Technology planning

4 persistent myths that get in the way of modernizing associations

2020 was the year for retiring old association myths—and it felt so good! When associations had to cancel their main revenue-generating event of the year—the annual meeting, conference, and/or trade show—panic set in. But where some associations saw a threat, many saw an opportunity to modernize their association by leveraging technology and making the most of the situation.

Associations delivered value to members and customers in new ways:

  • Online social meetups
  • Virtual conferences and educational events
  • Online courses and microlearning programs
  • Digital badges and credentialing programs
  • Targeted newsletters
  • Online news and resource hubs

Because of the shift to virtual, associations also expanded their audiences. You’ll reap those benefits for a long time.

Overcoming myths while modernizing associations

The momentum continues in 2021. Take advantage of this opportunity to abandon old assumptions, jettison conventional wisdom, and retire persistent myths.

Myth #1: Because of limited resources and heavy workloads, association professionals must work long hours.

When colleagues are laid off, everyone suffers. Those left standing end up with more work on their plates. You can improve this exhausting situation by adopting new policies and processes. For example, if your board tends to add new programs and projects to staff’s plate without eliminating any, establish an annual sunset review process.

Leaders might also make decisions based on desires and opinions, not data. Although some historical data may be less predictive than usual because of changing behaviors and preferences, you can use market research, needs assessments, pulse polls, and surveys to determine what’s really going on with your members and market. Examine recent behavioral data, such as email opens and clicks, webpage visits, community discussion topics, and downloads.

Manual processes and tasks also exacerbate heavy workloads. The capabilities of AMSs/CRMs and virtual event, marketing automation, and email platforms are truly amazing. They save you hours of time and allow you to do things that weren’t possible in years past.

Yet many associations still use software with limited capabilities. An old version of an AMS forces you to spend time on manual data entry, redundant processes, workarounds, and troubleshooting. When systems aren’t integrated, you waste time importing, exporting, collating, and comparing spreadsheets.

Time is money, and modernizing technology frees up time so you can focus elsewhere. Instead of getting frustrated by outdated technology, you have more time and energy for planning, creating, and marketing programs that meet the needs of everyone in your membership and market—those who are ready to return to in-person events and those who are looking forward to more virtual events and educational programs.

Myth #2: The board makes decisions about technology investments.

Every CAE has it drilled into their head: the board leads, the staff manages. The board sets the direction and identifies goals and broad strategies to reach those goals. The CEO and staff decide how to invest the resources allocated by the board to achieve those goals.

The staff are association management professionals. It’s their role, not the board’s, to assess the strengths and weaknesses of existing technology, identify gaps and needs, and prioritize technology improvement and/or implementation projects. They understand what’s going on in the association industry and are familiar with the association technology market. They know how best to leverage technology to achieve strategic goals—and if they don’t, they rely upon the guidance of consultants and/or peers.

As the board are the experts on industry issues and challenges, staff are the experts on association management issues and challenges. They understand the competitive landscape and should be the ones who take the lead on technology investment decisions.  

Myth #3: Industry suppliers love our bronze/silver/gold sponsorship packages and exhibit booth opportunities.

The pandemic revealed what many people had suspected for a long time: the traditional approach to sponsorship wasn’t that great. If your virtual conference was one of the first for your sponsors and exhibitors, you were lucky. Their participation was based on hope and loyalty. By the end of the summer, sponsors and exhibitors were opting out of virtual because they weren’t seeing any value.

Sponsors and exhibitors aren’t enthused about virtual conference packages that consist of logos, listings, and chat boxes. Keynote intros and gamified booth visits don’t deliver qualified leads. Associations and their revenue partners must work together to find new ways for both parties to achieve their goals.

Companies need business development year-round, not just the few days during your event. They would rather teach than sell, which is why most of them practice content marketing throughout the year. Instead of the typical bronze/silver/gold package, sponsors would rather share their expertise through:

  • Sponsored educational events – webinars and sessions
  • Sponsored content – articles, blog posts, reports, and white papers
  • Sponsored virtual discussion groups

Some associations worry about mixing “church and state.” They don’t think sponsored content (sessions, articles, and webinars) should infiltrate their publications and education. But many associations are delivering valuable sponsored content to their audiences along with valuable revenue to their bottom line. You can too if you establish and enforce content standards. Technology opens up unlimited opportunities for you to partner with companies, take advantage of their expertise, and deliver valuable content and programs to your key audiences.

Myth #4: Chapters are a pain in the butt.

If the mention of chapters elicits groans and eye rolls, it’s a sign your national/chapter relationship is on shaky ground. Chapters are the face of your association. Most members spend more time on chapter activities than on national activities. Their association relationships are primarily with fellow chapter members.

How does an “us vs. them” mindset get started? Every association (and chapter) has its own story, but we’ve noticed a common pattern. Your requests for data and reports are an administrative burden for volunteer chapter leaders and tiny chapter staffs. You ask, and ask again, and they give reluctantly, incompletely, and tardily. Trust is lost as resentment and misunderstandings fester.

A modern CRM/AMS streamlines chapter management. It alleviates the administrative burden and facilitates data and payment sharing. An online community gives chapter leaders a place to learn from each other and take advantage of your chapter resources.

2021 is an opportune time to look at the assumptions and beliefs you have about members, revenue partners, chapters, programs, and relationships. With all the change we’ve been experiencing, what you’ve always believed may no longer be true. You may have blind spots you don’t know about. You might be missing opportunities to increase the value of membership and improve relationships with your association allies.

Fíonta has helped hundreds of associations streamline staff processes and improve member experiences with technology. Contact us if you’d like to talk through some options for your organization.