Sector and AuSAE News

  • 26 May 2021 1:47 PM | Brett Jeffery, CAE (Administrator)

    “Never let a good crisis go to waste” has become a popular adage in the business world over the past year, for good reason. As it becomes more apparent that face-to-face events will return in some form this year, conference organizers have an opportunity to make changes that would have been more difficult to sell up the ladder in the past. It’s a good time for planners to challenge their organisations to make the meeting experience more valuable than ever.

    As we work with conference organizers to plan the return of their major conferences, five conference design trends have emerged, which may be useful to keep in mind as you design your own events.

    1. Purposeful abandonment This is a nicer way of saying that you need to barbecue some sacred cows. Long-term traditions can deter next-generation conference participants. Some organizers are cutting back on pomp and circumstance in general sessions. No more opening prayers, recognizing those who have passed, obligatory leadership speeches, and long-winded awards presentations or processions. Others are reimagining their President’s Reception as a networking reception — with a focus on the attendee, not the leadership.
    2. Double-down on the main room This is where you can have the biggest impact. The conference that brings the industry back together and tugs at the emotional heartstrings will create a lasting impression. Instead of a general session in the morning and breakouts all day, some organizers are considering bookending each day with a main-room gathering.
    3. More white space Hallway conversations are going to be even more highly valued in our conference future. Consider chopping 15 minutes off of your concurrent sessions and planning 30-minute breaks. Attendees have been drowning in content. Draw a line in the sand and commit to having participant activities and small-group discussions in every session, which can spill over into hallway conversations.
    4. Community spaces Invest more into creating spaces that encourage attendee networking. Create a town-square-like environment that blends micro-learning, member services, refreshments, and entertainment. Delivering on community has never been more critical to your business events future.
    5. Leadership access If your leadership spends most of the conference at invite-only experiences, it’s time to set them free. Committees and boards have gotten really good at doing business via Zoom and Teams. Encourage them to continue this so that more of their time at the conference can be with the core attendee and member.

    Which of these ideas would make the greatest impact at your conference? 

    By Dave Lutz - Velvet Chainsaw

  • 26 May 2021 1:40 PM | Brett Jeffery, CAE (Administrator)

    Virtual events have been on the public radar for more than a year now — what was initially a new demand of our pandemic lifestyles is now a regular fixture in our work lives.Instead of comparing the challenges of virtual events vs. in-person events, let’s celebrate the virtual format for what it is.

    Whether you’re planning a virtual conference or a team virtual team building exercise, you’ll want to create an experience that is engaging and entertaining to thank attendees for their attention and participation while breaking up the mundane.

    Here are five virtual event ideas from the last year that we loved. Check out these examples and get inspired.

    5 creative virtual event ideas we loved seeing this year

    1. Surprise home deliveries

    You’re used to getting promotional swag at conferences, but what about work-from-home survival kits or cocktail kits? One of our favorite virtual event ideas is sending creative surprise home deliveries to attendees. This is a great option because it works for events of all scopes and sizes — you can send a survival kit with items like snacks, notebooks, branded water bottles, and blue light glasses to attendees of large conferences, or you can surprise your team at a morning all-hands meeting with coffee and donuts delivered to their door. 

    A great alternative to a corporate or conference happy hour is to craft a new kind of experience at home — send cocktail kits to attendees before the event and bring on a professional bartender to host a virtual cocktail-making lesson using the supplies from their kits.

    2. Virtual worlds

    Instead of hopping on Zoom for every meeting, webinar, or virtual conference, some event organizers opted to bring virtual worlds à la The Sims and Second Life to the professional world. Virtual world platforms let you create your own avatar and interact with coworkers, exhibitors, event attendees, and speakers in a completely virtual space that mimics a physical one. This is a fun, gamelike way to go virtual without the webcam. 

    3. Experiences you’d normally have to travel for 

    Some of the best virtual event ideas come from leaning into the virtual environment rather than forcing physical formats into the new virtual mold. Some brilliant virtual experiences we’ve seen over the last year include: 

    • Making homemade pasta with an Italian grandmother
    • A live magic show from your home
    • A tour of Lisbon’s street art
    • Fitness classes with an Olympic gold medalist
    • Wine tasting with a sommelier in Argentina
    • Origami and Japanese culture lessons with a Tokyo local

    There are so many wonderful, fun, and different ways to bring some special elements to your virtual event. Airbnb online experiences are a great place to draw inspiration and find virtual event ideas that you wouldn’t have been able to do in a normal in-person setting. 

