Archive for the 'Associations' Category

15
Apr
14

Nonprofits struggling to meet demand

brokenpiggybankLast week’s post focused on the economy, and here I am writing again about it.

But I want to foster discussion on Nonprofit Finance Fund’s 2014 State of the Nonprofit Sector Survey, the results of which it released on April 7. NFF is a community development financial institution.

Leaders from more than 5,000 organizations participated in the sixth annual survey. The big takeaway: Nonprofits were hit especially hard when the economy crashed, and recovery hasn’t been easy. In fact, many nonprofits are seeking new funding sources.

Perhaps even more startling is that while 80 percent of nonprofits reported an increase in demand for their services, only 56 percent could meet those needs in 2013. And only 11 percent of respondents thought 2014 would be easier.

“Americans rely on nonprofits for food shelter, education, health care and other necessities, and everyone has a stake in strengthening this social infrastructure,” said Antony Bugg-Levine, CEO of Nonprofit Finance Fund. “The struggles nonprofits face are not the short-term result of an economic cycle; they are the results of fundamental flaws in the way we finance social good.”

Antony Bugg-Levine

Antony Bugg-Levine, CEO, Nonprofit Finance Fund

Much of that “social good” is financed by government grants. But nonprofits that receive such funding have experienced a sharp decline in financial support, which means they’re exploring other avenues for financial stability.

According to the survey, 31 percent of nonprofits will change the ways in which they raise and spend money this year. In addition, 26 percent will pursue an earned income venture while 20 percent will seek funding other than contracts and grants, such as loans or investments.

In the survey, 41 percent of nonprofits reported long-term financial stability as goal. But 55 percent of organizations have three months or less cash-on-hand and 28 percent ended their fiscal year with a deficit.

As a result, nearly half of the nonprofits reported collaborating with others to cut administrative costs. Other strategies: cutting funds and changing the business model. As another cost saving tool, organizations are relying more on volunteers.

The good news, though, is that 37 percent of organizations plan to hire additional staff and 51 percent plan to invest in professional development in 2014.

As you well know, nonprofits are crucial to communities, especially those that serve low-income communities. Take Meals on Wheels, for example. In June, Associations Now reported that 70 percent of senior nutrition programs, such as Meals on Wheels, have reduced the number of meals they deliver while 40 percent of the programs have scaled back delivery days. According to the Meals on Wheels Association of America, many senior nutrition programs receive federal funding through the Older Americans Act, which took a huge financial hit as a result of the sequestration.

In short: It seems 2014 will continue to be tough for nonprofits, but they’re coping as best they can.

I’d like to write more about this topic as 2014 unfolds. So tell me: Has your nonprofit been affected by the economy? What do you think of the survey findings?

08
Apr
14

Economically engaging

economic downturnThings were humming along pretty well a few years ago. Gas was, well, relatively affordable, grocery bills were somewhat manageable and people were working.

And then 2007 hit. As the economy came crashing down, many of us lost jobs, houses and much more. Stocks and investments plummeted. Luxuries fell by the wayside.

Fast forward seven years, and the U.S. is slowly coming back, experts say. But consumers are cautiously optimistic and their spending reflects hesitation.

And that’s affecting nearly all industries and associations, according to a new Association Laboratory whitepaper released last month, which discusses the future of association engagement.

Simply defined, engagement is the relationship between a person or a business and an association. It considers touch points, interaction and influence. Measuring it is important for success, but doing so has become much more complicated since 2007.

“The recent economic downturn provided evidence that as the economic situation deteriorated, membership engagement, as measured by anticipated membership revenue, decreased,” according to the whitepaper.

For the purposes of the whitepaper, economy was divided into public and private sectors. In a recent study conducted by Association Laboratory, association executives revealed only minimal hopes for more engagement, mainly because of budget constraints of state and federal governments. The public sector has been hit especially hard by the recession, and professional development – which often includes association memberships – has fallen victim to budget cuts.

