Tips for Shoring Up Your Association’s Remote Tech Support

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Remote work has drastically changed the way associations use technology, creating new challenges for IT departments. Association tech experts offer some recommendations for boosting tech support for your remote team.

At the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis, a lot of organizations experienced a technology stress test, with cloud infrastructure helping to keep workplaces afloat. Now, months into the pandemic, the dynamic of remote work—and how associations support employees from a technical perspective—is evolving.

“The biggest area of struggle I see in my work with associations is related to communication and the coordination of remote work,” says Tom Jelen, a strategic consultant at the association technology solutions firm DelCor. “When staff can no longer rely on in-person interactions to receive quick answers or hear the latest updates from leadership, collaboration can quickly degrade.”

Members of DelCor’s team, working across a variety of disciplines, offered insights on how associations can continue to provide essential tech support to remote staff over time.

Equipment

Many workplaces were able to shift quickly to remote work when shutdowns began last spring because their employees already had laptops. But work-from-home has lasted a lot longer than anyone expected, and what worked in March might not work in December.

In a recent blog post, Jelen noted that infrastructure costs decrease when organizations go virtual, and those costs should be invested in better laptops, docking stations, and monitor setups, along with high-speed internet access, if possible.

Of course, it’s also important that IT teams can access and manage the technology offsite, says Chris Ecker, DelCor’s chief technical officer. “The ability to remotely connect to and manage the devices for troubleshooting purposes and helpdesk support is critical,” he says.

Another issue: asset management. DelCor Senior Consultant Dan Brandt Lautman says organizations need a strategy for managing, repairing, and replacing equipment on the fly. “Make sure you have spare devices to ship to users, and that devices have next-day onsite warranty support from the manufacturer—at least for VIP devices,” Lautman says.

Of course, equipment maintenance can be a challenge if your organization has limited resources. “Have clear documentation of business needs and align IT with those,” he says.

Training and Documentation

Cloud-based tools have been critical to enable collaboration among remote teams. To get the most out of them, Jelen says, organizations have to take the time to train employees to use them properly.

“While we live in a world where an amazing range of cloud-based tools are available to bridge distances, those tools are only so useful without appropriate governance and training,” he says. He recommends creating standards for file storage, communication, and employee collaboration.

It may make sense to build a discipline around documentation to help ensure clear communication. For tech support, Lautman notes that vague descriptions of users’ technology problems won’t cut it anymore.

“You can no longer ask the helpdesk to ‘come look at this for me.’ Submit a good support ticket with as many details as possible,” he says.

Security and Maintenance

With employees working at home, it can be harder to track what’s happening from a systems perspective. For example, network security can be more difficult to maintain because home networks are more difficult to harden up than those at the office. Lautman notes that strong security is imperative with remote logins.

“The absolute most important thing is to require multifactor authentication for all remote access, no exceptions,” he says. He recommends updating acceptable-use policies or providing guidelines for end-user access to the organization’s network.

He also says it’s important for IT workers to monitor security alerts, with a stronger reliance on software-as-a-service (SaaS) tools. “Ensure you are staffed appropriately, or use a managed services provider, so you can react in a timely fashion,” Lautman says.

Ecker, DelCor’s CTO, adds that there should be a patching system that allows devices managed by an association to be patched without needing to be on the office network.

“Not only are operating system [Windows and OS X] patches critical, but also third-party applications,” he says.

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When Change Comes Fast, Resilience Is Key to Survival

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Organizations wired for adaptation can surf the waves of crisis.

When changes happen—and they always do—it’s easy for organizations of any kind to get swept up in the fast-moving currents. But the strongest and most flexible businesses are best prepared to meet abrupt, even seismic, shifts in circumstance. And they’re positioned to ride those waves of change into the future.

COVID-19 hit the hotel industry hard, with a forecasted 50 percent decline in annual revenue, and 2020 occupancy rates lower than in the Great Depression. But its leaders demonstrated exceptional innovation and adaptation under the toughest conditions.

