Take a fresh look at your association’s event strategy

If you’re responsible for putting together your events strategy at your membership association, you’ll know how challenging it can be. How do you maintain a program of relevant events for your members in an events-saturated world? How do you appeal to the new generation of members who have different expectations? It’s time to take a fresh look at this important part of your activities and how they fit into your organisation’s charter.

Associations vary enormously in terms of their size and the resources they have available to manage their membership base. But in recent years many associations are starting to see an evolution in how their events are run. This essentially involves adopting a more strategic approach to events and better leveraging the technologies available today.

Put on that marketing hat

If you manage events you need to think yourself as a marketer. After all you’re not only competing with other associations but with countless other service providers and diversions for your members’ attention.
A good first step is to put together or revisit your marketing plan. This needn’t be a complex process. Here are some key ingredients to set you on the right track:

  1. Who are your members? What are their demographics – age, education, where they live, what type of lifestyles do they have?
  2. What exactly do you offer your members in terms of services and/or products. How is this valuable to them?
  3. Be clear on your strengths and value proposition – how does this compare with what your competitors, i.e. other associations, are doing?

In terms of reassessing the value you provide to members, consider if you are running events for events sake e.g. because you always have done a particular event at the same time each year? Are your events in line with the core purpose of your organisation and your members’ expectations?

On the importance of having a strategic purpose, Margot Smith, General Manager Membership, Strategy & Engagement at the Australian Institute of Management (AIM) who is speaking at this year’s Association Forum Conference says:

“Associations need to decide what business they’re in. You can be good at event management but your reason for being is the membership organisation. Events need to fit strategically with what you want to achieve.”

Also, events are not just about entertainment. To build a stronger bond with your membership base, look at aspects of your industry, or area of expertise, that you can educate your members about and make them want to come back for more.

Why run events?

It may be useful to go back to basics and look at the advantages of running events. These could include:

  • Bringing a group of people together creates better conditions for idea sharing
  • Showing members first hand what your association is doing and your plans for the future
  • Recruiting new staff and volunteers
  • Profile-raising of the association e.g. with local media or government
  • Attracting new members and advocates
  • Develop your members personally and professionally with continued professional development. This is for the good of the profession/community

Also consider holding members-only events as well as events open to the broader community. For example, you could run special interest groups that focus on a specific group of members. This creates a ‘VIP’ feel for the event and provides an opportunity for you to develop a better understanding of what’s important to these members.

Events for busy people

There are more options available today around how events are delivered to your members. The traditional face-to-face event in a physical setting still has an important role to play but technology has opened up other possibilities. Go back to your marketing plan and think about how you might be able to better match the type of events with what your members want, i.e. at a time that suits them and where they are located?

There are many options here including webinars, podcasts and mini-seminars. But it’s important not to lose focus of the core purpose of your organisation and your membership profile.
Margot Smith, AIM, explains how AIM use technology to enable their anytime, anywhere content approach:

“Webinars open up more opportunities for members to access content anytime anywhere. In addition to webinars, we also offer a free mentoring program using Skype – it’s about bridging the communication/geographic gap.”

Dominique Lamb, CEO at National Retail Association and who is also speaking at this year’s Association Forum Conferencesays that it’s important for associations to stay relevant in today’s digital age but not lose sight of the people factor:

“Everyone is busy, they don’t want to take time out of their day-to-day commitments to attend events so we’ve changed to having more mini-seminars, podcasts etc. But we need to make sure the event has a point of difference and identifies with values of members. Also with digital there can be a disconnect, it’s not like a one-on-one situation where you can see people –you need to have a balance.”

Planning your next event

If you’ve been running events on auto-pilot and maybe feeling pressured to have a certain number of events per year, take a step back and think from a more strategic point of view.
There are also many ways to take advantage of technology to improve your event delivery and more effectively attract a new generation of members. We have ample experience with assisting member organisations to use make better use of technology to improve member acquisition and retention via their CAMS platform – which is a fully functional cloud based member relationship solution based on Microsoft’s Dynamics 365 platform. According to Paul Queeney, CIO Association of Independent Schools NSW,

“Our association management solution has not only enabled us to engage with our school members proactively, but provide us a platform to retain and grow our member base.”

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