The three biggest factors affecting engagement, as reported by association leaders: reduced investment by federal and state governments; business mergers/consolidation; and nontraditional competitors entering the market.

In addition, as companies operate with leaner staffs, people have less time to commit to professional development. Return on investment has become increasingly important as some companies justify their existence in an uncertain economic climate. Also as a result of restructuring, decision-making is becoming more team-focused, and, quite frankly, things like association memberships and dues don’t take precedence.

As a result of tough economic times, government agencies – and the public sector in general – are facing more scrutiny.

So what does all this mean for associations?

engaging customers“To improve engagement, the association needs to identify and develop a deep understanding of the primary audiences, stakeholders or markets it serves,” Association Laboratory said.

Associations should understand the needs and expectations of their industries, especially as some companies contend with new market strategies and trends. They need to concentrate only on essential services and needs, which means legacy programs may have to be cut.

In addition, fostering professional networks will be key to improving association engagement. And relationships will need to become more intimate, which includes developing brand ambassadors.

“The decision-making environment facing associations will be complex and dynamic,” according to the whitepaper. “It will challenge many of the assumptions associations have used to guide membership and engagement strategy. Associations that invest in understanding their market more fully and aligning their strategic initiatives and organizational structure more closely with market needs will have a much higher likelihood of developing and sustaining membership engagement.”

Association Laboratory provides suggestions on how to use the data and recommendations.

Key questions for discussion:

  1. Who are the primary, secondary and tertiary audiences essential to the mission and market success of the association?
  2. What are the leading economic and business or professional influences facing the association’s members and what are the implications of these forces on their attitudes and behaviors relative to engagement?
  3. What is the historical culture of engagement within the industry and profession and what are the implications?
  4. What benefits and goals of engagement do key audiences seek and how are those benefits reflected in choices relative to the association?
  5. How should we define and measure engagement and modify our strategies based on performance?

How would you answer these questions? Has your association been affected by the sluggish economy?

25
Mar
14

Association e-learning: what you need to know

Sarah Lugo

Sarah Lugo, digital marketing coordinator for Digitec Interactive

This month’s guest blog post is by Sarah Lugo, digital marketing coordinator for Digitec Interactive. Follow her on Twitter.

 

Associations are beginning to grow their education departments by bringing member education online. Why? Selling courses and certifications online provides a new revenue source for the association while adding more value for members. At the same time, members who can’t attend a conference or workshop benefit from the convenience of on-demand content. But it’s difficult for many associations to determine the types of offerings they should provide online.

Want to get off to a good start with your association’s online education products? Here are my suggestions for best-in-class member education:

Give members what they need and want
. Will an eight-hour course be something members will utilize or do they prefer shorter “mini modules?” The education members want online will likely differ from what they want at a conference. Analyzing the online education products your competitors provide can also help you determine what already exists and what your audience wants. The best way to determine what your members need and want is to ask. Survey your members and gauge their interest in potential topics and formats. While you’re at it, ask members what they’d be willing to pay for these offerings. For tips on surveying members and valuing your education products, check out Digitec Interactive and Tagoras’ recent webinar.

Keep it fresh. The shelf life of an online course is not indefinite. Keep your content fresh by re-purposing and updating content routinely to ensure it’s both relevant and timely. Pre-plan your content’s maintenance schedule and decide how you’ll determine when the content has “expired.” One suggestion is to look at the data from your Google Analytics account and the association’s learning management system (LMS) to determine which courses are least popular among members. The trick is to refresh the course or webinar before traffic has died down completely. If the content has become so outdated that members have quit purchasing it entirely, consider whether the topic is still relevant to your members.

