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MASAE members are front line professionals in association and nonprofit management. They are chief staff officers, executive directors, senior staff and members of diverse teams including membership, marketing, financial, human resources, education and information technology (just to name a few).

Members are also consultants, vendors and suppliers from a host of backgrounds, all committed to helping nonprofit and membership organizations from throughout the region continue to realize their missions and more. The community has come together to create this blog and share their experiences with the larger association community. It’s part of MASAE’s commitment to create real value, right in your back yard. We hope you enjoy the stories our guest bloggers share and that you join in the conversation by sharing your thoughts in the comments section.

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  • Wednesday, August 04, 2021 2:04 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Written by Skip Heymann, Exhibit Connection

    It has been quite a dry spell for the conference and event industry. By the very nature of being in-person events, the format has certainly taken a hit in the last 18 months. We can dwell on the downsides caused by the pandemic — however, why not look on the bright side: we are starting to see the business of conferences come back on schedule, live and on site. The next obvious question is: are you ready?

    In the downturn we have all taken – perhaps you have needed to downsize, furlough or reorganize your staff. Perhaps the new economy encouraged your employees to seek new opportunities in more remote work settings. Whatever the case, things are most likely not what they were before COVID. A new model of operations could be necessary if your organization needs to spring back into action for the Fall conference season.

    To scale back up in a short time span, a very viable option is to outsource various functions to trusted vendors. At first glance, this option may seem counter-intuitive, given the complexities of your needs for your market or clientele. However – some tasks can benefit from the expertise and independence of a knowledgeable partner. This is especially true with event sales.

    Outsourcing event sales can alleviate stress while ensuring your event is successful and on target. In many cases, it can actually cost your company far less than a dedicated employee. And, as you’ll see, using a contract sales vendor can initiate new opportunities, while delivering on the all-important ROI that conference organizers need.

    How You Benefit from a Contract Sales Professional

    An outsourced sales vendor can come in at just the right time to execute on your event sales plan from start to finish. Here are five advantages of outsourcing to an experienced company:

    1. They have one goal: your company’s success. While your in-house team may have many projects, contracted event sales professionals have one objective: executing on your revenue goals to deliver the results you need.
    2. They have relationships that can help you. Established event sales professionals are connected to many vendors and partners, from digital marketers to technology providers to exhibit manufacturers... Their network enables them to navigate any glitches, and you can benefit from the trust they’ve taken years to establish.
    3. They won’t stress—and (more importantly) they’ll help you stress less. Each part of your event marketing plan—social media, invitations, collateral development, websites, landing pages—involves many decisions and deadlines. A contract sales professional is trained to think about these things, while executing the revenue generating activities that help pay for them all. They’ll keep their cool so you can too!
    4. They can get a good deal. Sometimes, event sales professionals can leverage their connections and can get discounts you aren’t aware of. By bringing in another organization, you immediately expand your “sphere of influence” and take on a much broader network. Since a sales professional always works on your behalf, you increase your industry footprint immediately.
    5. The bottom line. The truth is outsourcing will cut your costs — as you will only “pay for what you need.” This concept works for more than just personal insurance… An outsources sales asset can be temporary, seasonal, project orientated, or performance based. It all depends on your needs and the contract you work out.

    Finding the Right Freelance Sales Team

    If you are reading this post, then chances are you know how complex event sales can be. Exhibit Connection (EC) specializes in outsourced event sales and can offer all of these benefits and more. Our organization has decades of experience in this industry and has impacted the operations and revenue for organizations just like yours.

    Curious? Reach out to us about making your next event your best yet. Getting back to business is in all of our best interests, so we would love to discuss how we can make that happen together.

    All the best,

    Skip Heymann

    VP Sales and Business Development

    Exhibit Connection

  • Monday, July 29, 2019 10:47 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Written by: John Hooley

    Heladería Coromoto in Merida, Venezuela has over 860 flavors of ice cream. Flavors include saltwater fish, garlic, avocado, and concoctions with names like “British Airways” (which I assume tastes like Earl Grey tea and Biscoff cookies). Visiting an ice cream parlor like Coromoto is fun in large part because of the number of flavors. Figuring out exactly what you want is a delicious and entertaining challenge. However, the number of options you present can create exactly the opposite experience as well, frustrating and angering people. This issue is actually one of the key obstacles that prevents members from having an intuitive experience with your association website. In this blog post we’ll explore how this occurs, how it impacts your website, and a quick fix to overcome it and make your site instantly more intuitive.