Here, Phil Ray, general manager of Indianapolis’ 1,012-room JW Marriott, shares his team’s experience adapting nimbly to the crisis circumstances, as well as four tips for strategy and best practices that association professionals can implement today.

1. Act quickly and decisively.

When the pandemic hit, there was no existing playbook for hospitality pros to consult. Instead, they had to create it on the fly and without delay. For Indianapolis, that meant forming a committee with other hotels in the community to “get out in front” of the situation. “We focused on putting together a few documents almost immediately to be able to help answer [guests’ and clients’] key questions,” Ray explains.

The team generated a guide called “Stay Confident,” which highlighted the brand and the company’s approach to safety. The hotel has 130,000 square feet of space, so the team also created a version of the document called “Meet Safe,” which outlined its approach to registration, meeting room setups, meal service, and more.

The six biggest hotels connected to the convention center formed a committee known as the Tourism Recovery Group, and soon expanded it to include attractions, restaurants, and outdoor venues. “We said, as a community, how do we recover faster than everybody else? And how do we recover safely? And how do we win as a city and get our bigger share and recover faster?” he says.

Thinking fast—and thinking big—hotels in the top convention city worked together to offer the country’s first city-wide hybrid discount and zero attrition. And the destination adapted quickly to welcome those in-person attendees safely.

As the circumstances unfolded in the spring, an air of panic permeated across industries. But for Ray’s team, the approach was calm and steady, using its collective expertise, and modeling authority and confidence. “Versus just sitting back and saying ‘poor us,’ we worked to make sure of our staff’s and clients’ safety,” he says. “It was scary, but we really focused on what we could control, and communicate what we did know.”

2. Communicate abundantly.

Even for the most seasoned executives, extra communication is key to success in uncertain times. This means sharing best practices and early lessons learned across shareholders and team members, whether virtually or safely in person.

“We quickly learned how to be proficient at Zoom and team calls, and even just by phone. It all evolved so fast that we just had to go on with ongoing communication and collaboration,” Ray says. “It takes a huge amount of communication and partnership to be able to say, ‘Let’s figure out how to do this.’ We talked a lot about being flexible and nimble, to be able to react quickly.”

3. Call audibles.

An organization is best prepared to be resilient in the face of crisis when the company nourishes a culture comfortable with the art of the pivot. “Being flexible and nimble was really important to be able to react and react quickly,” he says. “We’re learning new things and continually evaluating the need for change.”

And when the team sees room for improvement under fast-changing conditions, the group regards it as not a failure of existing policy but an opportunity to improve. As an example, the JW found itself suddenly busy when a basketball tournament took over the convention center. “It went suddenly from a quiet to a big crowd, so there were a lot of people that gathered in our lobby bar,” Ray says, explaining that the bar was closed but still had seating and tables. “Obviously, we were not looking for people to gather like that, so the next weekend, we moved a good chunk of the furniture out so people wouldn’t use it as a gathering place.”

The team made similar adaptations for other elements of dining and room service. “There’s just a lot of figuring things out as you’ve seen it and just really being creative and saying, OK, this is what the challenge is, how do we make it better?”

He says, “It’s almost like thinking like a football team coach on the field. You see what’s happening, and make changes for the second half.”

4. Stay consistent.

Even amid the need for constant change, a resilient organization is one that maintains consistent quality and messaging. The JW focused early on training the staff for the new safety protocols including temperature checks, a wristband screening system, and messaging mask mandates to guests.

“If we were consistent, it just gave guests so much confidence that we did know what we’re doing,” he says. “Confidence that we would be consistent and follow through.”


Visit Indy proudly serves as the official sales and marketing organization for USA Today’s “#1 Convention City in the U.S.” Check out Indy’s newest hotel Bottleworks, opening December 2020, and The Westin’s largest renovation, to be completed in February 2021.

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Weekly Now: How Digital Passports Could Help Bring Back Global Travel

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The International Air Transport Association is creating a “digital health pass” for global travelers that could allow borders to reopen safely. Also: why you should lean on interviews for virtual events.

Travelers are used to producing a passport when moving from country to country. Now a digital equivalent could prove an important step to reopening borders after the COVID-19 pandemic.

