Seven Ways to Engage Remote Volunteers

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Keeping volunteers engaged when their time may be committed elsewhere is a constant challenge for associations. The right approach can help, says an engagement pro.

One of the best tools at any association’s disposal is its base of volunteers. But the pandemic may have depressed volunteerism, which means that many groups now have the challenge of bringing them back..

That’s something Wesley Carr, director of stakeholder engagement at the Regulatory Affairs Professionals Society (RAPS), is familiar with. He says the pandemic has dramatically changed the nature of volunteering, including a major decrease in volunteer hours in the weeks after the pandemic began.

That has led to an evolution in strategy for RAPS, which is rebuilding its volunteer approach with a focus on engagement. A few strategies Carr suggests for engaging volunteers remotely:

1. Ask volunteers and potential volunteers what they want. It’s easy to build by guesswork, but the odds of success may be lower than if stakeholders are included. With that in mind, RAPS asks people what volunteer opportunities it should offer during its annual Volunteer Leadership Summit. “We talked to them about, ‘What do you need, what are you all looking for?’” Carr says. This approach can identify gaps and highlight opportunities that might not emerge through market research. Simply by asking, RAPS learned that one of the organization’s gaps was social content. “We provide information, training, and content—those things are great—but our members get a lot of value out of the engagement and conversation with other members,” Carr says.

2. Identify engagement strategies that offer value to members. Volunteer opportunities have to be more than just ways to improve your organization’s operations. Carr cites a RAPS campaign that asked members to promote the association on social media. “It’s good for us, but what does that really do for them?” he says. Instead, volunteer opportunities should help volunteers learn something about their field and better themselves as they’re helping the association.

3. Leverage your chapters. One happy side effect of the pandemic is that local RAPS chapters have seen a surge in interest in smaller-scale virtual events hosted by volunteers. Previously, chapter events were drawing maybe 50 attendees to in-person events. “Now all of a sudden, we were having 800 people come to these, because the regional limitations had been yanked off,” Carr notes. RAPS is trying to figure out how to leverage these events, at which volunteers speak, in a hybrid context after a return to the “new normal.” One question he raises: Should chapters move from regions to topics?

4. Make the time commitment clear. Not every kind of volunteering requires a big time commitment. But when people don’t know what they’re getting into, it can be a challenge to get them to say yes—even when you’re asking volunteers to do something as simple as replying to posts on a community forum. Carr says RAPS is clear about the expected commitment. “What we’ve been trying to focus on is making sure that when we are inviting people to participate, that we are clear on invariants, that we’re very clear on the time commitment,” he says. Explaining that upfront, he says, helps set expectations and encourage engagement.

5. Build conversations around member engagement. RAPS is testing a member engagement strategy called Conversations That Matter. It’s a series of 30- to 40-minute Zoom conversations about a hot-button topic led by volunteer facilitators. It’s less formal than a virtual event where presentations are the norm—and it’s more engaging, a direct response to requests from RAPS chapters. The goal is to encourage members to continue the conversation in other ways. “But we want to start off with that human interaction,” Carr says.

6. Position the opportunity properly. Many people have limited time to devote to specific tasks, so it’s important to make it clear how their assistance will help the field. Carr cites the example of having members help review chapters in publications or audit online courses, which was once positioned as explicitly helping the association. “Now we position it much more as ‘because that will then ensure that we are training the profession,’” he says. Emphasizing how the entire field benefits, not just the association, can demonstrate the value of volunteers’ efforts.

7. Make sure to recognize volunteers. With volunteers playing pivotal roles within RAPS—for example, they produce 90 to 95 percent of the association’s content—Carr says it’s key to recognize the work. RAPS is hosting a Volunteer Appreciation Week later this month. “I think right now, even though volunteer contributions may have declined, I believe volunteers are more important than ever for associations,” he says.

 

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Groups Explore New Networking Options for Virtual Events

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While associations put a lot of hard work into quickly transitioning their in-person events to virtual offerings last year, many received feedback from participants that networking opportunities fell short. With that in mind, many groups are trying new offerings to boost engagement among attendees.

