Event Manager Blog finds that 77 percent of platforms offer data that would benefit sponsors.

Such data can go deep. According to a guide from the meetings technology platform Aventri, among the metrics that the average sponsored event can collect include the number of registrations to individual sessions, social media mentions, and the number of contacts attendees made at events. In other words: What sponsors lose in personal contact is made up for in the depth of data they can collect.

But this access to data comes at a time when consumers are wary of sharing data with organizations they don’t trust online—in any setting, even a professional event. In fact, one recent study found that more than 40 percent of consumers won’t even share their names or email addresses with businesses for any reason. That’s a problem for sponsors.

Given that data promises to be a major pillar of sponsorship in the months to come, it’s going to become increasingly important to ensure that attendees are comfortable with this dynamic. A few ways associations can do so:

Disclose your privacy policy to attendees—prominently. In an interview with MeetingMentor Online, attorney Joshua Grimes noted the importance of disclosing privacy policies during the registration process, so that attendees aren’t caught off guard by data tracking. “For example, are attendees required to provide their email addresses and/or names to other attendees or meeting sponsors?” he asked. “Can they use an avatar or pseudonym instead?” Early, clear disclosures can help associations avoid headaches later.

Know the regulations around data. The Event Manager Blog’s report notes that data privacy compliance is an important element, with a strong focus in particular on the General Data Protection Regulation (along with the California Consumer Privacy Act, which does not directly apply to nonprofits but may apply to their vendors). In the report, digital marketing consultant Shawn Cheng of DAHLIA+ noted that having an understanding of a platform’s data compliance functions goes a long way toward ensuring that it is the right choice for event planners. “Knowing what type of data the platform can collect, what reports it can help generate, but also that the data is held in a secure and compliant environment is of paramount importance,” Cheng noted.

Emphasize transparency over personalization. In the broader consumer field, there is evidence that one of the primary arguments for data access—the ability to personalize experiences—holds less water than it once did. An Accenture report from last fall finds that 73 percent of consumers are willing to share data with brands if they are transparent with how the data is being used. While consumers are fine with personalization to a degree according to the study, too much personalization can turn off consumers, harming relationships with potential sponsors. (Nearly a third of respondents complained when brands got “too personal.”)

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How to Nurture Diversity Efforts Over the Long Haul

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As protests for racial justice swept across the nation over the summer, organizations put renewed energy into their diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives. Here’s how to make sure this work continues once injustice against marginalized groups fades from the headlines.

If the urgency of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in the workplace can be measured by public commitments, the past several months have been a watershed moment. Organizations are developing plans for more inclusive workspaces, reevaluating their criteria for awards, and hiring DEI consultants at high rates.

But this isn’t the first surge of attention to DEI in organizations, and past efforts have often slowed after initial gains were made. The question now is how associations can keep their commitments once the news spotlight has dimmed.

“Organizations are part of the larger society, and therefore they reflect what’s going on in society—and sometimes it may be that organizations are helping to lead,” says Cie Armstead, director of diversity and inclusion at the American College of Healthcare Executives, who has worked in DEI for more than 20 years.

By following a few important principles, Armstead says, associations can stay true to the mission of creating—and sustaining—more equitable organizations.

Frame DEI as a solution, not a problem. Inclusivity can address concerns that may not appear at first blush to be directly related to diversity. When DEI efforts are explicitly connected to organizational success, they’re seen as a necessity, which can translate to longevity.

As an example, Armstead cites associations’ desire to bring in younger members. Given that Generation Z is the most racially diverse age group in the United States, diversity can be an attraction for younger members and potential employees. “Diversity, equity, and inclusion principles can solve for organizational objectives,” she says.

Prioritize urgency, not speed. A common mistake organizations make is jumping directly into a “quick fix” mindset without fully assessing the complex issues at hand. The result can be a hodgepodge of disconnected actions that do little to change organizational culture. Instead, the equity consultancy firm The Adaway Group suggests starting with awareness, following with analysis, and then taking action—building what they call liberatory consciousness.

Review your organization’s systems. Equity is about more than adding initiatives. It’s about understanding how processes and operations of an organization and its board hinder or support inclusivity. For example, committee appointments may have traditionally been made casually, with executives asking trusted advisors whether they know anyone who might be a good fit. “If that’s the legacy process, there’s a good chance that certain people are not considered because they don’t have a connection to someone making the decision—without ill will meant by anyone,” Armstead says. “That’s just the system that has ‘worked out’ for the organization for a thousand years.” Bringing in a third-party DEI consultant can illuminate blind spots that decision makers may be unable to see themselves.

Start at the top—and don’t stop there. “One of the reasons [DEI] appears to come in waves is based on whomever is in the decision-making roles,” Armstead says. “A key decision maker can say, ‘Wait, we’re going to build this into our systems,’ and that gives sustainability to the topic and decreases the chances that it will subside.” Research backs the idea that the tone at the top of an organization affects results.

That said, middle management plays a critical role in DEI follow-through. “An organization’s leaders can be fully committed, but if it hasn’t been embraced by the middle management and front-line management, then some tasks can easily be unintentionally thwarted, compromising the effectiveness and sustainability of the work,” she says.

Dedicate staff resources to DEI. Armstead recommends that associations have a dedicated person or people who are responsible for coordinating equity efforts, while acknowledging that at smaller associations, that role may be just one part of a person’s job. “This should be a person with some juice in the organization—a vision maker,” Armstead says. “Someone who is either in leadership or who has a very close, influential connection to someone in leadership.”

This person shouldn’t be solely responsible for the work, however. Spreading out DEI labor is a safeguard against letting these efforts lapse. It’s also a protection against exhaustion—a particular risk for DEI practitioners who are members of a marginalized group, as they may be dealing with the dual work of coordinating DEI initiatives while navigating the personal challenges they face in today’s cultural landscape.

Armstead cautions leaders not to treat staff or volunteers who are in that position as victims, however. “This is a balancing act,” she says. “Just have a level of awareness of the people who have a responsibility here if they are in an underrepresented group. They may have some extra challenges right now.”

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