Last week, the International Air Transport Association announced its plan to create an IATA Travel Pass, a series of digital applications that will allow travelers to confirm that they have received the COVID-19 vaccine and are safe to travel. The applications will rely on digital certificates managed by laboratories that will be recognized by governments.

In a news release, IATA said the system will help ensure that international travel can safely resume.

“Today borders are double locked. Testing is the first key to enable international travel without quarantine measures. The second key is the global information infrastructure needed to securely manage, share and verify test data matched with traveler identities in compliance with border control requirements. That’s the job of IATA Travel Pass,” IATA Director General and CEO Alexandre de Juniac said in a press release. “We are bringing this to market in the coming months to also meet the needs of the various travel bubbles and public health corridors that are starting operation.”

A pilot program will begin before the end of the year, with full rollout expected in the first quarter of 2021.

Other recent headlines:

State cannabis regulators launch new association. With a number of states legalizing cannabis for the first time, governments at the federal, state, and local levels are working together to launch the Cannabis Regulators Association, a nonpartisan group that aims to share best practices for jurisdictions trying to regulate marijuana. “The Cannabis Regulators Association will provide a much needed forum for regulators to engage with each other to identify and develop best practices, create model policies that safeguard public health and safety, and promote regulatory certainty for industry participants,” said the group’s inaugural president, Norman Birenbaum, in a statement.

Helping LGBTQ students with disabilities. The Human Rights Campaign’s educational foundation has released a new guide to help educators support lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer students with disabilities in academic settings, including under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, which requires educational accommodations for children with disabilities. “Educators, school psychologists, parents, and other adult allies play an important role in ensuring the safety, inclusion, and well-being of these students—including developing Individualized Education Programs and 504 plans so they are free from discrimination, both because of their disability status and their LGBTQ identities,” said Vincent Pompei, the director of HRC’s Youth Well-Being Program, in a news release.

Why Interviews Matter

Interview will make virtual events better than more talking heads over PowerPoint. #eventprofs #meetingprofs #interviewformat #assnchat #associations #meetings https://t.co/qwVQVHmJUA

— Thom Singer, CSP (@thomsinger) November 25, 2020

Want to stand out during a virtual event? Do an interview.

That’s a tip from Thom Singer, CSP, an executive search consultant and keynote speaker. In the latest episode of his podcast ‌Making Waves at C-Level, Singer discusses how he and his creative partner Eliz Greene built the Webinar Talk Show, which aims to elevate the interview format as a medium in virtual events, pushing slideshow-driven formats off to the side.

“She and I decided early on in COVID when everybody and their brother started hosting webinars and virtual conferences, we decided that a lot of those events sucked, and that they weren’t really doing the best they could to communicate,” Singer said in the episode. “And we realized that something was missing—and that was the interview process.”

Listen to Singer’s podcast to learn more.

ICYMI …

ASAE and other business groups have called on the Small Business Administration to temporarily suspend “loan necessity” questionnaires related to the Paycheck Protection Program that may be biased against borrowers.

Trying to get a handle on remote tech support? Check out our recent piece, chock-full of tips from the association technology solutions firm DelCor.

It’s not selfish for leaders to focus on self-care, says Associations Now’s leadership blogger, Mark Athitakis.

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Take These Four Winning Elements of 2020’s Meeting Successes Into 2021

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As your association starts planning for 2021, check out some of the bright ideas that kept events—virtual, in-person, and hybrid—shining, despite the complicated year we’re close to finishing.

This year’s many challenges created a lot of pain points for associations that suddenly found themselves switching from in-person to virtual events … in many cases for the first time.

Although there’s optimism that things will change soon—a recent survey from Global DMC Partners predicted 63 percent of organizations will hold in-person meetings in the first half of 2021—virtual events will still rule well into next year.

With that in mind, it’s worth highlighting elements that have helped events excel in a nontraditional year—and where they might come in handy in 2021. Among them:

1. The capacity to switch gears, fast.

When COVID-19 concerns caused the cancellation of the massive Mobile World Congress in Spain, some took it as a sign that an immediate rethink was needed.