Invest in marketing. Most associations do an excellent job of marketing their annual meeting, but few know how, or even attempt, to effectively market their online offerings. Developing and delivering education is an investment like any other initiative. Don’t sell yourself short by assuming, “If we build it they will come.” Getting members involved early on (i.e. surveying) is also helpful in obtaining buy in. Keep members abreast of your plans to offer online education and begin marketing your offerings well before they launch. Once you’ve launched your first course, continue to roll out additional offerings and utilize features within your LMS to “up sell” members on related courses. You can read more about marketing your education products on the Association eLearning Blog.

e-Learning Concept. Computer KeyboardEducation is at the core of professional and trade associations, and technology-enabled learning is quickly gaining popularity with membership organizations. Associations are uniquely suited to provide members with specialized professional development and continuing education, so if you haven’t already, it’s time to get started with association e-learning and begin bridging the skills gap for your members. There is value in offering online education, and with these tips you’re sure to get off to the right start at your associations.

18
Mar
14

Numbers and trends and data…oh my

canstockphoto7351376-landingpageIn this day and age, we’re inundated with data. And some of us thrive on it. Especially event planners.

Data are key to improving your events, to giving your customers and potential clients what they crave. But how do you know which data are important?

It’s something called event intelligence, the subject of a new(ish) Professional Convention Management Association whitepaper by Eric Olson, CEO and president of Zerista, and Staci Clark, global marketing strategy manager for Cisco Systems.

Simply put: It’s about more than numbers on a page or stats.

Eric Olson, president and CEO, Zerista

Eric Olson, president and CEO, Zerista

“The data available to us today goes well beyond simple reports, like how many people showed up to an event,” Olson and Clark said. “New technologies and reporting tools are moving event data usage from a traditional focus on topline metrics, which provide a quick readout of your event, to a deeper dive into analytics that provides valuable context.”

The best way to tackle this? Combining quantitative (hard) and qualitative (soft) data. A good example: Measure how much your event gives back to the organization. For an exhibitor-focused event, after you’ve asked the questions about budget and purchase intent, evaluate whether exhibitors attended sessions or product demonstrations for new solutions or products. If so, chances are, you met their customized needs.

At the same time, be wary of big, flashy numbers, Olson and Clark warn. While it’s tempting to focus on record attendance, if your event isn’t drawing the right crowd for, say, your exhibitors, it doesn’t matter how many attendees you have. In other words, it’s the right mix of quality and quantity.

According to the whitepaper, there are three building blocks for event intelligence: attendee intelligence, operational efficiency and performance and business value measurements.

Staci Clark

Staci Clark, global marketing strategy manager, Cisco Systems

Attendee intelligence focuses on demographic and behavioral information. What are your attendees’ buying patterns? What are their interests? Data are gathered through survey and registration systems and once gathered, your organization can analyze data for patterns (i.e. technology interest).

Operational efficiency is less exciting, but equally important. Areas of focus include spend data, food and beverage stats and registration and housing trends. Such information will allow your organization to spend less to do more. Not to mention, you can ensure your attendees are well feed and that they’re comfortable in the space you’ve allotted.

Finally, business value: Don’t stray from your business goals. Identify and write down your organization’s ultimate goal. Do you want to increase your participation by 100 participants? Do you want 150 more vendors? Do you want to net $10,000 more in revenue? Make sure everything you do is aligned with your goals.

“Events have changed. Every stakeholder expects more,” Olson and Clark said. “And the key to serving them better is locked in the data that surrounds every experience. Every event organizer should be focused on data. Yet, with deadlines to hit and events to produce, can event organizers be expected to do it all?”

Yes, but keep it simple:

  • Collect as much data as you can, even if you don’t use it.
  • Set measurable business goals before you start analyzing data.
  • Focus on what’s important. If you can’t change something with a set of data, ignore it.
  • Bring in the experts. Don’t be afraid to ask for help analyzing your data.

Tell us: How do you gather and use data for your events?

11
Mar
14

New data: Volunteerism at an all-time low

volunteer-11As parents, I think most of us want to instill in our children the importance of giving back. Thus the reason I’m PTA president, I teach Sunday School and chaperone field trips.

As a working mom, it’s sometimes hard to manage professional and personal commitments, but new federal government data suggest that we working moms volunteer the most.

