ASAE Annual Meeting Showcases Digital Opportunities as the Way Associations Succeed in 2020


Another ASAE Annual Meeting is in the books, but this one was unlike any before it, of course. For everyone wondering how the shift to all-virtual would impact the event, some answers are provided in the numbers. Impressively, the show set a record for attendance with more than 14,000 registrants!

It was inspiring to see the association industry put its creativity and adaptability on display. From the speakers to the sessions and the virtual booths, there was so much imagination and thought put into the planning and execution. It’s amazing to see how far we have come in the past six months. COVID threw us out of our comfort zones, but we’re responding with all the agility you’d expect of an industry poised to steer straight into whatever “new normal” we find ourselves in.

While the all-virtual format of ASAE20 was probably the lead story, several other themes quickly became apparent. Through the topics of the sessions and through discussions we had with attendees, it became clear that many membership organizations find themselves tackling challenges that are not completely dissimilar to those they’ve always faced, yet these challenges are now framed within an unfamiliar context created by the pandemic.

Like many of the various industries associations serve, the impacts of COVID have been uneven. Some sectors, such as travel and hospitality, have faced greater adversity than others. Ultimately, it’s hard to find a business or industry that hasn’t faced adversity in some respects. And like it has for so many businesses, that has meant a reduction in staffing or cutbacks in outsourced services for membership organizations.

One of the shared attributes so many association staffers take pride in is their ability to wear multiple hats. This is especially true in small-staff associations. But we all have limits, and a primary concern emanating from organizations is how they can continue doing more with less staff.

Ideally, the answer is that cutting staff and services doesn’t become necessary. Unfortunately, that usually comes down to money, which is probably why revenue was also a major talking point at the conference. Perhaps never before has non-dues revenue been more important to membership organizations, yet at the same time, our current environment of digital-first presents many organizations new challenges for generating that revenue.

If we’re able to find a silver lining in this adversity, it’s that meeting the challenge of finding digital non-dues revenue also means identifying new opportunities. The success of ASAE20 seems to indicate that we’re ready to tackle these challenges – that we understand the need to identify these digital opportunities and how to benefit from them.

Events have been the most impacted form of non-dues revenue, but we’re making progress in virtual event design (just look at ASAE20!). We’re learning how to engage members digitally. We’re learning how to offer sponsors value through our virtual events.

All this equates to the ultimate goal of retaining members. It goes without saying that a membership organization cannot exist without its members, and proving value to these members when they need it most is key to keeping them around long term.

It’s too early to know what ASAE21 might look like, but it’s undeniable that ASAE20 has proven digital opportunities will be a key factor in getting us to 2021. Furthermore, when you consider the success of ASAE20 (as well as other virtual events we’ve attended), it’s unlikely we ever see another day that digital experiences and online offerings aren’t a major part of membership organization interactions.

The pandemic put our digital transformations into hyperspeed. Now, we have to harness all the opportunities that can bring. Attendees at ASAE20 showed they recognize changes are taking place, and they also recognize the value of tapping into these changes for a thriving future. We’re tackling digital transformation head on. Sure, there’s plenty more work to be done, but as we grow our collective digital capabilities, we’re unlocking even more potential.

Digital is in our DNA at MultiView, and we too are always evolving and plan to keep doing so as part of this industry’s bright future. Thanks to all of you who visited with us during #ASAE20, and if you want to explore the digital earning potential at your association, reach out anytime!

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