As Samantha Whitehorne wrote in March, at least three organizations—the ‌International Antiviral Society-USA, the ‌Consortium for School Networking, and the ‌Society for Public Health Education—decided to go virtual for events that had been scheduled as in-person gatherings that month. In the case of IAS-USA, it switched up its plans for the Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections (CROI) with just two days’ notice.

“We all have learned a lot through this process, and as we all do as scientists, we will analyze the data and outcomes we have observed and use the information to move CROI forward in the future,” the association’s organizers said in a news release.

2. A desire to design events without limits.

Zoom fatigue is a real thing, which means that virtual event designs that might have worked before the pandemic may not be good enough now. Creativity is a necessity.

And that creativity can take a lot of forms, something that we highlighted in October. One clever idea that could find a home at a lot of organizations comes from the National Speakers Association, which held a series of “digital dine-arounds,” virtual dinners where members could break bread with a top official from the association. It was a part of NSA’s INFLUENCE 2020 conference—and just one way that associations can excel in a virtual format.

An upcoming event outside the association space taking this truism to an extreme is December’s LinkUpConferenceShow. The for-profit technology conference aims to maximize virtual networking opportunities by pairing up attendees using algorithms and having comedians lead the networking sessions.

3. A willingness to stretch out the schedule.

In-person events have to navigate people’s work schedules, and that means planners often have to cram a lot into a couple of days.

That’s not so necessary in the world of virtual meetings, where learning opportunities can happen over an extended period because nobody needs to travel. This was an approach the Brewers Association used with its Craft Brewers Conference, which held events over five workweeks.

VidCon, which is known as the primary event for YouTubers and other streaming personalities, did something similar by extending the event over the entire summer (a format that worked particularly well for the conference—which is, after all, made up of video pros). According to BizBash, the event also innovated by mixing up the format, using a combination of video streaming tools.

4. The ability to look for in-person opportunities amid virtual norms.

It hasn’t been easy to do in-person meetings in 2020, even in a hybrid format. But some associations have found ways to pull it off in smaller forms, outdoors, or even inside on smaller scales.

Back in September, The Fertilizer Institute held its 2020 World Fertilizer Conference in Indianapolis, a two-and-a-half-day event that drew 50-plus people. In an interview with Associations Now earlier this month, TFI’s president and CEO, Corey Rosenbusch, credited the nature of the event for making it possible.

“This conference is really about providing attendees with opportunities to have scheduled, one-on-one business meetings and network with one another,” he explained.

Meeting Professionals International did something similar, reports MeetingsNet, by bringing in 644 in-person attendees and 1,090 digital attendees for its hybrid event this month.

“There is a great responsibility that we have in hosting this, and hosting it well, because the industry is looking to us,” MPI President and CEO Paul VanDeventer told the outlet.

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“Lizard Brain” Is Real, It’s Time to Revamp Member Communications

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Knowing how to communicate with members—and when—consumes many hours of discussion even in good times. Add multiple crises in a single year, and things really get complex. A communications expert offers some tips for engaging members in uneasy times.

Finally, Zoom fatigue explained! It’s caused by “lizard brain,” according Sheri Singer, president of Singer Communications, which is a brain operating in survival mode and relying on fight or flight instincts. Understandable. We are experiencing several crises at once—a global pandemic, an unstable economy, racial injustice, political realignment, and more.

Compounding that, many people are sleeping less, working longer, eating and drinking more, and exercising less, all of which contributes to an inability to focus (including on all those Zoom meetings) and other issues. Our brains are not working like they usually do.

So how to better engage members when it’s difficult to make connections with such compromised brains? Singer recommends communicating in a way that doesn’t require as much energy for members to process. For example, research shows shorter emails have a 50 percent higher response rate.

“You can’t continue to communicate with members the ways you have in the past,” she said. Here are some additional insights.