    Choice Meltdown

    How can the number of choices entertain in one context and frustrate in another?

    Imagine it’s a sunny July day and you’re heading out the door to indulge your inner eight year old with a waffle cone from Ben and Jerry’s. As you leave, your spouse asks you to get a scoop of the cookie dough flavored ice cream for them.

    At the ice cream counter, you spend five minutes sampling everything before deciding on a scoop of Bourbon Brown Butter for yourself. You’re happy, but then you turn to the task of feeding your spouse and ask yourself, “Okay, where’s the cookie dough?”

    Perusing the glass case, it takes you a bit, but you find, “Chip off the Dough Block.” That must be it. But wait, as you walk down to the clerk you notice, “Wake and No Bake”- is that it? Marching up and down the case, you discover “Cindoughrella.” Is that what they meant? Or “PB Doughable Chocolate?” Or “The Tonight Dough?” You end up getting frustrated and ordering them a scoop of vanilla. They’re lucky you’re getting them anything! Storming out the door, you glance at the case one last time and your eyes lock on, “Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough.” You stamp your feet and toss the scoop of vanilla into the garbage!

    That’s the frustration in these situations, because here’s the thing:

    Our precious little brains can only hold so many choices in our mental “bucket” at a time. Scientists call this working memory and it’s been shown that most people can’t hold more than 4 - 5 items in their mental buckets. Processing 38 flavors of ice cream is hard and creates a mental challenge. Challenges can be fun in the right context, like choosing your ice cream, but they can be frustrating in others where you’re just trying to accomplish a goal, like getting your spouse’s ice cream.

    Your Association Website Options

    On your website, this situation occurs in your navigation. Visitors are coming to your website, not for an entertaining challenge, but to achieve a goal. They want to:

    • Sign up
    • Renew
    • Access online training
    • Get a question answered
    • Register for an event
    • Connect with other members
    • And more...

    Your navigation is their primary tool for them getting what they want. It’s the ice cream case for visitors.

    If you overload visitors with options and try to present everything available on the website you’re going to make them work for what they want and frustrate them.

    So what’s the answer? Remove options. Every page you remove from your navigation makes it instantly more intuitive.

    In our ice cream parlor example, imagine how easy it would be to find what you’re looking for if the only flavors were chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry. That would be so easy a child could get their parent a scoop (no marriages ending at that ice cream counter!)

    How Many Pages Should Be In Your Navigation?

    How many pages should there be in your main navigation?

    No more than four.

    I’m only half-joking, because that’s the chocolate, vanilla, strawberry level of intuitiveness that our brains are designed to easily process. Unfortunately, there are probably more than four things your visitors are looking to get out of your website.

    I like to quote Albert Einstein when thinking about what to remove and what to keep, “Make everything as simple as possible, but no simpler.”

    The closer you can get to 5 main navigational items and 4-5 sub-navigation items (e.g. a drop down menu), the more intuitive the experience will be for your members.

    Be Selective About What to Show Members

    There are several tactics to re-organize and curate the pages available in your navigation. In general, I recommend to remove options that don’t serve members from the main navigation and put them in secondary navigation options (like the footer or a smaller text top navigation) or remove them altogether.

    Every page you remove from your navigation makes the remaining items more potent. You have to weigh how useful a page is to your visitors, members, and mission versus the tax it creates in your members minds when they try to find what they’re looking for.

    5 Fixes to Build Engagement With Your Association’s Website

    Creating a more intuitive navigation is just one tactic that you can use to build member engagement with your website.

    If you attend this year’s annual MASAE 2019 meeting, I’ll share with you an additional “5 Fixes to Build Engagement With Your Association's Website.” You’ll learn not only specific techniques to improve your navigation that build on what I’ve shared here, but also:

    ● What unfair advantage you have over your association’s competitors.

    ● How to create value for members without working more or hiring someone.

    ● A 3 minute test to get actionable feedback on what on your website is hurting your association.

