It’s no surprise to discover that most associations are guided by a strategic plan carefully crafted by key leaders and stakeholders. This plan often does not drill down, however, into the specifics of education strategy (and the chances it extends to digital learning are equally shaky). This is despite the prominence of professional development in both the organization’s mission statement and annual budget projections.
On Feb. 28, I had the opportunity to deliver a Wit and Wisdom webinar for my friends at CommPartners. During this session, I shared a more intentional approach to meeting the unique needs of association constituents. We discussed simple, but effective tactics for evaluating and developing relevant content, effectively marketing programs, and leveraging innovative instructional strategies to pique member interest.
At right, you’ll find the results to two different poll questions on the topic of education strategy. The first queried participants about “a separate strategic education plan.” Those answering “yes” have a strategic education blueprint separate from the organization’s comprehensive strategic plan. The second question asked participants about “a separate online education strategy.” Not surprisingly, the breakdown of responses was similar.
Should you be interested, the webinar is available on-demand. Likewise, the worksheets and presentation slides are also available for download. I’ve also curated the stream of participant comments shared in this program’s chat feature. Organized by topic, following are the lightly edited participant insights I think you’ll find invaluable:
Identifying relevant content
- We use an advisory committee of member experts to help identify topics and speakers.
- I do an annual education survey via email. The subject line reads “15 second education survey” and I ask for their top three education topics. Our response rate is overwhelming.
Effectively marketing programs
- I gather emails for all education attendees and do a lot of contact via email.
- We have done a member email swap with other associations for one-time use to advertise. We don’t do it consistently, but strategically.
- We offer team discounts for groups of five or more.
- We ask attendees for referrals (e.g., names, emails and phone numbers) for those in their company or other peers who might be interested in the course they just completed.
- We actively engage our speakers and have them leverage their relationships in trade magazines to announce their presence on a webcast.
- We offer snippet previews of past webinars. We also select older recordings that have broad appeal and offer them as a free benefit to show the target audience what we offer.
- We have the luxury of on-air talent for our radio webcasts, so we aim to get one popular on-air personality per webcast to address the topic in a five minute promotional video.
- Find the stars in your industry and try to feature them in a way that’s easy for them, good content and easily promoted.
- Marketing and education departments should work hand-in-hand because the marketing department is the one responsible for getting the event or education offerings out there. The main goal should be the bottom line.
- Our association has to compete with companies in our industry that offer free CE. This makes it more difficult to offer quality at low rates.
- It’s hard to beat free. Try stressing that the CE you offer is a true *investment*, where free CE might lack quality.
- Try to ensure your program is a lot more robust than what your competitors offer for free.
- We had to stop trying to compete with others and simply offer the best education out there in our industry. People return to our programs because of the background and expertise of the instructors/speakers, as well as the ability to interact with the other attendees. Interaction matters.
- We don’t address the “free” aspect because it puts us on the defensive. Offer a quality product and those that are looking for “real” professional development from quality speakers are your target audience.
- Make your program more interactive, and provide tools and resources your competitors cannot provide with free CE programs.
- A quality product is the key. There are members willing to pay for quality. It’s also important to know who’s doing the speaking or the teaching.
- Both collaboration and communication are necessary to ensure you’re not competing with other departments within your own association in promoting events.
Innovative instructional strategies
- Providing a constant stream of content outside of the webcasts helps.
- We encourage live tweeting during our conferences, and are evaluating the live tweeting during our education courses. However, social learning is difficult to explain up the chain.
- Our association offers live tweeting, but it is still not completely catching on. We are engaging content experts to do the tweeting.
- We’re exploring gamification, such as offering “badges.”
- We do promote live tweeting during our live annual meeting; however, not many members participate yet.
Economies of scale
- One association I’m aware of gets the top people to do live webinars in one room over the course of a day, such as at their annual meetings where the speakers are already onsite. This is a great way to capitalize on having people accessible and to record the webinars for later delivery.
- We actually do webcasts with multiple people live in a studio at once. And taking advantage of travel schedules is paramount to maintaining a shoestring budget.
So, my question to you is this: Does your organization have a separate strategic education plan? What about a separate online education strategy? How have these documents elevated the quality and sophistication of your programs, built the reputation of your meetings department and/or improved your organization’s bottom line? Likewise, how did you convince your organization’s leadership (staff and board) to expend more resources/time on creating these documents?