Shifting Personas

Now is a great time to look at your messaging. Singer cited a recent study from Ketchum, Brand Reckoning 2020: How Crisis Culture Is Redefining Consumer Behavior, Loyalty, and Values, which shows a marked change in Americans’ openness to reengaging with the outside world. The research identifies four crisis-culture personas:

  • Retro re-engagers want to return to the world as it was before.
  • Open-minded explorers have new priorities and are ready to embrace new things.
  • Worried withholders are not easily influenced and want to stay in their comfort zones.
  • Cautious questioners want to keep their distance until they know more.

The largest group of responders (33 percent) are retro re-engagers. Because it’s unlikely that the world will go back to the way it was, Singer said, it’s important to keep those personas in mind as you craft messages. She recommends using words like contribute, connect, navigate, cope, and respond instead of capitalize, offer, advantage, gain, and profit.

Show You Care

“We’ve moved to a different playbook being driven by people under 40” who expect marketing and communications to be largely driven by experience, Singer said. That means it’s time to be more empathetic, sympathetic, and compassionate.

For example, it’s not enough to simply ask, “How are you?” Instead, ask, “How are you doing?” or “How are you handling COVID-19?” Eliciting a deeper response shows you care and gives your members—including your volunteer leaders—a safe space where they can expand on what is happening to them right now, she said.

Kick It Old School

Singer recommends revisiting old-fashioned ways to connect, such as by phone or with handwritten notes, which will provide a welcome break from video calls. Or help members communicate directly with one another by setting up a phone tree and have one member, with a script, call five other members and discuss the value-added aspects of the organization. Then ask questions like: What is giving you value right now? How can the association provide that virtually? How can the organization be an innovator in the industry? And more.

Nothing feels normal right now, and our brains, in their lizard form, are not processing information like they usually do. To stay connected with your members, it’s time to reassess messaging, revisit more personalized—and old-fashioned—ways of communicating, and express compassion.

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How to Create a Social Media Policy That Protects Your Association

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Strong social media policies not only inform employees and volunteers but also help reduce statements that could damage an organization’s reputation or cause liability.

Because we live in a world where so much communication happens online and moves fast, associations must have a strong social media policy. An inaccurate post—whether it comes from the association’s verified account or from an employee or board member—can tarnish reputations or even lead to lawsuits, said Katharine Meyer, principal at GKG Law, P.C.

“There are a lot of legal issues that arise with social media,” Meyer said. “Those are the things you need to have policies on so everyone is clear on how to proceed. It’s important to lay out for your volunteers and your employees what you can and can’t post, and who can and can’t post.”

While many are concerned with posts misrepresenting the view of the association, Meyer said people often overlook the legal issues that can arise from inappropriate posts.

“You have defamation, where people aren’t thinking and are stating something that is untrue about a person or a competitor,” Meyer said. “Confidentiality can be a problem. If employees or board members don’t understand what is confidential, sharing that online can create liability.”

Having a good social media policy in place can help those posting for associations promote the organization and its initiatives without causing harm. The social media policy should include who can post on an association’s accounts, what they’re able to post, and how employees and board members should post when using their personal accounts.

“For employees, this has been a big issue, not only what to do in a professional capacity, but what to do in a personal capacity,” Meyer said. While employees, volunteers, and board members can express opinions, it must be clear that they are, in fact, representing themselves and not the organization.

“It’s important when blogging or making comments online that employees or volunteers be accurate and transparent,” Meyer said. If an employee or board member has something to say on an issue, they should use their real name, explain their role in the organization, and indicate they are not speaking for the organization.

“They can have a disclaimer on whatever they say,” she said. “The views are the personal opinions of the employee or the board member. What is posted is not approved by the organization.”

Social media policies should remind staff or boards not to connect their role at the organization with personal accounts. Meyer recalled an instance where an employee’s Twitter name included the organization’s acronym (XYZA Hannah, for example). The employee had radical political views and soon the association began getting complaints. “People thought she was representing the organization,” Meyer said. Removing the association’s acronym (changing it to just Hannah) cleared up the confusion.

Meyer did note that not every problem that occurs on social media will be handled by a social media policy. Code of ethics or code of conduct violations are enforced through those policies, even if the violation occurs on social media. For example, the National Association of Realtors recently updated its ethics policy, in part to address complaints about comments that members made on social media.