    4. Virtual concerts

    From Billie Eilish to Erykah Badu, and Norah Jones to Post Malone, artists turned their canceled tours into virtual concerts for everyone to enjoy worldwide. Some of these virtual concerts had great displays of artistry and production, while others were intimate and informal, offering a sneak peek into our favorite artists’ homes. Either way, both kinds of performances provided a breath of fresh air in a time we were all stuck at home. 

    To integrate virtual concerts in your own virtual event, you could invite your team to tune in together to catch a live streaming virtual concert, or book an artist to perform at your virtual social event or conference entertainment break, creating an exclusive private concert. 

    5. Virtual game and trivia nights

    In the before times, game night was a beloved weeknight staple for many. Whether it was trivia at a local pub or board games at a friend’s house, game nights were a much-missed tradition during lockdowns. Fortunately, there are alternative ways to safely continue enjoying game night! Independently hosted trivia games on Zoom and multiplayer games like Jackbox’s Quiplash allowed groups to play together virtually. These games are great team building activities and a fun, stress-free way to wrap up a long week. 

    These are just a few of the fun and creative virtual event ideas we saw in the past year. As working from home continues to be the norm, we hope to see these virtual experiences evolve and break through the box of “just another Zoom meeting.” 

    BY Emily Herrington

    Emily Herrington is a New Orleans-based digital marketer specializing in SEO, content, and pay-per-click advertising. She can usually be found at her desk obsessing over data and rankings, or in the kitchen covered in flour

  • 26 May 2021 1:33 PM | Brett Jeffery, CAE (Administrator)

    The event industry is rapidly transitioning to in-person offerings, but for many, there is still uncertainty about how many attendees will ultimately buy tickets. Could there be an upsell opportunity in offering conference attendees extra rooms for C-suite meetings?

    A recent EventBrew podcast speculated about the possibility of combining C-suite and senior leadership team meetings with out-of-town conferences. The argument was that this kind of two-in-one approach could cut down on the travel burden, both in terms of the time required from staff and the budgetary expenditure on flights and hotel bookings.

    Could this solution be a win-win for both corporate registrants and event planners? Conference organizers often have to book large room blocks, and this commitment inevitably entails some risk — especially with the uncertainty around turnout levels as we begin to reopen. Even with attrition clauses that protect against a set portion of cancellations, conference organizers could benefit from an opportunity to upsell confirmed registrants.

    With all the advantages taken into account, could hosting corporate events at pre-planned industry conferences help safeguard room block ROI against uncertain turnouts?

    The Argument for Merging Conferences and Corporate Meetings

    Last year, we wrote about how some destinations were marketing themselves as host cities for sporting bubbles, in this way securing multi-game deals with a single contract. Bridging corporate meetings with conference attendance could be the next step in this all-in-one model. This approach meets new market needs while also providing greater security for event hosts.



    Gone are the days when travel was largely considered a perk of work trips. While many may be craving international adventures, would-be travellers still face more barriers to entry than in the past. Variants of concern mean that cross-border travel still presents a health risk that will likely be managed with Covid status verification systems, at least in the short term. Mandatory quarantines could potentially be set up at any time. In many ways, planning for a longer stay at a single destination makes sense for any kind of traveller.

    For business events, there is a clear incentive for combining corporate meetings with an industry conference that many employees will already be attending. Any risks associated with work-related travel are a corporate liability, and merging two trips into one eases some of this burden. Further, although environmental concerns might have taken a backseat during the pandemic, less travel also means a smaller carbon footprint, and now is the time to rebuild with sustainability as a focal priority.

    But while there may be more reasons than ever to avoid travel, the demand for corporate retreats may actually be higher. With many businesses now working remotely, some employees have moved out of town and many offices have scaled back their office spaces. This means that corporate meetings may increasingly require travel, and businesses may have greater need to rent meeting spaces on a one-off basis, so being able to avail themselves of those in existing conferences being organized by an external planner could be a major time saver.



    The savvy event organiser should see this as an opportunity. Anyone who has already purchased a ticket has shown a willingness to travel and attend in person. Why not make the most of this existing relationship?

    With the quick pace of the event industry’s recovery, organisers are now faced with faster turnaround times than in the pre-pandemic era. Hosts may have to book room blocks before tickets are sold and without a reliable benchmark for attendance in this transitional period. Beyond extra hotel room bookings, a two-in-one upsell could allow event planners to monetize conference rooms and other smaller meeting places that are often thrown in for free with their large room bookings.

    Further, this approach could translate to more ticket sales for the conference itself. The addition of a corporate meeting could mean that more employees will be travelling to the destination, and with their flights and room accommodations already covered, conference tickets would be an easy upsell.