As associations pored over attendee evaluations for their virtual conferences last year, it’s likely that almost all of them got feedback like this repeatedly: “I missed the spontaneous hallway conversations.” “The networking options need to be improved.” “Please think about how to incorporate more informal interactions between attendees.”

Even though networking in a virtual environment can be more difficult and feel a bit forced, many associations made it a priority for their late 2020 and early 2021 conferences. Here’s a look at what several groups are trying out:

Association for Talent Development. For its October 2020 ATD Virtual Conference, the group offered numerous ways for participants to connect with one another. Among the options: a “Share Your Top Takeaway” networking session to hear from other attendees about what their conference “aha” moment was; happy-hour group chats and roundtables; and the ability to record short introduction videos that other conference attendees could watch in the networking lounge. ATD even put together a virtual networking guide [PDF] with detailed instructions for participants.

Coalition on Adult Basic Education. Last month, COABE held its 2021 National Virtual Conference. Attendees had a lot of fun networking options available to them, including a virtual bingo game and trivia night. Or they could take part in a happy hour or a digital literacy and technology discussion. In addition, COABE has an ongoing public discussion forum where attendees can ask questions, post pictures, and informally chat with one another.

NAPCP – Advancing Commercial Card & Payment Practices Worldwide. The upcoming 2021 NAPCP Commercial Card and Payment Virtual Conference, which takes place in May, has a host of networking options. For instance, there will be several live facilitated discussions in the networking lounge that people can dial in to or participate in via a discussion board. And in the exhibit hall, attendees can interact in real time with booth staff.

North Carolina Museums Council. The NCMC Virtual Conference, which wrapped up earlier this week, offered attendees the chance to get to know each other during several networking breaks that took place over the course of the three-day event. Participants were invited to introduce their “furry coworkers” on camera, share their best at-home work hacks and favorite TV shows to binge, and do some desk yoga and meditations.

Society for Clinical Data Management. When attendees registered for the September 2020 SCDM Virtual Conference, they answered a few questions about their interests that automatically matched them with other participants so they could chat and schedule meetings and calls with each other. Participants also could network with conference cochairs and speakers throughout the event.

It will be interesting to see how virtual networking options evolve, especially as hybrid conferences pick up over the next few months. What new virtual networking offerings is your association experimenting with currently? Please share in the comments.

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How to Conquer Communication Debt Within Your Association

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Communication debt may start at an individual level, but an expert on attention management says that its impacts can be felt throughout the association—and tempered by an effective organizational response.

Perhaps this sounds familiar: You have an inbox full of messages, and you haven’t responded to any of them.

Or, perhaps you find your attention constantly getting pulled away by new messages. You’re facing pressure to respond, and eventually something falls off—creating unwanted stress that gets in the way of your day job.

This is the essence of communication debt—a failure to answer messages in a timely fashion and the ensuing pressure that it can create.

Maura Nevel Thomas, a public speaker and productivity trainer who focuses on attention and workflow management, says that communication debt comes to a head when someone truly does need to respond to emails or messages on social media as they emerge as a part of their job.

“I think you have a responsibility as a responsible professional to respond to those,” she says. “At some point I would say you have a responsibility to respond in a timely manner. But you get to decide what ‘timely’ means.”

Thomas emphasizes that it’s important to understand the distinction between the physical management of messages and the management of the stress those messages might cause.

“So there is that tangible debt, but then there’s also the pressure of the debt,” she says. “The ways of dealing with those two parts of communication debt are different.”

Thomas offers these considerations for employees facing communication debt:

When managing workload, understand that email is part of your job, not just a distraction. Workers may have the feeling that messages get in the way of their job, but Thomas argues it’s the opposite. She recommends people view email as a part of their job and devote time to it specifically, rather than checking it throughout the day. “That’s why people are drowning—they’re reading, they’re reviewing, they’re skimming their email all the time, every single message as it arrives,” she says. When you do read them, do so in a batch, read and respond as necessary, and put them out of your inbox when complete.

When managing stress, turn off your notifications—all of them. The tyranny of notifications creates stress because it gives the impression that messages need to be responded to immediately. Thomas suggests the best solution for removing that pressure is to disable notifications entirely. “Here’s the question that I always ask my clients: Do you really need a notification to tell you that you have a new email? Let me end the suspense for you: You have a new email,” she says. “At any moment of any day, it is safe to assume there is new mail waiting for you in your email inbox.”