    On top of all this, the session is packed with shortcuts, tips, and strategies that will help you better serve your members. It’s designed specifically for you, the association professional, with tactics you have the power to implement.

    Free Bonus

    If you register for MASAE and attend my session you’ll receive a free copy of our $19 e-book on this topic. (

    Save $50 by Registering Today

    It’s going to be a fantastic meeting with the theme, “Reaching the Peak of Association Leadership.” Save $50 by registering today as an early bird:

    John Hooley is the president of Resurgent, a digital strategy agency with a mission of adding 90,000 members to professional communities by 2029.

  • Thursday, March 14, 2019 3:58 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Written by Amanda Kaiser,

    Amanda Kaiser is a member engagement specialist and consultant for the association community. Amanda writes a popular weekly blog at

    Imagine that your members are on one side of a canyon. This canyon has steep walls, and a raging river with rapids is running through it (maybe even sharks). This metaphorical canyon separates your members from your association. The river represents the gap in understanding members have about the association and what the benefits we provide can do for them.

    Your members have problems. Some of these problems are easy to solve; many members have had these same problems before. Other issues are new or complex or high-stakes problems. You members might not be looking for solutions thinking they have to live with the problem or they might be searching for answers. They look around their side of the canyon, they look in the water, and they look into the sky, but they cannot find a solution.

    On the other side of the canyon, you have a benefit that contains the exact solution they are looking for. You are shouting across the canyon “benefit. Benefit! BENEFIT!!! Here is a great benefit.” Your members hear you yelling, but they don’t do anything.

    Why? Because we have not bridged the gap of understanding between their problem and our benefit. Your members are softly whispering, “I am struggling” and we are saying to them, “try this benefit” usually without linking our benefit to their current frustration. So how do you build that bridge of understanding?

    • State the problem using their words and ideally include the emotions they feel because of the problem.
    • Reveal the solution, the outcome, and how other members felt after receiving the solution.
    • Default to short clear messaging especially for new, less engaged members.
    • Pick a warm, engaging tone that is pleasant, friendly, and maybe even uplifting.

    If your goal is to improve member engagement one of the first places to start is to build the bridge of understanding for your members. Show them the link between their problem and your solution. Over and over again.

    Amanda Kaiser is a member engagement specialist and consultant for the association community. Amanda writes a popular weekly blog at
  • Thursday, March 14, 2019 3:56 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Written by Amanda Kaiser,

    Amanda Kaiser is a member engagement specialist and consultant for the association community. Amanda writes a popular weekly blog at

    When someone asks you how you are, do you say, “busy”? “I have been crazy busy” has been my go-to reply. Fifty years ago did people say that? Maybe but probably they said, “I am fine, thank you.”

    Today professionals are time-starved. There is never enough time to do the things we want to do at work or at home. I hear this in the research often. From university presidents to CFOs, to fundraisers, to engineers, to financial planners, to association professionals, none of us have enough time.

    Being involved in an association usually takes time. But what if our association could give back time to our members? That would be an enormous benefit! And this is something many associations already do.

    • Benchmarking studies save members the time of having to do it themselves.
    • Curated content saves members time from searching and validating content themselves.
    • Association online communities can save members time because they don’t need to sift through the mess of some public communities.

    What else could save time?

    • Association consulting services that help members get to a solution faster.
    • Association agency services that help members with time-consuming media and content production.
    • Or what about an association service that helps members connect with just the right member.

    Perhaps what your strategy, marketing, and innovation needs is a focus on how the association can save members’ time.

  • Thursday, March 14, 2019 3:50 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Written By Amanda Kaiser,

    Amanda Kaiser is a member engagement specialist and consultant for the association community. Amanda writes a popular weekly blog at

    In the age of infinite choice, organizations can not afford to make the purchase experience difficult. And so we see one-click online ordering, retail stores with no checkout lines, curbside pick up, and more. All of these changes, which would be unheard of just a decade ago, seek to make the consumer experience easier. Frictionless.

    Grocery chain executives are likely having conversations like this, “maybe my grocery store carries the same items as the grocery store down the street, but I can change the grocery buying process making it quicker and easier for shoppers. Busy people will shop here when they see they can save 10 minutes or a half an hour a week purchasing their groceries.”

