5 Tips for Getting the Most Out of Your Association’s Event

July 24, 2019
Crowd of people facing a stage at an association event
For an association, hosting events like conferences, networking meetups, and learning sessions is an effective way to bring people who share a common goal or passion together. Plus, events are one of the ways that your association can raise non-dues revenue. There’s a lot riding on your association’s next event, so how can you get the most out of it?

Every event-planning team struggles with this question. At Snowball Fundraising, we develop fundraising and event tools for nonprofit organizations, so we’ve seen firsthand how important it is to develop and fine-tune the right strategies when events have very specific goals.

For associations, both attracting new members and engaging current members are probably constant goals across most, if not all, of the events they host. With the right tools and strategies on your side, you can build out an approach to event planning that will always support these goals of recruitment and engagement.

Plus, the right software will dramatically simplify the planning and management process in general, ensuring that the occasion itself will go off without a hitch.

Here are 5 tips to help you maximize your impact and make sure your event is the event of the year:

  1. Picking the Right Association Management Software
  2. Attracting the New and Keeping the Old
  3. Making Online Registration Easy
  4. Using Past Data for the Future
  5. Repurposing Conference Content

Planning an event for your association involves many factors like managing attendees as well as figuring out the best registration method. However, with the right software, mindset, and this guide, your event will generate more value and member engagement for your association.

1. Picking the Right Association Management Software

When planning your association’s event, you should think about how you’re managing your association in general. In this day and age, you are probably using an association management software to help you keep track of your members, financial receipts, and your events all in one place.

If you haven’t made the transition to professional-grade management and planning software, making the move is probably a good idea. Check out the Fonteva guide to association management software for an idea of what to look for.

Here are some things that the right association management software can do for your event:

  • Streamline registration. Your software can help you register attendees smoothly and help you track all the information!
  • Process payments. It’s good to find a management system that allows you to track payments within the software instead of an outside source.
  • Keep track of attendance. Finding software that is able to keep track of who comes allows you to understand which events are more popular!
  • Include follow-ups for staff, members, and attendees. This can include event surveys for attendees/members and post-event instructions for staff.

With the right tech infrastructure in place, it’s time to start thinking about how to best use your events to engage and reach members.

2. Attracting the New and Keeping the Old

Hosting an event can introduce your association to new members while also showing current members that you continue to be a valuable part of their professional lives.

Retaining Current Members

Being a member of an association can be very rewarding, but members can easily fall drop out from year to year. Why might someone decide to not renew their membership?

  • They might be unable to afford membership dues.
  • They could have left the professional field.
  • They might feel unengaged with your work and don’t see the value you bring to their professional lives.

So, how can we combat this and keep current members more deeply engaged? With events.

  • Host both paid and free events throughout the year to show members that your top goal is connecting them, not making money from registration fees. Encourage current members to volunteer for events or try and recruit others for you.
  • If your engagement rates are falling, make sure your events (especially those requiring paid registration) offer meaningful, sought-after benefits like education and certification opportunities. Reminding them of the things they can gain from your association is key!
  • Your association should encourage feedback on every event you host. Getting information about what you have done well and poorly will help you in the future.
  • You can promote membership renewal early on so that members can know ahead of time if they’ll stay or not. You might offer benefits for early renewal to keep it on members’ minds.
Attracting New Members

Going forward, a huge portion of the new members you will be targeting will belong to the millennial or generation Z crowd. Updating your recruitment strategies and how they fit into your events will be key :

  • Show that your association advocates for something. Younger people tend to join something more often when they know that it supports a campaign that they also do. Make sure to concretely connect any recruitment events you host to a broader social-driven purpose.
  • Make your association platform and all event materials mobile-friendly. We have less patience than ever for websites and online tools that don’t work well on smaller screens, and this is especially true for younger audiences.
  • Focus on your social media marketing strategies. Social media is the most effective and organic way to raise awareness of your events and drive more registration.  Work on developing an active web presence to continually reach new audiences as they enter your field.

Figuring out how to increase membership is always tricky, but if you apply this knowledge your event could be fully booked before you know it!

3. Making Online Registration Easy

We’ve talked about how software can help organize events, but there are some specific features you should look out for to make sure that your event registration process is seamless, too:

  • Form builders. This allows you to customize your forms to get only the information you care about. Using pre-set forms that force users to enter tons of unnecessary information is a surefire way to increase your abandonment rates and encourage shopping cart abandonment.
  • Data management. Having the capability to gather registration data from each event for analysis will help with future events! More on this in the next section.
  • Password-free registration. The typical login process is always tedious for users, so look into Swoop for a password-free secure login option.

The main idea here is to think about your users’ experience as they register for your events. If it’s tedious or complicated, you’ll unintentionally drive away some potential attendees or give them a bad impression of your association.

4. Using Past Data for the Future

One of the best things about hosting an event is that you can use it to improve your future events. This is where analyzing your registration and engagement data comes in. With the ability to see how you are doing in a broad scope you will know how to improve for the future.

Big-picture information you should be tracking includes:

  • Who went. So you know who to invite again.
  • What went wrong. Now you know what to avoid next time.
  • Expenses vs. ROI. This can give clues to whether you budgeted well or not.
  • Feedback cards. Any type of feedback after an event is helpful! Try and ask attendees as soon as possible so they don’t forget anything!
5. Repurposing Conference Content

Your association invests a lot of time and money on your in-person event. Your speakers spend time creating engaging and educational presentations. But what about the people who can’t attend your in-person event? Or when you have multiple sessions at the same time and your attendees can’t be in two places at once?

Here are some ideas that can help you expand the reach of your educational sessions (and increase non-dues revenue while you’re at it):

  • Broadcast keynote speakers and popular sessions to a live, virtual audience – while they may have been unable to travel to the conference, they’ll still be able to have a live event experience.
  • Record the sessions for on-demand viewing on your LMS after the conference. You can even go a step further and take certain sessions and turn them into courses for continuing education credits or certifications.
  • Rebroadcast popular sessions as live webinars. Your presenters won’t have to present again, but they’ll be able to stand by and take Q&A through the event.

With any of these ideas (as well as others) you can get creative with pricing — offering free or discounted on-demand access for conference attendees, providing different registrations tiers that can include on-demand access, selling sponsorships, and more.

With the ability to look back and pinpoint highs and lows, every event you have will be better than the last!

Now that you’ve gone through this guide, you can start planning your association’s event. Make sure to choose reliable management software, and good luck!

About the Author
John Killoran is an inventor, entrepreneur, and the Chairman of Clover Leaf Solutions, a national lab services company. He currently leads Clover Leaf’s investment in Snowball Fundraising, an online fundraising platform for nonprofit organizations.

Snowball was one of John’s first public innovations; it’s a fundraising platform that offers text-to-give, online giving, events, and peer-to-peer fundraising tools for nonprofits. By making giving simple, Snowball increases the donations that these organizations can raise online. The Snowball effect is real! John founded Snowball in 2011. Now, it serves over 7,000 nonprofits and is the #1 nonprofit fundraising platform.

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