    The pandemic ushered in a new era of ingenuity for digital events, and the transitional return to in-person events may be equally conducive to innovative solutions. Considering the advantages involved for both attendees and event organizers, the idea of combining corporate meetings with conference attendance may be the way of the future.

    BY Angela Tupper is a writer and editor based in Toronto, Canada. Her writing for the events industry pairs an interest in current affairs and technology with a background in B2B events, and she has contributed to a range of editorial pieces and research projects in wide distribution. She also holds an MA in English from the University of Toronto.

  • 26 May 2021 1:30 PM | Brett Jeffery, CAE (Administrator)

    Remember, your goal isn’t clicks, it’s brand building.

    The deluge of coronavirus content pouring out of the marketing community was predictable, but also indicative of what plagues marketing generally—and content specifically. It tends to be reactionary, surface-level, self-serving and insensitive to the audience’s emotional reality. Topical yes, valuable no.

    For some of our clients, now is go time for content. Online learning companies, packaged foods, telework technologies, e-commerce businesses and others find themselves in the spotlight. This post is not for them. No thought leadership is required to know that if your brand’s content could be of use to people conducting their lives from their living rooms, go forth aggressively.

    No, this post is for the travel companies. The automakers. The retail businesses. Those businesses and brands on the front lines of an economic mess, for whom churning out a few more articles is nowhere near the top of their priorities.

    If content is about bringing value to your audience, why not use this murky time to ponder some of the bigger questions that most of us rarely allow time for? Namely:

    • Why are we doing the content marketing that we always do?
    • Is our content really working?
    • How could we streamline our content so it’s more effective and more tightly connected to our brand?


    Making your brand stand out in the world of content is not as daunting as you might think. Yes, the marketing clutter in your category seems stifling, but remember, it’s all the same. Do not assume the way everyone in your category does content is the right way. Find no comfort in the herd.

    Write out all the conventions of content marketing in your category and then consider what might happen if you did the opposite. In the generic world of male-centric automotive content, full of tech features and performance factoids, Subaru has built a loyal and emotional following with women and the LGBTQ community by talking about love. It’s not just men who love cars, and it’s not just payload or horsepower that matter.

    In all likelihood, that which makes your product different can make your content different. If your stores are eclectic, make your content eclectic. If your tourist destination is adventurous, turn your content into an adventure. If hordes of people aren’t already searching for the thing you’re best at, it’s probably because no one has made it interesting yet. Take the challenge.


    Valuable content is the stuff your audience may not even be aware they want or need. If folklore holds true, Henry Ford was on to something when he purportedly said, “If I asked the consumer what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse.”

    The consumer banking and finance industry is particularly guilty of using the same obvious content themes. These brands churn out redundant, perfunctory savings and retirement blog posts. Chase, on the other hand, has invested in consumers’ financial literacy in a big way with “Chase Chats,” an in-branch, in-person learning platform. That is content marketing.

    Learn what your target audience needs or wants instead of just reflecting back to them what they currently have or do. Determining what that may be is, of course, hard. But we know exactly how to do it: market research. A good old-fashioned mix of qual and quant methods, and smart secondary research. Yes, look at the data.


    Think of it as a simple phrase that sums up your entire content strategy: an articulation of the value that your whole program should deliver to the audience.

    It’s the centerpiece of our model for developing a content strategy, which we call the Content Value Model. Once you nail it, you’ll find that making all the other tactical decisions gets a lot easier.

    At some point this mess will be over, and we’ll be asked to get the marketing machine cranking once more. Do you really want it to return just the way you left it? Use this forced pause to think through what the machine is for in the first place. Who knows when you’ll have another chance?

    Geoffrey Director is our SVP of intelligence at Manifest.

  • 21 May 2021 5:41 AM | Brett Jeffery, CAE (Administrator)

    Two membership professionals describe three benefits associations must have in a largely virtual world to give members what they actually need without making assumptions. Focusing on staff needs in the remote environment is also part of the equation

    .A year ago, the word “pivot” was not part of association membership lingo. Membership professionals were used to talking about ROI, retention, recruitment, engagement, member offerings, and so on.  Until the pandemic struck, membership work didn’t require much pivoting.
    But when COVID-19 arrived, membership professionals suddenly had to provide benefits and show the value of membership in a virtual world. Most associations had an annual meeting, congress, scientific sessions, and other events where they could showcase value by talking to attendees and introducing new member benefits at a key session—in conjunction with press releases, social media posts, and articles. Oh, the good old days! 
    The past year has shown that members need their association more than ever, and associations have to be able to serve them through virtual channels. Organizations have been doing that in many different ways, but these three are must-have benefits in today’s world:  