What Can Employers Do?

Thomas says that communication debt can prove a problem within organizations because of the way it builds up thanks to a latent expectation that correspondence must be responded to immediately.

“We tend to treat all communication as immediate, right? So the expectations are that all communication is synchronous,” she says. “So if I email you, I expect an immediate response; if I text you, I expect an immediate response; if I Slack you, I expect an immediate response.”

But not everything needs an immediate response. (Phone calls used to be treated as immediate, Thomas says, but they’ve become less common as a communication method in the workplace.) When people do need an immediate response, they’re often compelled to reach out in multiple places, deepening communication debt.

“If this happens for every communication for 100 people in an organization, you can see how the volume of the communication increases, but the efficiency of the communication vastly decreases,” she says.

The secret to managing this, she says, is for employers to set expectations about what needs an immediate response and what doesn’t—as well as expectations for the mediums that are used. (Say, for example: An email is low priority, a Slack message is slightly higher priority, followed by a text message, and then a phone call.) Thomas says that this isn’t just a policy that lives in a document, but something that should be closely followed.

“It has to be so ingrained in the culture that if a company says we don’t send emails after six o’clock and then somebody does, it has to be like, ‘Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, we don’t do that,’” she says.

 

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When a Narrower Strategic Plan Makes Sense

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Strategic plans mean thinking about the future. But if COVID-19 has clouded the crystal ball, a two-year strategic plan focused on the near term might be the best option, one association found.

Preet Bassi, CAE, CEO of the Center for Public Safety Excellence, faced a couple of challenges late last year as the association’s strategic planning retreat approached. First was the strategic plan itself—CPSE’s current five-year plan was expiring, and it needed to determine the priorities for the next one. Then there was the question of how best to do high-level strategic work remotely due to the pandemic, in a way that would be effective.

The solution CPSE arrived at was a somewhat risky one: It decided that it would develop a two-year strategic plan instead of a five-year one. Risky, because strategic plans are meant to be future-focused, and two years is a narrow stretch of time.

But Bassi says the decision was wiser than the other option under discussion—to just punt on strategic planning at all for a year. And a two-year plan was an opportunity for the association, which represents fire and emergency services professionals, to better address the more immediate strategic issues that COVID-19 presented.

Is it strategic or operational? It’s very much a generative thing.

“We thought if we put things in place for the next two years, by January 1, 2023, things are fully back to normal and we’ve already done a lot of work on some important topics,” Bassi says. “One of the topics was digital strategy. We were able to virtualize and hybridize in-person experiences successfully. But some of the things that we did that weren’t great, people would forgive during COVID times but they wouldn’t forgive later.”

The two-year approach also made sense because some strategic priorities, such as international growth, were simply too unsettled to sensibly address in a five-year plan. And because many of the organizations CPSE represents were in budgetary holding patterns, the association had to be careful about how forward-looking it could be as well.

For instance, one strategic goal is to increase fire departments’ engagement in CPSE’s accreditation program, but pandemic-era budget restrictions have presented a challenge for many departments. “Because of COVID,  departments may not be jumping to do something that they had planned to do,” she says. “So if we get some multi-step pieces in place, we might be able to get them to take a step, even if it’s not everything. Is that strategic, or is that operational? It’s very much a generative thing.”

Compared to the discussion about the scope of the strategic plan, the nuts-and-bolts business of conducting a strategic planning meeting online was relatively uncomplicated, partly because Bassi made it clear she would abide little complaining about the digital format. “I don’t tend to listen to a lot of concerns or complaints about technology,” she says. “Just get over it.”

That said, she was mindful that technology can be wearying during a high-level board discussion, and she built in ways to make the conversations smoother. What before was a multi-day retreat became a tight six-hour Zoom session, with Google Sheets replacing whiteboard conversations. Bassi emphasized the importance of preparation before the meeting and found that recording a video introduction to the materials was effective in getting participants up to speed.

