Association leadership must focus on beneficial sponsorships

It's important for associations to diversify their sources of funding. As is true for nearly any organization, over-reliance on one funding stream can become problematic when that source unexpectedly dries out. The challenge for associations is to broaden their fundraising while still relying on sources that are close to their mandate.

In short, it is up to association leadership to plan ahead. Many are doing just that. According to an article on Associations Now, more associations say they are earning increased revenue from sponsorships.

During the recession and the immediate aftermath, membership dues and meeting revenues fell for most associations. In response, these organizations had to seek out new options, and many ended up developing closer relationships with corporate sponsors who shared their goals. 

The recent economic recovery has set the groundwork for more sponsorships that benefit both parties. According to IEG's recent survey, "The State of Association Sponsorship," 75 percent of associations say they have earned more sponsorship revenue this year. Some are doing this by upselling existing sponsors, while other are seeking out new categories of sponsors altogether.

These packages are good propositions for both sides. Associations earn revenue and a partner in their overarching goal, while sponsors gain a promotional platform of their own. But as sponsorships become an increasingly important source of revenue, associations should expect to develop customized packages to entice new sponsors. By focusing their energies on additional research, organizations can determine which partners will benefit them the most in the long run.

Association executives embrace Instagram as latest social media tool

Member engagement is crucial to helping your association grow and develop, and both social media and mobile technology are increasingly playing a role in this process. Adept use of popular websites like Facebook and Twitter can help spread an association's message rapidly, and as this blog has written previously, mobile apps are an excellent way to make events and conferences more interactive.

Why not combine mobile technology and social media? That's exactly what a number of association executives are doing, according to a recent article on Association Trends.

Instagram can bridge this gap. This popular photo sharing app made a name for itself when it was bought by Facebook in 2012 for $1 billion, and now has a user base of more than 150 million active users. Using Instagram, people can take pictures, edit them, and share them with their friends and followers.

Several major associations are using this app for outreach purposes. For example, the American Public Health Association will post photos from events in its Instagram account, as well as informative health posters. The National Education Association, meanwhile, makes a stronger effort to reach out to those outside of the organization. It posts shareable "memes"—one mentioned by the news source is "Keep calm and thank a teacher"—that elicit a strong response from the community at large. It also posts photos that promote the profession of teaching, in addition to posting pictures of rallies.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and organizations that use Instagram for their outreach efforts are proving it. It's time for more associations to explore the options that social media provides.

How can association leadership attract more Millennials?

If associations hope to grow, they need to attract young people. Is your organization doing what it can to appeal to Generation Y—also known as "millennials"?

It can be difficult, especially for associations that do not have many young members to begin with. Older members may feel that they do not have enough in common with young people, and as a result have a difficult time connecting with them. This is an increasingly pressing problem for many, as the median age of association members is rising.

What should association leadership know? First, that young people lead busy lives. They have jobs—sometimes several—or they are in school, balancing their studies and multiple internships. They stay active in their free time and use social media frequently to network with their friends, family and other peers. As Sara Olbrantz, contributor to the Big Ideas Blog, points out in a recent post, it is not enough for associations to hold annual meetings and hand out printed manuals. Certainly not when they are trying to attract young people.

Instead, Olbrantz suggests that these organizations bring their tactics to the next generation. The key is to go where young people are, and to speak the language that they do.

Social media outreach. Millennials grew up with Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites, and these are the places on the internet where they feel the most comfortable. It is important for associations to make their outreach interesting and authentic so young people will have a reason to follow their activities.

Keep meetings interesting. "If you're still holding your annual meeting in outdated session rooms of older convention halls with the buzzing florescent lights, metal chairs and one-way speaker communication," Olbrantz writes, "you're risking your members being uncomfortable, board and not engaged." Try a more social approach, with themed events and rousing presentations. Even small changes to the format can make an otherwise boring meeting much more engaging.

Be available. Social media networking is a good start, but many associations have to do more to ensure that newcomers are finding the information they need on the internet. Gone are the days when a simple printed flyer would do the job—young people are increasingly reliant on their smartphones, tablet and e-readers. Associations may want to put helpful information on a flash drive and hand those out during the meeting. Better yet, store it on the cloud where potential members can access it at any time.

Young members can bring much to an organization. They have energy, drive and a willingness to learn and build experiences. Don't panic if communicating to them across the generational divide sometimes feels like speaking a different language.

Associations must stay active on social media

To stay viable and plan for the future, an association executive must focus on both membership recruitment and retaining. It is important not only to practice good member management and foster improvement among those who are already part of the organization, but also to ensure that new people are always willing to join.