    1. An online networking tool. This forum should be exclusively for members. Not only does online networking facilitate a free-flowing exchange of information and job openings—and provide a place to vent frustrations—from anywhere in the world, but it also provides valuable insights that can be used to create new offerings based on actual member needs, not assumptions.
    2. Relevant and free webinars. It might sound like a given, but you would be surprised at the number of associations that stick with webinars on core subject matter for their industry and will not consider other options. Associations need to provide free, relevant webinars on topics such as career development, presentation skills, and other professional competencies. Webinars do not have to be live with a Q&A session; they can also be prerecorded and sent out to the membership. An additional benefit of webinars on business skills is that they tend to have a longer shelf-life than a typical core-subject-matter webinar.
    3. Mentorship program. Many members have a vision of where they want to be in their career in five or 10 years. How do you continue to show that your association will be there for them as they grow in their careers? This is an opportunity to keep more seasoned members involved with younger members by mentoring them

    Providing the benefits that members need in a virtual world is essential, but so is fostering a supportive virtual environment for staff. How do you connect with colleagues when in-person meetings and water-cooler chats are no longer an option?

    Online networking provides valuable insights that can be used to create new offerings based on actual needs, not assumptions.

    We’ve all grown accustomed to virtual meetings. But it’s possible to make working from home even more comfortable by allowing staff to bring their computer set-up, screens, or chairs from the office home with them. Holiday parties and summer picnics can be replaced with virtual happy hours, coffee breaks, and other virtual get-togethers. Sending small gifts to staff can make a big difference and go a long way in boosting morale. 

    Managers who reach out to staff regularly can help alleviate that feeling that staff members are isolated at home. It’s just as important to make sure staff can chat with each other, as it is to provide networking opportunities for members. Also ensure the virtual meeting software your office use is intuitive for staff. 

    Keeping lines of communication open while staff is working from home will bolster staff connections, even if they are miles away from each other. While you’re actively considering how to engage and keep members during this challenging time, don’t forget to think about how your organization can continue to guide and support staff, too. 

    Kristen D. Erickson, CAE

    Kristen D. Erickson, CAE, is manager of professional and community engagement at the College of American Pathologists, and a member of ASAE’s Membership Professionals Advisory Committee.

  • 21 May 2021 5:36 AM | Brett Jeffery, CAE (Administrator)

    Whether at work, in our community, or politically, our leaders are the ones we look to when we’re facing uncertain circumstances and aren’t sure what to do. But what happens when an unprecedented event like a global pandemic rattles life as we knew it? And the leaders we turn to have to lead through something they’ve never seen or experienced before?

    They had to provide answers when there were none and steer their ships through murky waters.

    Some failed by refusing to take accountability and passing the buck down the line, leaving constituencies confused and scared. But others thrived, successfully reducing stress and building trust. 

    Here, we’ll delve into the qualities great leaders demonstrated during the pandemic, and how to build up those essential skills. 

    How the pandemic redefined leadership

    The pandemic showed us how critical it is for leaders to establish trust and help their teams manage stress. It provided the opportunity to redefine leadership, triggering a shift in beliefs in what the most important leadership skills are. 

    Research from CEMS highlighted some key differences in how leadership qualities are valued pre- and post-Covid. Pre-pandemic, 74 percent of respondents said strategic vision was a top-three leadership quality. After the pandemic, it dropped to 68 percent. Resilience shot up from 13 percent to 34 percent after the pandemic. Result-focus dropped in importance by 9 percent after the pandemic, and empathy/emotional intelligence increased by 5 percent in the post-pandemic survey. 

    Overall, the pandemic showed us that leaders need to demonstrate empathy, emotional intelligence, strong communication, and resilience. 

    Crisis leadership in action

    Let’s take a look at a poster child for successful leadership during the pandemic. The U.S.’s top immunologist Dr. Anthony Fauci became a voice Americans could depend on to inform them on what was happening and what needed to be done during the pandemic. A daily fixture in the public spotlight, Fauci was able to establish trust and demonstrate strong leadership by: 

    • Addressing the public regularly, with direct and no-fluff communication
    • Being transparent about when things changed or new research or guidances
    • Backing up his statements with data and facts
    • Empathizing with the public’s fears and concerns
    • Speaking in a simple, easy-to-understand way
    • Maintaining a consistent message and not changing the script
    • Being present and connected regularly 
    • Acting decisively and with authority

    Take note of how Fauci led during the pandemic and consider how you can apply those techniques within your own organization. 