    The only places where we still see friction-full buyer experiences are where buyers have few choices. The airlines, utilities, government offices, hospitals, etc.

    If you work for an association where membership is required or an association with a 98% retention rate and no competition, your association might be able to get away with a bit of friction.

    The rest of us need to design frictionless experiences wherever members interact with us, including:

    • Intuitive member applications
    • Easy to understand membership tiers (or no tiers)
    • Immediate access to behind-the-pay-wall member benefits upon joining
    • Timely, valuable new member messaging that solves the problem they currently have
    • Professional development opportunities even if I cannot come to an in-person event
    • Easy access to other members who have the same niche project, goal, or challenge
    • Quick response to members who call, email, or chat
    • Quick-to-read but highly valuable newsletters
    • Intuitive website navigation
    • Curated networking
    • Customizable data
    • Helpfulness
    • Welcomes
    • Smiles

    Try standing in your member’s shoes and list all the points of friction between members and the association’s policies, or staff, or systems. Get started by picking an easy one to solve and gradually work through your list eliminating all the points of friction in your members’ experiences.

  • Wednesday, November 01, 2017 9:22 PM | Deleted user

    Posted By Joseph Sapp, CAE, Wednesday, Nov 1, 2017

    Much like others who find themselves in Association Management, I was completely in the dark about the industry until I found myself right in the middle of it. I did not study to become an Association Executive and I have never joined a membership society before therefore I did not know that there was an abundance of associations for almost anything.

    At the start of my career in association management I was at the bottom – learning membership protocols, staffing a booth at a tradeshow, returning phone calls to the office, and stuffing envelopes. As I improved my understanding of what this industry was, I sought resources that would give me more opportunity. That first resource was DVSAE and, subsequently, MASAE.

    I attended a half-day workshop in Philadelphia and there I met a few people, heard some things that made no sense to me at the time and left overwhelmed. A few months later I attended the Annual Conference. I saw someone that I had met at the previous workshop, and they remembered my name. They welcomed me and said it was good to see I had decided to attend the conference.

    That was an “Oh Sh*t” moment that changed everything. I was no longer working in Association Management, I had a career in Association Management. I had found a community, one that gave me the tools I needed to grow professionally.

    Since that day, I have been to nearly every MASAE event. I have met colleagues and friends. People that I trust, that I can call with a question and know without a doubt I am getting honest and professional feedback.

    I have seen what impact I can have on the industry as well. From calling a member about renewal to planning the Annual Conference, I have seen the value the organization brings to people and their career. I think about the different industries our members serve and the type of value they are bringing, and from time-to-time it still gives me that same “Oh Sh*t” moment I had years ago when I realized the value that MASAE gave my career.

  • Monday, October 16, 2017 9:20 PM | Deleted user

    Posted By Ryan Rosenbaum, MBA, Monday, Oct 16, 2017

    I have been working in Association Management for the last 15 years. This is something I am proud to say because there are 1.5 million professionals working for 90,000 trade associations around the country. Association Management is a small field compared to others. Larger associations (Mainly AMC’s) could have dozens of employees but a majority of associations have 5 staff members or less. Because of these statistics, we, Association Professionals, tend to navigate our world by turning to colleagues who work at other similar associations. “Who knew that there was even an association for the associations” is what I thought to myself a few years ago!

    I found MASAE in 2010. I was a few years into my career and really looking to share and gain knowledge from those in my industry. I found out that even though every association was different in its mission, the core values are quite similar. Many of us have shared strategic obstacles, membership development techniques, technology concerns, board engagement issues, educational components, marketing campaigns and sponsorship ideas to share.

    By attending MASAE conferences, webinars and networking events, I have been able to enhance my career but I’d like to think that I’ve improved those around me too. There is a great sense of comradery of professionalism. I look forward to the MASAE events as It allows me to network and see how everyone is progressing in their careers. Seeing familiar faces and even newer faces offers me the encouragement and assurance that I’ve chosen the right career. Being a part of an SAE is also my commitment to my professional career. It indicates a constant devotion to learning about the industry and taking these educational steps in helping my association.

    MASAE has both the duty of fulfilling its obligations to its members by offering a superior suite of opportunities. It has no choice as the members themselves know a good membership organization when we see one. It is my hope that many of you see these same values that I have experienced in the last 7 years because as I learned, we can’t do it alone!