Associations conduct a wide range of activities that serve to advance their mission while also attracting new members. They host special events, attend major conferences and are highly active on social media. Which of these activities is the most effective? If the retention rate at your association appears to be significantly lower than that of others, it might be time to take a closer look at the ways in which you are reaching out.

Obviously, these days an active social media presence is one of the most important tools an association can utilize. If run properly, these profiles can act as extensions of conferences and other events. For example, this year's digitalNow conference in Nashville, Tennessee is a popular destination for those who are interested in digital innovation, but those who cannot attend have plenty of opportunities to keep up with the events as they unfold via Twitter. With judicious use of the #digitalnow hashtag, associations can play an important role in the conversation surrounding the event and attract significant attention from those who may already be interested in learning more.

Being active on social media does more than provide an association with data that can be used to target new members. It also helps build an organization's reputation among its followers—which is excellent for retention.

Member management starts with information

An association is only as strong as its members. It's a cliché, and with good reason: without the support of a dedicated and engaged member base, all of the careful planning and hard work that goes into running an association is for naught. 

It stands to reason, then, that member management should be a top priority for any association that hopes to flourish. This process is about more than simply knowing names, addresses and whether somebody's given you money in the past twelve months. It takes a thorough understanding of not only what motivated your members to join in the first place, but also what keeps them consistently engaged and dedicated to your shared vision. 

Your capacity for measuring engagement hinges on the data you have access to and your ability to accurately parse and understand it. First, it's important to collect the raw information regarding how members are interacting with each other and your organization. Are they coming to conferences? Posting on message​ boards? Sharing your posts on social media? Each of these actions represents a decision on the part of a member to engage your association further, and to fail to take note of it is to ignore valuable information. 

Next, you have to design a framework for analyzing this data. Not every instance of engagement is equal: after all, a member who attends your conference regularly and continually donates money is engaging in a very different way than one who simply "likes" your posts on Facebook. Devising an accurate system for gauging the different levels of engagement will allow you greater insight into how best to serve and encourage your members. 

Finally, you have to be able to use this information constructively. It does you no good to have an accurate understanding of how your members are engaging with your association if you can't translate that knowledge into actionable takeaways. 

Engaging members requires accurate metrics.

Engaging members requires accurate metrics.

Millennials will soon dominate the workforce

Millennials—those who were born between the late 1980s and early 2000s—are entering the workforce en masse. While they currently occupy 34 percent of the workforce, estimates suggest that in about 10 years they will make up 75 percent of the total.

As this blog has written previously, many graduating millennials will strongly consider working for associations once they receive their diplomas. With this in mind, it is important for these organizations to prepare for the coming trend.

Writing for CIO Magazine, contributor Tom Kaneshige offers a few tips for employers who are unsure how to manage large groups of millennials. Much of this advice seems contrary to what employers were being taught years ago—but that’s why it is so important to learn.

First, Kaneshige writes, it is important to empower the millennials that work for your organization. Though it can be tempting to dismiss young people as lazy and entitled, who lack the skills or work ethic to solve problems and carry out projects, smart leaders understand that these individuals have creative ideas and the energy necessary to put them into practice.

He also suggests transforming the office to fit how they are useful. The days of the cold, static cubicle are over. Today’s youth are used to working in open spaces where they can easily collaborate with each other.

For many associations, the prospect of hiring numerous millennials can be daunting. But it is inevitable in the long run, and with proper association training, organizations can learn how to best utilize the strengths of these new employees.

Millennials—those who were born between the late 1980s and early 2000s—are entering the workforce en masse.

Millennials—those who were born between the late 1980s and early 2000s—are entering the workforce en masse.

Event apps can make conferences a success

We've talked in the past about ways in which your association can ensure that your events are a success. It's important to choose a good conference destination, as well as think of innovative ways to utilize technology to reach your organization's goals.

In today's mobile driven world, what better way is there to think outside the box than to create an event app?

For those who are not familiar with the concept, an event app is a smartphone or tablet app that is specifically tailored toward a particular conference or gathering. These apps can serve a variety of purposes. They can convey information to users about what the conference has to offer. They can serve as notetaking repositories for conference information. Most importantly, they can allow users to store contact information and further their networking opportunities.

It's not just about keeping users engaged before and during the conference. Event apps are a great way to keep people interested in what a conference has to offer long after the fact. Once downloaded, users tend to keep thee apps on their phone, where they can continue to provide useful news and updates.