    How to build key post-pandemic leadership skills

    Create an open environment. 

    Build an environment in which your team can be open and authentic. Maybe it’s because we couldn’t mute the dogs barking in the background of our Zoom meetings, but the pandemic showed us that realness and relatability is what we needed most in these times— not perfection. This was a time to recognize that we are all people first, and our humanity and health needs to be prioritized. 

    Improve emotional intelligence. 

    Emotional intelligence is the ability to understand and perceive the emotions of others around you, while also managing your own and how they affect those around you. To improve your emotional intelligence, pay attention to how you react to stressful situations, practice active listening instead of just waiting to speak, and work on increasing your level of self-awareness. We’re only scratching the surface here, but as a leader, it’s mission-critical to be aware of how you affect the people around you. 

    Communicate clearly and transparently. 

    The pandemic created the need for many uncomfortable conversations. When times are tough, address it. Hiding information or avoiding talking about it leads to distrust, even if your intentions are good. During a time of uncertainty, it was important for leaders to inform their teams of their positioning, strategies, security, and plans. It’s important to stick to a regular communications routine, letting your team know what’s going on and how it affects their day-to-day. This helps decrease their stress levels while providing a predictable routine during unpredictable times. 

    Be flexible. 

    Have a plan, but be prepared to pivot at a moment’s notice. The winners of the pandemic were those who were able to quickly adopt a new model and run with it. Don’t get overly attached to the previously imagined future — focus on the present and how you will thrive in a new normal.

  • 21 May 2021 5:34 AM | Brett Jeffery, CAE (Administrator)

    For social businesses to survive and thrive, we must change the broader business ecosystem's legal structures, sustainability metrics, accountability systems, and funding opportunities

    Organisations that pursue social and environmental goals—alongside financial ones—are called “social businesses,” and there are many examples: Revolution Foods provides healthy school meals in the United States, Envie is a work integration social enterprise specialized in recycling activities in France, and salaUno provides low-cost vision care in Mexico. Public excitement for social business models like these has grown significantly—particularly among younger generations. Yet most businesses have continued to operate in the same old way: focused solely on maximizing profit and shareholder value, no matter what the social and environmental consequences of their actions are.

    We find ourselves at a crossroads: either the social economy will remain separate from the rest of the economy, or it will permeate the broader global economy and contribute to changing the way all business is done. If social businesses remain a niche in an ecosystem designed to support profit-oriented businesses, then it will be difficult for them to survive, let alone thrive. More critically, if the exclusive pursuit of profit and shareholder value remains the core force driving our economic and social systems, then inequalities will only increase, and we will continue to destroy our natural ecosystems at a speed that endangers not only other species but also humanity itself.

    How can social businesses serve as models to reform the rest of the economy, expanding beyond its current niche? Businesses can adapt and learn from the organizational practices that allow social businesses to sustain the joint pursuit of social and environmental goals alongside financial ones: regularly setting and monitoring these dual goals; incentivizing employees to value and support them; and systematically accounting for these goals in making strategic decisions. However, this isn’t enough. Changes must also be made to the business ecosystem to make it easier for social businesses to thrive: improved legal structures, more comprehensive sustainability metrics and accountability mechanisms, and increased access to funding.

    What We Can Learn From Social Businesses

    Balancing social, environmental, and financial goals is no easy task. Far from it. But my colleagues and I have identified a set of practices that can help enable social businesses to create and maintain a hybrid culture that is committed to the joint pursuit of these dual goals.

    First, social businesses can explicitly incorporate their dual goals within written policies and established strategies to make them salient for employees and help prevent mission drift. Setting clear objectives in the social, environmental, and financial realms, and monitoring progress towards their achievement, is critical.

    Second, incentive systems and employee training should facilitate the pursuit of these multiple objectives. Raises and promotions should be predicated on progress toward not only financial targets, but social and environmental ones as well. Employee training can work to foster an understanding and appreciation of the social, environmental, and financial components of an organization’s mission. Opportunities to shadow colleagues who work in different parts of an organization can also help bring otherwise disconnected employees in charge of these various components together.

    Finally, leadership matters. When social business leaders and board members prioritize working to balance their social, environmental, and financial goals for the organization as a whole, they help promote a culture that enables employees at all levels to do the same. And, we see in our research that organizations whose leaders adopt more democratic decision-making processes, in which employees with different perspectives and expertise can weigh in and have a real say on how to handle tradeoffs and reconcile goals, seem to be better able to sustain the pursuit of financial, social, and environmental objectives.