That said, volunteerism is on the decline, according to a new report released Feb. 25 by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The report found that volunteerism fell 1.1 percent in 2013, with a total of 25.4 percent of people reporting some form of volunteerism. This figure is the lowest since the bureau started the survey in 2002.

Data were collected through a supplement to the September 2013 Current Population Survey, sponsored by the Corporation for National and Community Service. The CPS is a monthly survey of about 60,000 households that obtains information on employment and unemployment for the nation’s civilian non-institutional population age 16 and older.

According to the report, about 62.5 million people volunteered at least once from September 2012 to September 2013, averaging 50 hours. And, as mentioned above, women volunteered more than men.

Surprisingly, while we’ve heard that Millennials and younger generations find volunteering important, 35 to 44 year olds volunteered the most, while 20 to 24 year olds volunteered the least.

Why? Because many of us in our mid-30s and mid-40s are parents. Specifically, the report found 44.5 percent of moms vs. 38 percent of dads volunteered. Religious organizations took the top spot for volunteering, followed by schools, sports groups or other youth extracurricular groups.

Other key findings of the BLS survey:

  • Married people volunteered at a higher rate
  • Those who achieved a higher level of education volunteered more often and were more likely to volunteer with multiple organizations
  • Part-time employees volunteered more than full-time employees
Peggy Hoffman

Peggy Hoffman, president of Mariner Management and Marketing, LLC

The data may be surprising, but it’s important for associations to keep them in perspective, said Peggy Hoffman, president of Mariner Management and Marketing, LLC.

“There isn’t clear indication of why [volunteer hours are down], but remember that this study looks at community volunteering, which is different from association volunteering,” she said.  “We do know that people have less time and more work responsibilities, so it makes sense that volunteering is down and will continue to be until we create accessible volunteering.”

So what’s the key, especially to attracting young, energetic volunteers?

Gen Xers are inspired by entrepreneurial approaches and celebrate individual effort and risk-taking, Hoffman said.

In addition, Millennials thrive on cross-mentoring with older volunteers, especially when it comes to technology, said Elizabeth Engel, CEO and chief strategist for Spark Consulting, LLC.

“This presents a terrific way to build relationships between the generations, to create micro-volunteering opportunities for your younger volunteers, to allow them to develop the professional skills they seek through volunteerism and for your Boomer volunteers to learn new skills as well,” she said.

But first you have to ask, Engel added. In fact, according to the BLS study, 40.5 percent of people volunteered because they were asked.

And feedback is just as important. Engel and Hoffman suggest asking what interests volunteers, and it can be done casually during drinks, a quick poll or during a conference call.

Elizabeth Engel, CEO and chief strategist for Spark Consulting, LLC

Elizabeth Engel, CEO and chief strategist for Spark Consulting, LLC

“You can ask people to suggest topics for your newsletter, magazine, blog, webinars or conference, or vote on topics others have suggested. You can ask people to rate an article or comment on a blog post. You can ask people to post a question or an answer to your LinkedIn group, private community or list serv.

“You can ask people to make a personal call to a new member, welcoming her to your association. You can ask people to serve as welcome ambassadors at your chapter events or as meeting buddies for first-timers at your annual conference. You can ask attendees to share their thoughts at a town hall meeting at your next event. You can ask people to take a poll or short survey. You can ask people to share your content through Facebook or Twitter. You can ask them how they’d like to contribute to your association. Truly, you’re only limited by your imagination,” Engel said.

For more ideas on attracting volunteers, check out this previous blog post about mission-driven volunteering.

What trends are you seeing in your volunteers? Are you surprised by the findings of the BLS report?

25
Feb
14

That’s so…2013

Each month, we’re asking editors and content producers to share with us what they’re writing about, upcoming trends and other behind-the-scenes must-haves for the association industry.

Julie Shoop

Julie Shoop, editor of Associations Now.