  • Sunday, October 01, 2017 9:04 PM | Deleted user

    Posted By Ethan Gray, Wednesday, Oct 1, 2017

    If you’re like me, Association Management was not on your radar screen while you were in college. Since I finished my undergraduate studies in 2003, the industry has (in my eyes) gained much more visibility. I think that speaks not only to its vitality but the recognition of its essential role in society by institutions of higher education. That didn’t help me in 2003 though. I left college with enthusiasm, great memories, an economics degree and almost no direction. Instead of moving back home, I relocated to Philadelphia with my future wife and some equally wayward friends and signed up for AmeriCorps (an exceptional program with beautifully varied opportunities).

    AmeriCorps introduced me to the non-profit environment and to real service. When my term ended, I envisioned two paths I could consider walking: 1) Go back to economics and try to find an entry-level role asan analyst or continue to pursue this foggy non-profit world. I chose the latter. I was lucky enough to convince several people that I had areal penchant for service and for contributing to a cause or profession designed to make a difference rather than simply generate a profit. Two jobs later I said to myself “I seem to have at least found a role that makes sense and might keep me gainfully employed for a while”. This was partly because I had been able to transfer skills I had acquired in my econ training (data manipulation, introductory project management etc.). This is an important point because I believe many concentrations teach fundamental skills that are applicable daily tothis industry. In a way, that provides a diversity of opportunity that may not be so readily available elsewhere. Anyway, I found myself in another period of contemplation. And then it happened. I found a job atan Association Management Company. What was “As·so·ci·a·tion Man·age·ment”?? I didn’t know but would be quickly educated. When Ifully grasped the concept, I knew I had found a career. Not only was I amazed but I felt gratitude for having somehow been delivered to this opportunity; an opportunity for a real professional life. Through that job, I was introduced to MASAE. Now, I had not only a career path but a community and resources to help me navigate, contribute and be successful.

    That all happened 11 years ago. Since then, my wife has walked a path that lead to the same industry (how cute) and her vocation has taken her all over the world as a volunteer specialist teaching people about the power of professional engagement and community.  Through this all, MASAE has been a place for learning, building relationships and becoming a better association manager. The organization was a principal reason I pursued and achieved the CAE credential. I have been grateful that MASAE has also allowed me to serve as a speaker, committee member and now board member.

    Whether you have been recently delivered to Association Management or are seasoned, MASAE is your community and can be an indispensable resource should you choose to engage (come to networking events! access resources online! join a committee!). The community will be stronger with your contributions. My path to this profession was largely circumstantial. Since I arrived, I have been deliberate in my unwillingness to travel elsewhere. I know many MASAE members and I would like to meet and learn from more. I hope to see you at upcoming events. Feel free to connect at any time.

    I now work in membership at the Society of Hospital Medicine in Philadelphia; or find me on LinkedIn.

  • Sunday, January 01, 2017 8:38 PM | Anonymous
    Posted By Administration, Friday, January 1, 2016
    Updated: Tuesday, May 26, 2015

    By Rick Rutherford
    Industry Resource Director, YourMembership

    It’s nothing personal, it’s just business.

    Whenever I hear that phrase, I feel my blood pressure start to rise! Of course it’s personal – it always has been.

    The whole notion that business isn’t personal simply provides justification for treating people poorly in the workplace and within organizations. It works to diminish human interaction and the results are almost always counter-productive. It is at the very heart of poor customer service. We all know that people who aren’t treated well don’t stick around, whether that be employees, customers, or members.

    One of the alarming trends I’ve noticed during the last 36 months is the increasing number of associations that are being force to disband – essentially going out of business. The most common reason I’ve seen given for this is dwindling membership, causing shrinking revenues that eventually lead to the organization becoming no longer financially viable. Competition for associations has increased substantially, and even with an improving economy, there is still a great deal of pressure on non-profit organizations.

    You may have heard the phrase “people don’t quit jobs, they quit people.” The same can be said for members and their associations.