    However, while individual organizations can build a hybrid culture committed to the achievement of multiple goals by adopting the above practices, changes within individual organizations, while important, are insufficient to break social businesses out of their niche. We must also change the broader business ecosystem, enabling social businesses to thrive and push others to embrace the pursuit of social and environmental goals, alongside financial ones.

    How the Business Ecosystem Needs to Change

    To build a new infrastructure for the business world requires improved and accountable legal structures, sustainability metrics and accountability systems, and increased funding opportunities.

    Legal Structures | Until recently, there were few legal structures specifically tailored to social businesses, but this has changed over the past few years. The exact form these new legal structures take varies nation by nation: community interest companies in the United Kingdom, sociétés à mission in France, social enterprises in South Korea, and benefit corporations in certain states in the United States, to name only a few.

    However, my interviews with social business leaders suggest that unfamiliarity with and uncertainty about these new legal structures still make it difficult to utilize them. There is therefore a need to systematically assess whether these structures are actually helping social businesses better pursue social, environmental, and financial goals. Policymakers should consider what advantages an organization might gain by utilizing these legal structures in order to ensure companies are properly incentivized to adopt them.

    The creation of these legal forms is an important step in changing the institutional environment, but they are not enough on their own. Indeed, their adoption does not guarantee sufficient support for the sustainable pursuit of dual goals. As shown by the recent ouster of the Chairman and CEO of Danone—a multinational food-products business whose United States subsidiary became a benefit corporation in 2018 and which as a whole became a société à mission in France as of 2020—simply adopting one of these new legal forms does not guarantee the requisite support for organizational leadership to be able to pursue social and environmental goals alongside financial ones over the long term. To do so also requires a change in mindset not only among corporate leaders, but also among investors and public authorities. And, to facilitate this change, we need to create a new norm, one that will dictate that we assess the performance of a company not only based on its financial results, but also on its social and environmental impacts.

    Sustainability Metrics and Accountability Mechanisms | While in theory commendable, corporations’ announcements of their intentions to pursue goals beyond maximizing shareholder profit have proved insufficient to drive real change. For example, businesses that were part of the US Business Roundtable in 2019 may have signed a joint public statement to consider the interests of their employees and stakeholders beyond just shareholders, but they proved to be 20 percent more likely to fire their employees at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic than companies that did not sign the statement. They were also less likely to donate to relief efforts, to offer customer discounts, and to shift production to pandemic-related goods. In contrast to mere statements of good intentions, research has shown that mechanisms to ensure organizational accountability are key to driving real change within the business ecosystem.

    One way to create these accountability mechanisms is by developing sustainability metrics that evaluate all companies, not just social businesses, on their social and environmental performance alongside their financial performance. Organizations and initiatives that have developed and maintained sustainability metrics such as the Global Reporting InitiativeSustainable Accounting Standards Board (SASB), and the Impact Weighted Accounts Initiative, have laid the groundwork for a more comprehensive reporting landscape. The creation of these metrics is only a first step, however; government action will be needed to ensure that organizations in turn take substantive steps to track, report, and improve their social and environmental impacts.

    While governments across the world can monitor and support the convergence of sustainability standards into a holistic global framework, a word of caution is also in order: developing and maintaining such a convergent set of standards should be an evolving process, and we must be careful about how exactly such metrics will be used and updated because sustainability issues are dynamic. Supporting this point, practitioners like Jean Rogers, founder and former CEO of SASB, have emphasized the need for standard setting to enable and incentivize industries to address emerging problems before those problems become fully entrenched.

    With careful creation and maintenance of a holistic framework, nations could further support the growth of social businesses by ultimately adopting a progressive corporate taxation scheme that would take into account social and environmental impacts. When combined with effective enforcement of existing legislation, a progressive corporate taxation system could help pave the way for critically necessary change to the business ecosystem.

    Access to Funding | Even in an environment with improved legal structures and better sustainability metrics coupled with an accountability system, capital will be needed to start and grow social businesses. But social businesses face continuing challenges in accessing this necessary capital, because they don’t conform with perceptions of either the typical for-profit or the typical social organization. It can be hard to exist in two different worlds and convince investors of their legitimacy in an ecosystem still structured to support one or the other.