“I recorded myself giving an overview of what was in their email packet—here are the attachments, this is the order I recommend you read them in, here’s what you’re going to find,” she says. “It’s just six minutes of your time, watch this and you’ll know everything you need to know about preparing for the meeting.”

Bassi intends to keep that concision and focus in place once CPSE revisits its plan next year.

“The old thinking was, we’ll be together for two days and we’ll package everything then,” she says. “No. We’ll do the regular business of the board in a one- or two-hour Zoom session, so that our time together in person is much more of a team-building discussion.”

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Does Your Conference Need an Emcee?

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Having an emcee at your event was a nice-to-have prior to 2020. Now it’s a must-have. Talk to any meeting owner who has managed a large virtual event this past year using a skilled emcee and he or she will tell you it made all the difference.

An emcee ensures that an event flows seamlessly with all of its threads – content, speakers, audience and suppliers – woven together into a cohesive narrative. That’s why we like to refer to this role as a Content Weaver.

The event’s flow and energy are in the hands of the emcee. She is responsible for ensuring that the conference’s objectives are met and that the audience is engaged from beginning to end.  With the dawning of hybrid events, the importance of having an experienced weaver becomes critical for success.

The Role of an Emcee

An emcee’s role often extends well beyond hosting the event itself. The right content weaver can contribute to the meeting’s design and help prepare speakers and formulate agendas. Employ a skilled emcee from event inception through execution in order to make the most of her experience and expertise, which will enhance every aspect of the participants’ experience. The emcee is there to serve the audience.

Professional emcees can not only handle the intros, outros and transitions, but they are your security blanket when things go wrong (as they inevitably do). Emcees have to think on their feet and be responsive in the moment. Bottom line: Having an emcee allows you, the meeting owner, to sleep better at night.

Check That Box

I got together with several of my professional emcee peers (among them, Kristin Arnold, President, Extraordinary Team, and professional emcee, pictured above), who are members of the National Speakers Association, to collaborate on a while paper entitled, Why Hire an Emcee?  I encourage you to download and share this valuable guide with your planning teams or with anyone aspiring to become an emcee or to improve his or her skills.

Here’s a quick checklist to use when you’re hiring an emcee:

  • Write a request for proposal. Provide a brief description of your audience and agenda. Add any additional information that will impact the emcee’s responsibilities.
  • Assemble a list of potential candidates. Your best place to start: search the National Speakers Association database for its list of professional emcees.
  • Check credentials and verify references. Ask your candidates for a list of similar events they have emceed and watch a video if recorded.
  • Ask questions and trust your intuition. Ask finalists how they would handle certain situations that could arise in your event. What does your gut say about this person? If your intuition and your analysis are aligned, the odds of picking a successful candidate go up.

The white paper will give you lots of ideas on how to leverage the role of an emcee to enhance your event. As we look to more hybrid events on the horizon, an emcee will help you bridge both audiences.

How have you been successful in selling the idea of using a professional emcee to your planning committee and/or leaders?

 

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Keep Connecting With Colleagues After a Virtual Event

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Instead of logging off right after an event ends, virtual attendees can take advantage of online tools, social media channels, and virtual conferencing features for networking.

Virtual events have their advantages, but networking with other attendees is often a challenge. The physical separation means it’s common for virtual attendees to close their laptops and disconnect instead of attempting to re-create one of the biggest benefits of in-person gatherings: mingling with colleagues and striking up a conversation with the person sitting next to them.

As an association professional, you’re probably eager to go back to in-person conferences—both for your organization’s attendees and for the events you’d like to attend for your own professional development. But Beth Surmont, CAE, CMP, vice president of event business strategy and design at 360 Live Media, offers a reminder that in-person networking isn’t always smooth sailing either.

“With this year of virtual events, people have this magical view of in-person events where we were all happy and finding each other,” she says. “That was not true. [Networking] can be highly inefficient and largely serendipitous.”

While it may seem more difficult to network effectively after a virtual event, there are still plenty of opportunities, Surmont says. She offers these tips for the next time you attend one—and they may inspire you to help your own attendees keep their connections going after your virtual events.