Two other issues to address in a social media policy are copyright infringement—particularly making sure staff-run accounts use only items they have rights to—and continuity when staff leave. “Who controls the passwords? Who owns the sites?” Meyer said. “Make sure your policy includes, if somebody leaves, those pages are turned over to the association, and the association has access to all the passwords for all those accounts.”

Finally, once the policy is in place, have users sign off on it. For employees, this is typically done during onboarding. With board members and other volunteers, Meyer suggested they sign off on the social media policy at the beginning of their term, and then annually after that.

What have you found are the most useful elements of your social media policy? Share in the comments.

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2021 Virtual-Conference Big Ideas

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In 2020, attendees, sponsors, and exhibitors were more forgiving of our virtual conferences than they will be in 2021. They, like you, are all experiencing Zoom fatigue and will have much higher expectations for conferences this coming year — especially those they are investing their precious time and money. Don’t waste a good crisis. Use this opportunity to beta test changes that can be carried over to the next in-person conference.

While in the second half of 2020 many virtual conferences grew attendance, attracting global and non-member participants, much of that growth can be attributed to significantly reduced registration pricing.

So the big question to ponder for 2021 and beyond is: Will those — especially global and non-members — who’ve attended virtual events this year return? And more importantly, will they become members and be additive through lifetime loyalty and spend? Anecdotally, I believe that in 2020, most conferences traded improved reach for a lower tier of participants. For this reason, I think it’s critical to design your 2021 virtual conference to attract attendees who will help improve your association’s long-term sustainability.

Take Risks with Experience Design

Senior-level attendees tend to have busier schedules. They will not participate six to eight hours a day for your three-day virtual conference. For 2021, don’t take the same old face-to-face agenda and try to plug it into a virtual experience. Here are four ideas to get you started:

  1. Streamline the schedule. The most progressive conference organizers are narrowing down the number of days, tracks, and hours of programming each day. Like face-to-face conferences, virtual experiences have a significant last-day problem. Day three tends to be very sparse, so cut it out. Too many session choices lead to watered-down experiences that are not well-attended. Consider reducing or making more sessions available on-demand. Very few people will engage online for more than a couple of sessions on a given day.
  2. Production always wins over platform. We’ve seen significant investments made in both platform and production. There is no platform that will magically make your networking, engagement, or expo better. The difference between an engaging and a blah experience can be attributed to event design, graphics, and production — it’s never due to the platform.
  3. Drastically reduce timelines. Instead of opening registration and kicking off your marketing plan six months before the event, you’ll find that three months is more practical for virtual. If you typically do a Call for Proposals with a submission date nine months prior to the event, cut it back to five months. Content submissions will be more timely and relevant if the process involves less lead time. If your early-bird cutoff for increased pricing was 90 days prior, change it to 30. Also, keep in mind: If you don’t bake early-bird into your pricing model, you will have many sleepless nights in the weeks leading up to your event.
  4. Content and commerce that’s episodic. Instead of trying to just move your live event to virtual, consider combining education tracks and aligning them with exhibit product categories. Feature two tracks of sessions, with corresponding sponsors/exhibitors each week for two to three weeks in a row. Develop pricing models for sponsors and attendees so they can choose to participate in the week/episode that best aligns with their needs. Develop options for full access to all episodes.

What big changes are you planning to make in 2021? Is your organization willing to take on more risk?

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.

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COVID Silver Linings: Family Time

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It’s safe to say no one anticipated spending so much time with family this year. The pandemic brought us closer than ever before—in a good way (mostly). These bonus hours have brought many silver linings.

More time with family! Let’s be real, it hasn’t all been unicorns and moonbeams. But being home has taught us to navigate a crisis together, and the bright spots seem to far outweigh the darker moments. Help with trigonometry homework? Did I even take trigonometry in high school? (No.)

Things we now realize: Our respect and gratitude for our kids’ teachers is infinite. The ability to be with older parents when they need us most is priceless. The nightly Netflix “have we already seen this?” journey with our partners is oddly comforting.