    As our organizations struggle to find new and creative ways to grow and retain membership, they are finding themselves forced to place all of their cards on the table. They must create a member experience based on undeniable value. Does that mean overhauling the traditional dues structure, adding new services, or more non-dues revenue initiatives? Maybe. But I think what is really needed calls for something more personal – getting personal.

    Getting Personal

    As a society, we always find room for the things we value, even when that seems impractical. Traditionally, members have rallied around their associations during tough times. The ability to network, share ideas and ask for help created unbreakable bonds until associations ran smack into the buzz saw known as technology. The New Millennium has not brought glad tidings to many organizations, which have been forced to realize they’re not quite up to speed when it comes to serving this new, demanding audience that wants, and expects, everything at the click of a mouse.

    We’ve all witnessed, and been given access to some of the most amazing technological advances known to man. The born from technology have made us more available to one another than ever before. It’s a 24/7 world whether you want to engage it, or not. And yet with all of the advancements in technology we seem to have grown more impersonal in how we communicate with one another. Just because it’s been tweeted, or is out there on Facebook doesn’t mean the connection has been made.

    People join associations for a variety of reasons, most of which are personal. Whether they are there for professional development or volunteering their time and talents, it is a personal commitment to the organization. And on the flip side of the equation, when it comes to staff providing exceptional service to your members – it should be personal.

    Going Old School

    So as we work our way to the Dog Days of Summer, I want to boldly suggest an “old school” approach to cultivating an intimate relationship with your members that has been a longtime and proven favorite of mine – pick up the phone!

    One of the casualties resulting from the growth of technology in communications is that we often end up removing the person, the real person, from the equation. Email, texting, tweeting have made it so easy to avoid the “real” in communications – I’m talking about the conversation. No sharing of mood (sorry, emoticons don’t count), personality, or understanding of the true nature of the message. Calling someone on the phone has become a big deal – as in taking a lot of effort.

    How often have you read an email that leaves you thinking the author is angry with your organization, angry with you, or just plain rude? In many cases when you talk with the person to discuss their message, you realize they are neither angry, nor rude – just not a very good writer.

    Email is often a poor form of communication at best, one that can easily be misinterpreted. Misunderstood messages often lead to nasty exchanges that wouldn’t have happened otherwise.

    Do you want to make an impact that lasts longer than the time it takes to compose an email and then have the recipient move that message to a “black hole” folder? Institute a no email day, at least for yourself. Once a week, once a month – it doesn’t matter. Start with a commitment you can build from. Start with yourself and then engage your staff to join you.

    The Starting Point

    Where do you start? Look in your inbox. Select someone you have only communicated with through email or have not spoken with in quite some time. Look in your database and identify members who have not been contacted by anyone from your association in a while. Call members coming up for renewal. Call (former) members who have let their membership lapse (a tougher conversation, for sure). Call a member when they receive an accolade, professional or otherwise. Call a vendor or sponsor to let them know how valuable they are to the ongoing success of your association. I guarantee you, there is a lot of low hanging fruit you and your staff can pick.

    Now you’re ready to enjoy the opportunity of making a real connection. Maybe there is no one there to take your call and you end up leaving a message on their voice mail. In the end, it doesn’t matter. Either way your voice on the line says “I care about YOU.” That always makes a difference. Start dialing!

    It’s not just business, it’s personal.

    About Rick

    As YourMembership’s Industry Resource Director, Rick guides YM’s thought leadership initiatives, directing the company’s Resource Center, weekly blog and monthly webinar series, as well as coordinates YM’s Industry Alliance Program.

    Rick has worked in the association industry for more than 29 years, serving as a vendor partner, staff member, and co-founder of a technology company focused on associations. Rick previously served as the Communications Director for the Texas Society of Association Executives, where he received a Gold Circle Award from ASAE.


  • Tuesday, November 29, 2016 8:56 PM | Deleted user

    Posted By Amanda Kaiser, Tuesday, Nov 29, 2016

    The following is a guest post from Amanda Kaiser. You can check out more great posts from her on her weekly blog for association professionals at or follow her on Twitter @SmoothThePath.

    Your annual conference is even more important than you think! For many new members the annual conference is the first time they get to interact with the association and the community in a meaningful way. If they have a good experience at this first conference they are more likely to become more engaged. Many members also say the conference is the biggest value compared to the association’s other offerings. Conferences are where our members have their first experiences of the association and conferences are where our members derive the most value.