Look for Built-in Networking Opportunities

A good virtual event organizer will make your life easier by leaving time after sessions for attendees to chat. Check the event calendar for any scheduled discussions or breakout rooms where a small group of attendees can speak with each other and share ideas. You can exchange contact information there so you’re able to get in touch again later.

Does the virtual event platform have a chat feature? Don’t assume the conversation ends when a particular session does: Stay in the chat after a session comes to a close, as some event organizers will leave chats open. Surmont says this year’s SXSW worked that way—sessions that had already concluded were on demand and still had an active chat box a day later.

“Most platforms, the way they work is that you have a page that has all the tools: the chat, Q&A, the poll, whatever they might be. And then it’s just the content that comes on and comes off,” Surmont says. “For the duration of the event being open—which might be three days or might be three months—those features are usually still turned on. But it depends on the platform.”

Some virtual event platforms even have AI that makes automated recommendations on whom attendees should connect with based on shared interests or skills.

Come Prepared

Surmont advises being intentional about your networking efforts. So, just as you would for an in-person event, find out who’s attending and identify individuals you would like to connect with by checking out event pages on social media. Then you’ll know who to interact with in the chat and where to reach them on social media after the event.

When the day’s proceedings close, be ready to spend time in the virtual lobby or exhibit hall. Another tip: Seek out event partners.

“Partners are a wealth of information and experts at their jobs. They also know everybody,” Surmont says. “He or she could say, ‘Hey, do you know so-and-so?’ and introduce me to that person.”

Take Advantage of Social Media

Head to social media and keep the conversation going by sharing your favorite part of the day’s event, a question you had about an interesting topic, or a photo showing off the virtual event platform. To connect with the right people, use an event-specific hashtag.

If someone shares the same interests or makes an interesting point in the chat, look up that person on LinkedIn and send a message asking to connect. Making that first move can help keep you from feeling isolated at virtual events.

“Otherwise, it’s the equivalent of going to an in-person event with a bag over your head or blinders on and never turning to talk to the person next to you,” Surmont says. “You get out of things what you put into them.”

There might also be a post-event page on Facebook where attendees interact with each other. Better yet, you could create your own page that centers on the event’s theme and invite other attendees to join. On that page, you could have regularly scheduled conversations about the topic and build connections.

“There are people on Facebook that I’ve never met that I send Christmas gifts to because we belong to the same group of people who listen to the same podcast, and we’ve created this supportive community,” Surmont says. “It’s that same kind of thinking—a place for like-minded people to go.”

 

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How an Association Rebounded, Turning Challenges Into Progress

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A new CEO saw opportunity in multiple challenges and brought about real change—including a significant boost in membership and initiatives to dismantle systemic racism in higher education. Here are insights into how he achieved an ambitious agenda.

The National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) recently achieved a 65 percent increase in membership—during a pandemic—and now encompasses more than 23,000 admissions and counseling professionals representing more than 3,600 postsecondary institutions, high schools, and related nonprofits across the globe.

How did they do it? It did not happen overnight, or easily.

Full-Court Press

In July of last year, with membership numbers falling, NACAC’s new CEO, Angel Pérez, launched a “membership action squad” that met every day to figure out ways to retain and recruit members. The taskforce reached out to everyone in the office—from the front desk to Pérez—and asked each of them to pick up the phone and call 50 members to remind them to renew and to say: “We know you’re going through one of the most difficult periods in your career, how can we help?”

“It was a full-court press and nonstop—day, night, weekends on the phone with members trying to make sure they renewed,” he said. The effort helped NACAC retain the members it was losing. The association also offered members a 10 percent COVID-19 discount because they were struggling due to diminished tuition dollars and other factors.

A More Inclusive Membership Model

But the biggest reason for the membership surge was a change to NACAC’s membership model, which allowed member institutions to extend the benefits of NACAC membership to their entire counseling and admission teams. Previously, institutions tended not to include their younger counselors in their membership because it was expensive, which meant these young professionals did not have access to NACAC’s professional development resources, networking, and other benefits, Pérez said.

The importance of professional development cannot be overestimated as a factor in membership value. According to Marketing General Incorporated’s 2020 Association Economic Outlook Report, 84 percent of association executives surveyed last year indicated they planned to increase virtual professional development opportunities for members during the pandemic.