If you’d like to contribute, please contact Kristen Parker, digital content manager for Event Garde LLC, at Kristen@eventgarde.com.

This week’s guest blog post includes excerpts from “What’s Out, What’s In: Association Edition,” by Julie Shoop, editor of Associations Now.

Rebranding

Out: Aging brands
In: New names, fresh logos

Globalization, digital technology, shifting markets, regulatory change—with so many disruptions in the business environment, it’s no wonder that a slew of associations remade their brands and aimed to broaden their reach in 2013. Cases in point: Lobbyists became government relations professionals; recording merchandisers became Music Biz. Associations in the fashion, mobile, supply chain, marketing and recycling industries hopped on the rebranding bandwagon as well. We’ll be watching for who’s up next in 2014.

Conferences

Out: Lavish meetings and events
In: Slim federal conference and travel budgets

There’s a new reality for associations serving industries that interact heavily with the federal workforce: Government meeting attendance isn’t what it used to be. The wave of scrutiny that started in 2012 with revelations about a lavish General Services Administration conference in Las Vegas grew higher this year as reports of excessive spending on meetings by the IRS and Department of Veterans Affairs came to light. With slimmer conference and travel budgets now written into law, association events will continue to take a hit. Associations will need to drive home the value of face-to-face meetings to government agencies that will be footing the bill with fewer dollars and congressional watchdogs looking over their shoulders.

Workplace Culture

Out: Constant collaboration
In: Time and space for solitude

This was the year when a “whole world of secret introverts” was exposed, and being quiet was suddenly cool. Thanks largely to Susan Cain, author of the bestselling “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking,” momentum is building for greater understanding of different personalities and work styles to leverage every staffer’s strengths in pursuit of business goals. It was an eye-opening message for associations, where collaboration is king. Remember the buzz around open workspaces to promote teamwork? Now, not so much.

Volunteers

Out: Long-term commitments
In: Micro-volunteering

Plenty of dedicated association volunteers share their time and talents in abundance year in and year out—but that’s probably a small group of your hard-core enthusiasts. Micro-volunteering is emerging as a smart way to expand your volunteer pool and build engagement among your less connected members. Got people who can’t commit to helping plan your annual meeting, but can spend a few hours being a conference greeter? This is for them.
Editor’s note: See a related blog post for more on this.

Advocacy

Out: Bemoaning congressional gridlock (was this ever in?)
In: Putting pressure on Washington

The government shutdown in October highlighted the power of associations to show policymakers the consequences of their actions—or inaction. From air traffic controllers to businesses to Head Start and Meals on Wheels, nonprofits sent volunteers, activists and cold, hard data to D.C. about the effects of the shutdown. Their collective message: This hurts everyone. Fix it.

Learning

Out: Expert-driven education
In: Peer-to-peer learning

With competition heating up from for-profit providers offering free or low-cost alternatives to association education programs, pressure to innovate in association learning mounted in 2013. While we don’t expect to see the traditional keynote address fall by the wayside anytime soon, associations are experimenting with decentralized learning formats where peers interact in smaller groups and more casual settings. Is a “learning village” right for you? Or if you need to beef up your online offerings, digital credentialing may be the ticket. You might be surprised at how motivating a digital badge can be.

18
Feb
14

The certification conundrum

Book questionTo certify or not to certify. That seems to be the debate among association professionals.

CAE. APR. They’re just letters, right? Sort of.

When listed after someone’s name, they add credibility. And on a resume, those letter combinations pique employers’ interests since it means candidates strive for professional development. Whether it’s for prestige, a salary bump or a resume builder, people from all industries seek out certification programs.

So it’s a safe bet that just about every industry has them. But the question is, should your association offer certification programs?

Such programs can be costly and sometimes there are legal loopholes, said Mickie Rops, principal consultant for Mickie Rops Consulting, LLC. It’s tempting to jump on the certification bandwagon but first, it’s important to conduct research. And lots of it.