"If you care about long-term engagement, are people still using it a week after the event is over?" Pathable CEO Jordan Schwartz told Associations Now. "A month? A year? Or did the engagement just end when the event ended?"

App design and development can be a challenge to those who are new to the field, but it is a surmountable one with the help of association training programs.

In today's mobile driven world, what better way is there to thin outside the box than to create an event app?

In today’s mobile driven world, what better way is there to thin outside the box than to create an event app?

How should your association handle interns?

As this blog has written in the past, associations are a great place for recent college graduates to find initial employment. They can utilize their prodigious energy, critical thinking and communication skills in a field where they will learn many important lessons going forward.

The same can be said for internships with associations. Given that many of these organizations rely so much on volunteer work anyway, offering an internship is a perfect opportunity to bring college students on board before they graduate and give them a taste of what they might experience once they earn their diplomas.

However, while such an arrangement might benefit both the student and the association, there is still reason for organizations to be cautious. Internships—particularly those that are unpaid—have come under fire recently for demanding too much from participants while offering too little in return.

According to a recent article on Business Management Daily, the primary purpose of an unpaid internship is to be educational. However, lawsuits have arisen with interns claiming that they were expected to work schedules that were as long or even longer than those who were paid wages. For example, in the case Wang v. The Hearst Corporation, a group of interns accused the magazine publisher of forcing them to work five days a week while school was in session, for as long as 11 hours per day, without pay. The case is heading to trial.

Associations need to make sure that they are setting up beneficial arrangements with their interns. For those that have never run such a program before, it may help to seek out association management training programs.

Given that many associations rely so much on volunteer work anyway, offering an internship is a perfect opportunity to bring college students on board before they graduate and give them a taste of what they might experience once they earn their diplomas.

Given that many associations rely so much on volunteer work anyway, offering an internship is a perfect opportunity to bring college students on board before they graduate and give them a taste of what they might experience once they earn their diplomas.

Advertising plays a big role in association fundraising

On this blog, we've talked about the many ways that associations can pursue fundraising opportunities. As we noted previously, it is important for strong teams to take charge of this effort and seek out potential donors. 

But while a personal touch is often useful for convincing people to donate and take part in the activities of an association, it is far from the only way to raise funds. In fact, it may not even be the most popular way. As a recent survey has demonstrated, more than three-quarters of association executives say that simple advertising plays an important role in their overall revenue gathering activities.

Of course, this does not refer to the association taking out advertisements. Instead, groups have been able to take advantage of the fact that they are excellent advertising opportunities for others.

The annual TRENDS Financial and Operational Excellence Survey found that ad revenue is almost as popular as annual meeting registrations as a source of income that is not related to dues. Print ads, for example, contributed about 73 percent of an association's non-dues revenue.

It makes sense that this has become such a popular solution. Associations regularly host conferences and webinars. They publish newsletters and build websites, and even sell merchandise such as coffee mugs and tote bags. All of these spaces—both physical and digital—offer other entities sponsorship opportunities.

Still, creating an effective campaign to solicit sponsors takes time and effort, and it helps to have experience in these matters. That's why there are a number of training programs available to association and nonprofits members who seek them.

A recent survey has demonstrated that more than three-quarters of association executives say that simple advertising plays an important role in their overall revenue gathering activities.

A recent survey has demonstrated that more than three-quarters of association executives say that simple advertising plays an important role in their overall revenue gathering activities.

Is your association growing fast enough?

Statistics show that most associations are growing, albeit slowly. In the 2014 Financial and Operational Excellence Survey, more than half of the associations polled expect to give their staff members raises in the coming year. According to a chart featured by Association Trends, this was particularly true for professional and trade organizations, though many smaller associations with budgets less than $1 million also agreed.

Is your association growing? If not, it may be time to take a closer look into what might be causing the problem. 

Say, for example, that renewal rates are falling. As pointed out by another article on Association Trends, renewal rates are often used as a metric to determine the strength of an organization's relationship with its members. If fewer are renewing, then the association is not doing everything it can to keep members interested and engaged.

A recent survey of association members found that a significant number did not renew their membership because they found it difficult to justify the expense and did not feel engaged with the organization. 

This is a far cry from what is experienced at associations that are growing. Organizations that have reported successful years are seeing higher attendance numbers at trade shows and webinars, as well as more members who show an interest in volunteering.

If your association is not growing, you may need to make a special effort to reach out to existing members and give them a reason to stay. There are a wide variety of association management resources, such as training programs, that can help you achieve this goal.

Statistics show that most associations are growing, albeit slowly. Is yours?

Statistics show that most associations are growing, albeit slowly. Is yours?