Pérez is particularly excited that adding younger members to the roster is helping the profession. When he began his tenure at NACAC in July, he said, a lot of people in the profession were wavering about whether to stay because the environment had become so challenging, especially in higher education. By adding more young and new professionals to the membership, NACAC hopes to capitalize on their energy. Pérez also plans to create new certification training programs for new admissions officers and secondary school counselors.

“A big part of the goal was to become more inclusive, but also to capture the next generation of members, which we weren’t capturing because our membership was too expensive,” he said.

Aiming for Racial Equity

Pérez did not shy away from the challenges of the pandemic—or from the racial reckoning in the country. Right out of the gate, in his first message to members, Pérez wrote, “I must use my voice, privilege, and platform to help dismantle systemic racism, starting in the places where I have direct influence.”

Many members of the profession were saying access to higher education needed to become more equitable, he said, but no one was leading the national conversation. Pérez saw an opportunity for NACAC to take the lead and, with a grant from the Lumina Foundation, it established a national commission to reimagine financial aid and college admission systems with the goal of eliminating racial inequity in accessing higher education, among an array of other diversity initiatives.

In the midst of crises, Pérez saw a lot of potential. “Our members have so much need,” he said. “If we can figure out how to solve their problems, make their lives easier, and be their go-to resource in their careers, then we have an extraordinary opportunity.”

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Associations Rethink Reserve Policies and Revenue Strategies Amid Pandemic

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The revenue impact of COVID-19 has made some associations rethink how much they should keep in reserves and hone revenue strategies to ensure they align with the group’s core values and member needs.

From the moment the pandemic began forcing closures and cancellations, associations have been worried about how to stay financially afloat. However, two experts say the past year has provided new insights on how to tackle reserves and generate revenue.

Erin Fuller, MPA, FASAE, CAE, president of association solutions at MCI USA, said the traditional rule for reserves is to keep six months of operating expenses.  However, during recent webinar “The Business of Associations: Replenishing, Growing, and Leveraging Your Reserves,” Fuller said the pandemic has upended this thinking. In the future, she thinks calculating reserves will be more nuanced and factor in how the association generates revenue.

“I actually serve on the board of a trade organization where we are looking at a goal of 12 to 18 months [of budget] as our new goal for reserve funding, in light of what is happening in the pandemic, in light of the fact that our group traditionally has used in-person events for a lot of revenue growth,” Fuller said. “I think that, in general, assessing reserve goals for associations and nonprofits is now going to be a much more dynamic process, based on the actual business model rather than a template or a rule of thumb.”

Because so many associations relied heavily on in-person events for revenue, there has also been a shift to looking for non-event revenue.

“Have associations look at assets—whether it is their content, other [intellectual property], or events—and leverage that, instead of just reserves,” Fuller said. “For boards that really have a business orientation and can have conversations where they take the emotion, ownership, or tradition out of it, they’ve been able to really leverage opportunities presented in the past year.”

Carrie Hartin, president of sales, solutions, and services at MCI USA, said that many organizations figure out the best assets to leverage by evaluating their goals. “The look ahead part of that strategic vision is: Who are we and what do we value that we bring back to the marketplace?” she said. “How do we make sure we’ve got the right content and education for the community to fulfill its needs? The things that no longer align are potentially places where organizations need to make those changes, and sometimes those are opportunities to actually sell products to others that might have need or interest.”

For example, content is a place where associations can be active right now. “Last week, I was talking to a mergers and acquisitions broker who actually has a lot of items that are sitting there that relate to content and data,” Hartin said. “It’s either an opportunity for an association to buy access to content that would be very expensive for them to build or create on their own, or to take an asset that they have and potentially sell it, because maybe it’s no longer relevant to the future value that they’re going to bring to their industry or profession.”

Fuller added that she worked with a travel-related association that purchased the credentialing program and database information from an organization that went out of business. The group leveraged that purchase to provide more value for members. Fuller said the groups that have done best in the pandemic have been future-focused and not “so wrapped up in mourning the loss of what they weren’t able to do” that they missed opportunities.

Successful associations are also accepting of the fact that nonprofit tax status doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be creating really profitable products.