The three reasons most associations cite for starting certification programs are to generate revenue, to increase attendance at events and to one-up (or at least match) their competitors, Rops said.

Increasing revenue is a good goal to have, but it takes time. And too often, associations measure success with dollars. But money should never be the motivating factor.

In addition, while boosting attendance may seem tempting, the best way to increase interest is to improve curriculum. If your association needs a certification program to draw attendees, chances are, better content would do the trick.

Finally, while it’s human nature to compare, associations often wear blinders when doing it. For example, your association may think its program is better – and it might be. But the key is to determine the market demand.

How? Research: What’s already out there? How can your certification program complement – not compete with – existing programs? Remember, Rops said, just because your competitor does it, doesn’t mean you should.

Ask your members what they want. But rather than simply asking if they would be interested in a certification program, explain to them the specifics of the program – goals, eligibility criteria, testing requirements, etc. – and provide a timeline. This will help to avoid the inflated “yes” answer.

Mickie Rops

Mickie Rops, principal consultant for Mickie Rops Consulting LLC

“The key is to agree to step back and strategically consider what you are trying to accomplish and determine if certification is the most effective strategy for accomplishing it,” Rops said. “Yes, this may delay progress for a month or two, but it may very well save your association a costly mistake or help develop a certification program that’s much stronger for it.”

But where does an association start? The first step is to determine goals, and this might be a good project for a board of directors. Possible goals could include protecting health and safety, enhancing career mobility and opportunities for individuals or providing performance standards. Once you determine goals, make sure they align with your association’s mission.

Next, an association should weigh opportunities vs. obstacles, Rops said. Certification programs can provide improved visibility for the field/industry, but they can also create a rift between certified and non-certified members, and with partnering organizations. Your organization needs to decide if that’s a risk it’s willing to take.

And finally, associations should examine whether offering certification programs is truly feasible. Things to consider: Do you have enough staff to support such a program? Do you have enough funds? (Research alone usually costs $100,000 plus, Rops said.)

I’d like to open this up for further conversation. If your organization offers certification programs, what was the impetus for starting them? How do you measure the success of such programs?

21
Jan
14

What’s in store for 2014?

This week’s guest blog post is by Alexa Stanard, editor of Michigan Meetings + Events magazine. I asked her to speculate on what 2014 might bring for the meetings and events industry. Here’s what she had to say.

Alexa Stanard

Alexa Stanard, editor of Michigan Meetings + Events magazine.

In the magazine business, we generally have to think many months ahead. This is tricky; it’s a psychological leap to imagine a June wedding or a fall association meeting when it’s 14 degrees outside. It also means trying to gauge what’s going to be on everyone’s mind well before it actually is.

The meeting and event industry is much the same way. Savvy planners must be thoughtful and attuned to their environments and clients. They have to read the tea leaves, but they also have to know if their clients are black tea drinkers or prefer chamomile. In other words, just because a color is hot on the Paris runway doesn’t mean someone in Milan, Mich., is going to like it. It’s our job to predict patterns and to steer clients to those we think are the most relevant and noteworthy.

Michigan hasn’t been a trendsetting state since the heyday of the American-made automobile. Suddenly, though, that seems to be changing. Everyone’s hot to visit Detroit; Grand Rapids is topping national lists of places to live; and Traverse City keeps crushing it as a vacation destination, somehow figuring out how to lead about every trend – from craft brew making to farm-to-table cuisine – that comes down the pike.