One thing’s for sure: We’ll never forget that our expanded family time has allowed us to celebrate moments—small and large—together, in daylight, not just in the bleary wee hours of the morning or at the end of a long day.

Here, association pros share some of the benefits of additional family time during by the pandemic.

Tarah Remington Brown

Executive Vice President, Kansas Academy of Family Physicians

So many things. My youngest learning to ride his bike; yard work and house maintenance; my kids’ imaginations growing; cooking new recipes; getting closer with my mom and sister; family game nights; a socially distant, secluded vacation in the mountains; lots of reading; lots of nature and outdoor time; seeing my children be so resilient.

Lowell M. Aplebaum, FASAE, CAE

CEO and Strategy Catalyst, Vista Cova

Extra snuggle time with the munchkins.

Mickie Stivers Rops, FASAE, CAE

President and Principal Consultant, Mickie Rops Consulting

My daughter’s summer internship was switched to virtual, so not only did I get to spend more time with her (it was going to be in another city), I got to see and hear her develop into a professional. She was in the next room, so I could actually hear her presentations and interactions with her peers, boss, and boss’s boss. And I got to have lunch with her every day and talk about her experiences and offer advice. I feel so lucky to have gotten that unique and special experience.

Brian Van Norman, CAE

Senior Vice President, American Case Management Association/CGi Results

I’ve been able to work remotely so I can spend more time helping my mom after losing my dad just before COVID.

Rodneikka Scott, CAE

Director of Membership, Endocrine Society

Being able to spend more time with my son and husband has been the most wonderful thing.

Editor’s Note: These responses were compiled by Sheri Jacobs, FASAE, CAE, CEO and president of Avenue M Group, in response to a question she posed on her Facebook page asking her friends and colleagues to share their COVID-19 silver linings. We thank them for sharing them with us.

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Are You Ready to Lead in a Hybrid 2021?

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COVID-19 disrupted meetings this year. Next year offers a chance to think about how you’ll lead in an environment that’s transformed more than events.

Of all the changes that COVID-19 has delivered to an association’s bottom line, the disruptions in meetings is likely the most unsettling. Even if your association’s 2020 conference was insured against a forced closure, the virtual replacement likely wasn’t the same kind of revenue driver. (And in a tough economic time, many associations opted to make the event available for free or at a deep discount.) For leaders, the disruption can be more existential: How do you lead your members when you can’t meet them in person?

In the latest issue of Associations Now, I wrote about how these shifts have prompted associations to start thinking about hybrid meetings. When I started working on the story in July, I was still hearing about associations that had tentative plans to combine in-person with virtual meetings. But for the most part they eventually went virtual only. Now that there’s more clarity about the impact of the pandemic—and optimism about a vaccine—hybrid events are positioned to be back on the agenda in 2021.

Everybody was jumping on the virtual bandwagon and just kind of throwing it up.

It’s a trend that’s overdue, says Sarah Michel, vice president of professional connexity at Velvet Chainsaw, an association meetings consulting firm, who told me that more hybrids are coming. “We’ve been preaching to our clients, which is 99.9 percent associations, that they needed to have a virtual strategy for their annual meeting in particular,” she says. “And most associations were like, ‘Yeah, we’ll get to that.’ Everybody kept putting it off… But there’s no way that [COVID-19] is not going to impact the meetings we’re working on.”

That shift has sparked conversations about how best to hybridize meetings. There are too many advantages to virtual events to ignore them: There’s the new crop of attendees, especially internationally, that they attract, and the flexibility they offer to members. But going all-virtual removes the intangible but meaningful value of in-person connection and reduces the very tangible value of a tradeshow. (Velvet Chainsaw’s Dave Lutz summarized the latter issue bluntly in a blog post titled “Expos Don’t Work Well in a Virtual Environment.”)

Resolving this is a meetings challenge, but it’s also a challenge for leadership. Hybrid events force association leaders to think carefully about who their members and customers are and how best to serve them. Karen Vogel, managing partner at the Event Advisory Group, told me that the new meetings environment opens up a host of complications: whether to synchronize the in-person and virtual event, how long to keep conference sessions available and at what price point, what kind of staffing you’ll provide to each part of the hybrid event so that neither group feels like they’re second-class citizens.