    The development and growth of impact investing has helped to address the need for funding companies with positive social and environmental impacts; the Global Impact Investing Network’s 2020 annual survey estimates that the current global impact investing market is approximately $715 billion. But despite the steady growth of the impact investing market, many stakeholders worry that companies will deceptively brand their products as impact investments, without regard for their actual social and environmental effects. Indeed, the GIIN’s 2020 survey also found that social investors’ concerns about these deceptive practices, dubbed “impact washing,” were the most cited challenge that respondents expected to face in the next five years.

    Some potential strategies to help alleviate these challenges include the development of a system of incentives and infrastructural supports to drive the continued growth of the sector, as well as a unified baseline of transparency for impact investors and the organizations that they fund. These changes coupled with the use of sustainability metrics that can be used to hold companies accountable would help create more trust and go a long way toward assuaging concerns about “impact washing,” and impact investing more broadly.


    The flaws of the shareholder-centric model—exacerbated both by the 2008 economic crisis and the present COVID-19 pandemic—have resulted in an increasingly unequal society as well as in the continued and rapidly increasing deterioration of the environment. It is clear that the status quo is unsustainable. In this context, social businesses can be at the forefront of a more socially and environmentally conscious ecosystem that places human beings and the planet at its heart. Yet, as we’ve seen, social businesses cannot drive this change on their own. The institutional context in which organizations operate must also change and governments need to take action to change the rules of the game and incentivize all businesses to embrace the pursuit of social and environmental goals alongside financial ones. And we have it within our power, as citizens and consumers, to facilitate these critical changes.

    Time is of the essence. The COVID-19 pandemic is an inflection point. We can either decide to learn from this crisis or continue business as usual at our own and our planet’s peril. While alone, we cannot effect change at the required scale, we can unite forces to push for change through collective movements, as Tiziana Casciaro and I explain in our forthcoming book Power, For All: How It Really Works And Why It Is Everyone’s Business. Together, through control of valued resources, whether our votes, our voices, or our wallets, we can exercise the power needed to change our economic system. It is up to us to rise to the challenge of ensuring that businesses that account not only for financial but social and environmental impacts become the norm and not the exception.

  • 21 May 2021 5:31 AM | Brett Jeffery, CAE (Administrator)

    Communicating directly—and personally—with members is a great way to highlight new resources and other benefits without sounding like a sales pitch.

    The Health Industry Distributors Association recently announced a 21 percent surge in corporate members, exceeding national benchmarks for trade association member renewal rates. The group achieved the increase in several ways, including responsive communications tailored specifically for members’ top priorities. Kelley Taft, HIDA’s director of membership, and her team found a successful—and super easy—way to inform members about the new resources.


    Taft’s team created the tools to help members communicate more effectively with their customers, government officials, and other stakeholders. The resources include infographics, fact sheets, sample op-eds, and presentations.

    The challenge? “You create all these resources and then you send nice marketing emails and members still don’t see them,” Taft says.

    Solution? Keep it simple—and personal. Taft’s team came up with a members-only email called “HIDA Heads-Up.” It isn’t a marketing email, Taft says, “and that is key.” It is just a regular email that her team writes and sends out under her name.


    Every time a HIDA Heads-Up goes out to members, she says, “they love it.” The emails are casual, in Taft’s own voice, and intentionally not a sales pitch. Members email her back personally to thank her for thinking of them, she says. They appreciate the personal communication and feeling of connection.

    “When an email comes from the membership director, they do pay attention to it,” she says. “That simple, tiny thing is a great way to share resources.”


    The personal emails give Taft a chance to connect with members in an offhand way and casually catch up on life, kids, work, and more. She always writes them back directly because she doesn’t want to lose the personal touch. “It’s my favorite thing we’re doing right now,” she says.

    The HIDA Heads-Up emails have been so popular that the marketing team asked if they could put them on a schedule. Taft pushed back. “It has to be organic,” she says.

    LISA BOYLAN,  Lisa Boylan is a senior editor of Associations Now.

  • 14 May 2021 5:51 AM | Brett Jeffery, CAE (Administrator)

    A new report shows a downward trend in association membership over the past year. But it points to strong leadership and the ability to serve members in a more customized way as promising factors in ensuring long-term sustainability.

    The new McKinley Advisors 2021 Associations Viewpoint report centers on the notion that there is no collective without the individual. That is particularly significant because associations are, of course, collectives, but the report notes that sometimes it is easy to lose sight of the unique needs and perspectives of the members who make up those communities.

    The past year brought this tension into stark focus. Considering the individual means really listening to members and responding to their needs, which associations have done out of heightened necessity over the past year. And they will need to continue prioritizing that same proactive, responsive approach to member priorities.