At Michigan Meetings and Events, we’ve taken a few educated guesses at what will matter in our industry this year:

  • A little dirt is a good thing. Farm venues are hot, and Michigan has some great ones.
  • Traditional venues need to figure out how to up their game. Too many people are heading off the beaten path for the ballroom-based spaces to phone it in. Venues need to let planners get creative and should invest in photography of their spaces being used for imaginative events.
  • Self-sufficiency is in, on just about every front. We’re giving up on corporate jobs to start our own one-person businesses; we’re growing our own food and making our own booze; we’re finding ways to save money and be responsible by operating as green and lean as we can.
  • Values matter. People care about where their food comes from, how workers are treated and whether their meeting or event is leaving a giant, carbon-emanating footprint. Few clients will expect perfection on all fronts (even fewer will want to pay for it), but finding ways to integrate a greener, more-humane approach into one’s offerings and operations will pay off.
  • No one wants his or her time wasted, but people still yearn for connection. In other words, use technology thoughtfully. It aids efficiency and the dissemination of information. But effective meetings must also approach people as people. Learning occurs primarily though interaction and connection. Technology is a supplementary tool.
  • Finally, cost isn’t everything. This one is nearly always true, but especially so as Michigan rebounds and as values increasingly take center stage. Compete on cost where you can, but people will pay for value and for values.

If you think I’m missing some key items, tell me! I hope you’ve had the chance to read our Winter 2014 issue, and I hope you’ll send me your feedback on what you read (or didn’t see and would like to.)

Happy 2014!

31
Dec
13

New Year’s resolutions: Time for your association to drop some pounds?

2014For most of us Michiganders, this year’s Christmas celebrations were put on hold – or completely rearranged – thanks to Mother Nature’s icy fury.

The hum of generators replaced the sounds of Christmas morning giggles in many homes. Christmas lights didn’t shine and instead of prime rib or turkey dinners, families ate at McDonalds or rescheduled for brighter (literally) days ahead.

In fact, as I write this a week later, some of my friends are still powerless.

“Things don’t always turn out the way we want or expect.” “Change isn’t always bad.” “Make the best of it.” “Some things are out of our control.”

I’ve uttered these phrases at least a dozen times to my kids throughout the past week, perhaps mostly to calm my fraying nerves. But as I thought about what to write for this blog post, I realized that as 2014 approaches, I need to believe these words, instead of just saying them.

And there’s No. 1 on my list of New Year’s resolutions.

I said I wasn’t going to make any resolutions because I rarely keep them. And I expect most of you say the same thing.

But a new year seems like the perfect time to lose weight, reduce debt, get more exercise, simplify our lives, watch less TV, spend more time with family…and the list goes on and on, not just personally but professionally.

weight-lossThink about it. What would happen if you made the same list for your job? Your company? Your association?

Let’s take the No. 1 resolution: lose weight and get healthy. Personally, we may want to lose 10 pounds, but what about the extra fat around your association’s waistline? What’s bogging down your daily operations or bottom line? Take a look at your miscellaneous budget line to see which extras can be trimmed. Then, consider what “getting healthy” means for your association. Wellness is important, and it could mean a happy board of directors or staff and volunteers who feel more fulfilled. What can you do to achieve wellness?

Next, “spend more time with family.” We all say it, but what does it mean professionally? Ask your staff members how many of them feel they have a good work/life balance. If you’re a CEO or director, ask yourself the same question. Juggling work, raising a family and other obligations stress us out. So for starters, make sure your association’s members don’t feel they have to choose. At your next event, plan family-friendly events at family-friendly places. And consider offering some personal development and wellness opportunities for your staff members. Encourage them to bring their families along while attending conferences.

“Change bad habits.” Most of the time, that refers to smoking and drinking, but bad habits exist in the workplace, too. Whether it’s communications, management or finances, review your practices. What can you do better? Have you received complaints from your members about any of these things? If so, now is the time to address them.

These are perhaps the three most popular New Year’s resolutions, but whatever resolutions you make personally can be applied professionally.

So now that you’ve made them, how do you keep them?

“Setting small, attainable goals throughout the year, instead of a singular, overwhelming goal on Jan. 1 can help you reach whatever it is you strive for,” said psychologist Lynn Bufka in an American Psychological Association blog. “Remember, it is not the extent of the change that matters, but rather the act of recognizing that lifestyle change is important and working toward it, one step at a time.”

First and foremost: Be realistic. Don’t expect to meet all your goals within three months.