    Because conferences are important we want to deliver the best possible experience for all attendees, first-time to long-time. This is certainly the case for the Mid-Atlantic Society of Association Executives (MASAE). This year I participated in the conference committee and got to see conference planning in action (by the way, the conference is December 14th and 15th in Atlantic City and I think you should go). What is particularly interesting about this year’s conference is the team methodically set about meeting some of members’ biggest challenges. Here are the challenges we all have and here is what we did about them:

    New Members Feel Like Outsiders

    One of the most common stories I hear in member research no matter the association is that first time attendees feel like outsiders. They don’t know anyone but, it seems like everyone else does. They don’t know the industry lingo but, it seems like everyone else does. They don’t even know where to go or what to attend but, it seems like everyone else does. When first-time attendees feel like outsiders for too long they do not get as much value from the conference and they do not come back.

    Some of the committee members noted that they too had the same feelings as first-time attendees. The team decided to try a first-time attendee orientation at the start of the conference. The orientation has two objectives: 1) make new-comers feel comfortable and welcome and, 2) give first-timers a sense of what to expect and what not to miss. New attendees will leave the orientation knowing each other and the conference committee members. If they want to ask questions during the conference or are looking for a friendly face to talk to at lunch or during the evening reception they will have us!

    Attendees Have a Hard Time Taking Insights to Action

    Have you ever heard members say something like, “well, at the conference I always learn at least one new thing”? Don’t we want them to learn and remember 100 new things? Isn’t it a success if they act on 10 of those new things? The conference is not a success if the only value is earning CAE credits. We want attendees to absorb what they learned, digest the implications for their unique situation, remember key insights and put them into practice back at the office.

    Conferences can be really long with very packed days. We run from keynotes to sessions to lunch to and back to sessions with very little time to ruminate on what we just heard. The committee decided to build in time for reflection right into the conference schedule. At the end of the conference attendees will be invited to choose their favorite topic to discuss in small groups. In this low-pressure, collegial environment they will have the opportunity to share their biggest take-aways and early thinking on how they might implement within their association.

    Associations Are Under Extreme Pressure to Change

    A recent association industry benchmarking study says that 7 out of 10 associations have just started focusing on innovation in the last one to five years. Most associations are decades old and are finding the old model isn’t working as well as it used to. We are having to innovate but innovation is new, uncertain and risky.

    Because innovation and change is such a big focus for associations today, the focus of this year’s conference is also on innovation and change. Four keynote and five session speakers will be tackling the topics of innovation and change. They’ll be sharing how they are doing it at small associations and large associations. They’ll be sharing ideas for association CEO’s as well as those involved in professional development, membership, marketing and more. They will be talking about organization-wide innovation and how to have a more innovative mindset. We’ll hear about how to change a culture and how to set up the right processes. We will learn that innovation is not luck and heroes. Innovation is a science, something we all can do. Did I tell you? I think you should join us?

    One association colleague of mine said the best conferences are not only ones where you learn from the sessions, speakers and each other but the best conferences are where you also learn from the conference organizers by seeing how they do what they do. I think this will be one of those conferences. We’ll be learning from the speakers. We’ll be learning from each other. And we will be experiencing in real time how each of these new tactics works and how to make them even better back at our own conferences.

    It is going to be great!

    I haven’t even mentioned yet all the other new things you will experience. There will be an innovative new show floor layout. The four keynoters have been working together as a team for months to bring us a cohesive story. Attendees will get a printed copy of the 37-page 2016 Association Industry Innovation Research Study.

    I think you should register now. Don’t you?

    Amanda Kaiser is a qualitative researcher for the association industry. Qualitative methodologies are great for answering difficult, thorny strategic questions. The more familiar quantitative methods like surveys and analyzing our own data are good for answering What. What members are thinking. What members are doing. What goals members have. Qualitative research adds a critical layer of insight by answering Why. Why members are thinking that. Why members are doing that. Why members have that goal. Knowing Why helps us make more accurate strategic decisions.

    Channeling member insights, Amanda writes a weekly blog for association professionals at or follow her on Twitter@SmoothThePath.

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Mid-Atlantic Society of Association Executives
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