    “Associations have traditionally taken a really broad approach to serving their members,” said Shelley Sanner, CAE, senior vice president of industry relations at McKinley Advisors. When associations began to pivot at the start of the pandemic, they “started thinking about how to serve each person in a more customized way.”

    The study’s findings reveal, not surprisingly, that the number of associations reporting membership declines has nearly doubled in one year, with professional associations being particularly hard hit. While survey respondents were increasingly concerned about membership and revenue declines, they said they are optimistic about the strength of their leadership.


    The study also shows recognition that long-term sustainability will require strategic commitments. The top three priorities for 2021, according to respondents, are generating 

    Associations are going to have to assess themselves and ask big questions, Sanner said. Questions like: “How can we make membership more valuable, not just from a transactional perspective or from a communications perspective, but by making it more meaningful?”


    An area of opportunity is the emotional connection that people feel to their field or profession, Sanner said. Associations need to look at ways to leverage that connection and celebrate the work the industry is doing.

    “Have people feel pride in what they’re doing and feel recognized for what they’re doing,” she said. “Everyone wants an emotional connection.”

    A possible communications strategy could be a shift to telling more stories about members. Such campaigns won’t necessarily have a rapid or concrete return, but they will be powerful. “Members will talk about that and feel recognized and feel emotional connections” to their professions, industries, and associations, she said.

    Sanner is optimistic because she knows associations have problem solvers as leaders. Associations will need to reinvent themselves if they haven’t already, and continue to reinvent themselves. “The challenge and the crisis is the test,” she said. “It’s the opportunity to stretch and be stronger.”

  • 14 May 2021 5:30 AM | Brett Jeffery, CAE (Administrator)

    In a year when people are seeking community and have the desire to connect, it should come as no surprise that association online communities continue to be highly successful member engagement tools. Communities can pay big dividends when it comes to building an engaged and loyal membership base. They enhance the member experience and facilitate the open exchange of ideas, which helps increase overall membership value.

    However, it's not as simple as "if you build it, they will come." While every association's online community is unique, here are four tips to keep in mind when building or developing activity within your community.

    1. Content is key. Having fresh content and active discussions are the hooks that keep people coming back and engaging with others. Try this: put together a list of dedicated members who you can call on to post seed questions to keep the discussion moving. Many of our clients create lists of possible discussion questions even before the community has launched so that they have content ready to go if organic conversations need a boost.
    2. Actively manage the community and the conversation. Plan to dedicate staff time to managing the community. If questions are posted that need answers from the organization, make sure they are answered in a timely manner. If discussion topics are posted but there are no responses, call upon one of your dedicated members and ask them to respond. If there is a lull in new posts, break out your list of seed topics to get a new conversation started. It's critical, especially early on, to proactively spark, support, and encourage participation. As your members become more engaged, you will find less time is needed to manage the community.
    3. Be smart about segmentation. Many online communities have the ability to segment their full audience into sub-groups. On the plus side, sub-group categories often focus on specific topics that attract people who otherwise might not be interested in participating. However, over-segmenting your community can backfire, especially in the beginning. Creating smaller and smaller sub-groups can mean that there is less relevant content available for each group, which can decrease participation and affect overall community engagement. Our clients often find segmentation works best after they have established organic conversations and engagement in the core community and before they create sub-groups.
    4. Develop an opt-in policy and a communication strategy. There are typically two options when enrolling an audience in an online community: (1) automatic enrollment of all members/stakeholders (with the ability to opt-out), or (2) an opt-in-only policy requiring all participants to join individually. Generally, there is more success with the first option. Automatic enrollment eliminates the need for people to take an extra step. Where we do see the opt-in approach work best is when segmenting a community into sub-groups – here people can decide where they belong based on what interests them most.

      In terms of communication strategy, many platforms send out a "daily digest" email to everyone who is enrolled in the community with information on "what's new" to encourage people to log in and join the conversation. If you have auto-enrolled everyone into this communication, your reach is much greater than would be when having people opt-in individually. The daily digest approach also helps to get the word out about your new community. Also, make sure you take advantage of the communications you already have with your members and stakeholders. Include announcement of your community in your acquisition and renewal programs as a new member benefit, promote it at your events, or include links to popular threads in your e-newsletter.
    There is substantial power in an online community. In a world where opportunities to interact online abound, you can harness that power into meaningful engagement and interaction that adds real value to your members' personal and professional growth, and at the same time enhances your organization's relevance and indispensability.

    If you would like more information on strategies to engage your membership, contact Jana Darling at or 703.706.0349.

    Written by MGI Account Supervisor Kelsey McKinney.

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