Plus, you’ll have to nail it in 2021, because attendees won’t be nearly as forgiving as they were with what you rushed to put together during a pandemic. “Everybody was jumping on the virtual bandwagon and just kind of throwing it up,” she says. “And the feedback ranged from ‘It was a decent event but I wasn’t pleased with this, this, and this’ to ‘It was horrible.’”

In addition to improving the virtual experience, you’ll also want to be more strategic about the locations for your in-person meetings, drawing from a base of people who are within driving distance from the venue instead of appealing to people to make long flights. Assume, for now, that there’s a sizable chunk of attendees that isn’t ready for in-person yet.

“Have something for the attendees who still can’t travel, or are not willing to travel,” Vogel says. “Or, let’s face it, don’t have the budget, because that’s going to be a big issue next year. You have to have a way for them to still participate.”

The next year won’t resolve every meetings issue you’re facing, but it’s a good opportunity to think about who’s under your association’s umbrella, the economic and public-health headwinds they’re facing, and what kind of meeting works best for them.

The post Are You Ready to Lead in a Hybrid 2021? appeared first on Associations Now.

A New Report Shows What Members Value Most

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

Members continue to engage with their associations, even in crisis, according to a new report, which reveals a surprise top member benefit and one that is rapidly emerging. Here are some insights to light the way forward.

A new report from software provider Community Brands, Association Trends 2020: From Disruption to Opportunity [PDF], finds that despite the many challenges this year has brought, member engagement continues to grow and loyalty to associations is strong.

Fifty-one percent of members surveyed said their association is more important to them today than before the pandemic. And they’re willing to pay for it: 74 percent of members whose employers pay for all or part of their membership dues said they would still renew their membership even if their employers stopped contributing.

Good news.

I reported on similar findings from Marketing General Incorporated’s (MGI) recent Association Economic Outlook Report, which also affirms growing member engagement in the face of adversity this year. It notes that 69 percent of association professionals who responded said they had seen a marked increase in the level of member activity and engagement in their organization.

Virtual Engagement

A main reason members are engaging more, the Community Brands report states, is all the virtual opportunities associations have rolled out during the pandemic. Virtual conferences have made it possible for members stay involved from a distance, but the report shows that they increasingly value other ways to connect and learn virtually year-round. Offering more personalized options like online networking, continuing education, and social networks—in addition to large virtual events and webcasts—will be key to keeping members engaged, the report states.

A Surprising Top Member Benefit

The recent presidential election highlighted the importance of understanding demographics and the role they play in influencing outcomes, and these are just as relevant in analyzing membership nuances. Black and Hispanic members, who tend to be younger, are more engaged than their white counterparts, the Community Brands report shows, and they are more inclined to value their association now than before the pandemic.

Black and Hispanic members also value certain benefits at significantly higher levels than white members. For example, they rank code of ethics information among the top five benefits they value most. (If you need any tips for updating your code of ethics, a recent Associations Now post has some helpful suggestions).

Career Opportunities Are Key

Members continue to value the job and career advancement opportunities associations offer. Interestingly, the association professionals surveyed in the study rated these less valuable than members did. With the unemployment and career challenges this year has brought, it is critical for associations to focus on these benefits when members need them most, the report states.

MGI’s recent report shows that many associations are already on the bandwagon. Eighty-four percent of respondents said their association plans to increase virtual professional development opportunities for members.

As I reported in the current issue of Associations Now magazine, the Council for Exceptional Children surveyed 26,000 prospective members it attracted with a free membership promotion to find out what was most valuable to them during the trial period. Eighty-five percent of respondents said online training and webinars were most beneficial. Sheri Jacobs, FASAE, CAE, president and CEO of Avenue M Group, told me that retraining and access to processes or standards will remain highly valuable, and associations are well positioned to meet those needs.

Challenges create opportunities, as we have learned many times over this year. These recent findings show that associations have incredible staying power and that members need them now more than ever. It’s time to really understand what members want and need—and give it to them.

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