Associations Matter - Annual Conference & Event Trends

08 May 2024 1:51 PM | Sarah Gamble (Administrator)

In a sign associations are adjusting to the new normal post-pandemic, a majority indicate their next annual event will be in-person only, and most are seeing greater attendance at in-person conferences and online webinars than pre-covid. This attendance will need to be sustained, as many associations report that contribution to financial performance from conferences and events will be important to their financial health over the next five years.

The April Associations Matter Poll looked at associations’ experiences of conferences and events in a post-covid environment, the formats that are being used, whether attendance is higher or lower than pre-covid, and the financial contribution from conferences and events to associations’ overall financial performance.

Overwhelmingly, associations plan to host their next annual event in-person only. Almost three in five (59%) of respondents indicate their next annual event will be in-person only, with comments that “we are returning to more and more in-person events this year”. A much smaller proportion of associations are planning either a combination of in-person and virtual (19%) or mostly in-person with some virtual sessions or elements (11%) for their event. Those planning some virtual sessions, or a hybrid commented that “events need to reach all members … that means a mix of online and in person”. Only 2% will hold their event in a virtual-only format.

When asked how in-person and virtual event attendance has changed compared to pre-pandemic activity, responses are mixed, although a majority indicate there is increased attendance over the last year. Online webinars (48%) and in-person conferences has increased by 48% and 42% respectively since the pandemic. Fewer respondents have experienced an increase in face-to-face networking events however, with only three in ten seeing an increase while 34% have seen a decrease in attendance at a networking event. Conversely, 31% of associations report decreased attendance at their in-person conference, and 19% experiencing lower attendance for online webinars. Around one in five associations report there has been no change in attendance at their events, either in-person or online.

When it comes to contribution from events to association financial performance, it appears that many associations will rely on attendance and revenues from their conferences and events for at least the next five years. A large majority (73%) indicate revenue from events is either important or extremely important to them. Perhaps concerningly, just 8% report that contribution to financial performance is not important to their financial position. While some associations mention “making a profit from the event is secondary as we have external revenue streams to support financial sustainability…” others indicate a strong reliance on events as a source of revenue, saying “revenue generation from conference and online workshops keeps us afloat”. This means finding a way to ensure attendance at paid events either virtual or in-person, to ensure financial sustainability.

“We are being much more strategic about our event delivery, ensuring we know the 'why' for what we are doing as well as ensuring we have the right target market. We are learning that bigger isn't always better.”

The Australasian Society of Association Executives (AuSAE)

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