“We always say that nonprofit is a tax status, not a business objective,” Fuller said. “We have to remind the boards of directors that they are the boards of directors of a corporation that has a protected tax status that will reinvest results into member equity. Profitability doesn’t mean that anyone is lining their pockets. Profitability means you’re able to offer more, and maybe even able to offer more at a lower price point or a reduced access point to students or emerging professionals, so there’s a benefit there.”

How has your association changed reserve policies or revenue strategies since the pandemic began? Share in the comments.

 

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Membership Pro Tip: Members in the News

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Highlighting media stories about members opens the door for increased engagement and peer-to-peer connections.

How does it work?

 Selected Independent Funeral Homes represents independently owned funeral homes, which tend to be smaller and operate differently than corporate funeral homes. For example, many don’t have dedicated staff members to handle marketing and press releases. Patty Neuswanger, Selected’s member engagement director, set up Google alerts to find local news articles featuring members so she could reach out to them personally, congratulate them on the coverage, and share the articles on social media and in the group’s weekly newsletter.

Then the pandemic hit. The media sought out Selected’s members for interviews on a range of topics, including guidance about funeral attendee restrictions, and press coverage about them increased exponentially. Neuswanger added a daily newsletter to feature the media stories and provide other helpful information about the pandemic.

Why is it effective?

It meant a lot to members to have a personal connection with their association and to be recognized among their peers, Neuswanger said. Her outreach about news coverage also opened the door for her to talk to members about other topics, like member benefits they might have missed such as an upcoming education session or a group roundtable.

“It started a string of conversation,” she said. “That to me is where the magic is.”

What’s the benefit?

“Probably one of the greatest benefits of being a member of Selected is the open idea-sharing that occurs between members,” Neuswanger said. Distributing news stories about members highlights their successes, helps them connect and be inspired by one another, and raises awareness about their work in in their communities. It supports Selected’s “overarching theme of helping one another,” she said.

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

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Some Ideas for Developing a Conference Pricing Strategy

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Since the onset of the pandemic, many associations have offered their virtual conferences for free. But new formats require new platforms and technology, and for many groups, the free model is no longer sustainable. So, what’s the best pricing strategy to take?

Last year, many associations offered their virtual conferences to members for free. But that’s likely not a sustainable strategy. As you continue to assess your conference pricing model, especially with the increase in hybrid events moving forward, here are two examples I’ve come across recently that could provide some food for thought.

Paying for additional perks. While not in the association space, Reuters Next has a pricing strategy that addresses something that many attendees have said they’ve been missing during virtual conferences: networking and informal conversation.

According to an article published by The Drum, most delegates will access the meeting’s content for free, but for around $700, people can purchase what Reuters is calling “professional passes.” These come with additional perks, including a post-event report and access to a networking program that allows passholders to schedule one-to-one meetings with other attendees and potentially even speakers.

“This is something that both parties would opt into and the system would set up a time for you to connect,” said Reuters Chief Marketing Officer Josh London. “It’s similar to real-world [conferences], but with some advantages, so you are not standing on the outside of a circle waiting for a break in the conversation.”

Balancing in-person and virtual attendees. Back in November, Meeting Professionals International (MPI) held its World Education Conference as a hybrid event. The conference drew 600 attendees to a single in-person site—the Gaylord Texan in Grapevine, Texas—and more than 1,000 virtual attendees. MPI charged $799 for the in-person event and $299 for the digital experience.

Here’s a closer look at what attendees got for those registration fees: Even though all content was presented live to both audiences, the virtual sessions were not real-time video streams of the in-person sessions. Instead, the virtual sessions were conducted by many of the in-person presenters but at different times or even on different days. In addition, the in-person agenda ran over two days, while the virtual agenda ran over four.

“We wanted our digital audience to be able to engage directly with the instructors and facilitators so they could impact the course of those conversations, connect digitally with one another, and see each other’s video feeds,” Jessie States, CMP, CMM, director of MPI Academy, told MeetingsNet.

No matter what conference pricing model your association decides on, it’s important to communicate any changes to your members and show them how the changes will provide value to them.

What new pricing models is your association considering for its upcoming events? Please share in the comments.

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