APA offers these tips for keeping New Year’s resolutions:

• Start small
• Change one behavior at a time
• Talk about it
• Don’t beat yourself up if you have a misstep
• Ask for support

So, tell us, how will you keep your resolutions? What are they? Please email Kristen Parker at Kristen@eventgarde.com.

As we close 2013, Happy New Year from Event Garde to you! May you all enjoy a prosperous and memorable 2014.

18
Dec
13

Strategic meeting audits: Leveraging data to improve ROI

Are you under the impression that all associations are experiencing diminished attendance at their in-person events? Has your organization’s meetings function experienced a year-over-year revenue decline – however slight – since the 2007 recession?

If you’ve answered yes to one or both of these questions, 2014 may be a great opportunity for your organization to conduct a strategic meeting audit. We need only look to ASAE to learn that at least two signature in-person events were stronger than ever this year:

So I’m sure you have some questions. For example:

  1. What does a strategic meeting audit look like?
  2. What is the first step in initiating this type of audit?
  3. Who should be involved in the process?

Let’s start by identifying the key players. In my opinion, this isn’t a job only for the senior management team. Nor should the meeting professional conduct an audit in isolation. Rather, the association CEO/executive director, senior executives, meeting professional and anyone else responsible for the successful implementation of programs or events should be invited to the table.

Additionally, I’ll advocate here for supplier participation. Although this individual – or team of individuals – may not be involved during the preliminary discussions, I believe it’s important to include industry partners early on both to encourage diversity of thought and to promote better collaboration and decision-making during the planning and implementation of programs.

Next, let’s identify step one. After all, getting started is generally the greatest barrier to the implementation of most projects. As a CMP (certified meeting professional) preparation course facilitator, I’ll borrow a page from our participant reading materials: Identify event goals and objectives. For those who know me, this has sort of become my mantra.

It seems simple and obvious, but this very important first step is often overlooked. Many meeting professionals simply do not take the time to set goals and objectives for events they inherit (they tend to focus more on program maintenance), nor do they comprehensively evaluate these events using a variety of financial and non-financial indicators.

It’s not that they don’t want to; they either don’t know how, don’t feel empowered or have limited resources. And while a handful of industry tools already exist to support these planning and evaluation efforts, they are tedious. And let’s be honest – this often prevents adoption. Unfortunately, failing to set goals and/or evaluate success perpetuates the status quo and inhibits organization growth and member ROI.

If only we could leverage the right data to elevate the quality and sophistication of our programs, build the reputation of our signature events, improve our bottom lines and enhance member outcomes. Believe it or not, there’s a way. When establishing goals and objectives, there are at least four key indicators that should comprise the strategic meeting audit:

  • Onsite experience – What experience do you hope to deliver to attendees, exhibitors, sponsors and speakers onsite? What must you implement to make this happen?
  • Financial performance – What are your revenue and expense targets? Does event pricing reflect the projected profit margin?
  • Relationships/engagement – How will you create opportunities before, during and after the event to create meaningful relationships among participants?
  • Transference – How will you help ensure information and knowledge presented onsite is retained by attendees and applied to their workplaces?

Following each event, meeting professionals should evaluate actual performance and identify areas of opportunity for the future. Quarterly, meeting professionals should then use the aggregate results to drive continuous quality improvement efforts and annually this data should be used to help draft the organization’s meetings budget.

Ultimately, it’s about improving ROI both for your organization (i.e., financial performance, member engagement and alignment with the organization’s mission and strategic plan) and for your members (i.e., learning, networking and value).

Tell us in the comments about your experience conducting a strategic meeting audit. What key indicators did your organization emphasize?




meet aaron

Association learning strategist & meetings coach. Founder & president of Event Garde. Passionate about cooking, hot yoga, blogging, old homes, unclehood & pet parenting (thanks to Lillie the pup).

meet kristen

Writer, editor, public relations professional. Proud mom of three. Total word geek. Spartan for life.

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