How Great Events can Help your Member Engagement Strategy

Engagement Audra Hopkins

It’s the biggest time of year for your association: event season.

Yes, the time you’ve been preparing for months has finally come, and you’re ready to show your members what this year’s event has in store. You’ve booked the vendors, secured sponsors, and marketed your event for months.

With all that hard work in mind, you want your members to actually engage with your events. An event with low attendance and engagement rates is any association’s worst nightmare.

Hubspot and Constant Contact report from 2011 claims that 90% of nonprofits rank their events as very important. Chances are, your association does too.

Here’s another statistic to think about: According to ASAE’s 2012 Benchmark report, event registration counts for about 50% of non-dues revenue at associations. That’s right, half of event revenue comes from event attendance, which directly relates to member engagement as well.

So, how do you ensure your events are an offer members can’t refuse? Strategize your event planning, secure sponsorships, and create unique activities.

If you’re looking to improve your association’s member engagement strategy through events, here’s what to consider:

 

Start with a timed plan.

Any good event starts with a well-thought out event plan.

But, where do you begin? What does your association need to do for the optimal planning strategy?

A good place to start is with time management.

According to Cornerstone Dynamics, it takes almost twice as long to complete a task than we expect it to. That means for every event plan your association is considering, it will take twice as long to put into place as originally thought.

Since this is true, it’s important for associations to use all planning time wisely. You don’t want to spend too much time thinking and not enough time doing.

Segment your event planning into sections. For example, you could have separate sections for sponsorships, marketing, booths, registration, etc. Anything that can be categorized, should be.

Once you have everything organized, estimate how much time each task in that category will take. Since we just learned that activities take around twice as long as we expect them to, leave spare time.

Segmenting your tasks for event planning not only takes the guessing out of time management. It also saves your association a lot of stress in the long run.

 

Get creative.

Has your association produced the same event for years? While members may look forward to your annual event, they don’t want it to be a repeat of years prior.

According to Bizzabo, 36% of event marketers claim their biggest challenge comes from increasing event registration. It seems that getting members to keep registering is a challenge for many marketers.

If your association wants to increase its registration amount, it needs to get creative with event activities.

Think about what makes your association unique and incorporate that into your events. For example, if your association centers around wildlife conservation (like the National Wildlife Rehabilitators Association), create opportunities to incorporate wildlife into your event. You could hold an event at a wildlife sanctuary, a conservatory, or even a zoo.

Changing the location to somewhere unique is a way to get member’s engaged and excited. It’s also a way to build word-of-mouth marketing around your association’s events.

Another way to make your next event a unique experience is to create a theme.

While a theme may sound like something that only goes for parties, it can bring a lot of buzz around your association’s events.

A good example of a themed event is the Illinois SAE’s Annual Convention & Trade Show.

This year, their theme was, “Teamwork Makes the Dream Work”. Their event was centered around an overarching theme of sports. ISAE found ways to relate these themes back to the core values of a good team in the workplace.

Your association can follow a similar plan when it comes to event themes. Pick something you can relate to your event and create unique experiences centered around that theme.

Market wisely.

Marketing your event is one of the most important parts of any event planning process. If you don’t take the opportunity to market smartly, your event engagement could suffer.

In another study by Bizzabo, 63% of marketers plan on investing more budget into future events. However, if your money isn’t being implemented in the most effective ways, it can affect the success of your event.

One way to market events is to customize your marketing pitch based on the target audience.

The Illinois Association of School Business Officials (IASBO) found success in this strategy. In fact, they found so much success that it increased their event revenue by $20,000.

So, how do you customize a targeted marketing pitch? Start by segmenting your members. You can do this any way that makes sense, but one way is to separate members based on their career experience.

For instance, would you market an event to a CEO in the same way you would market to a professional newcomer? Chances are you would take two different approaches.

If you’re marketing towards high-level executives, pitch them the idea that your event still has something to offer them despite their career status. If you’re pitching to new business professionals, pitch them the career development aspects of your event.

You can also customize your campaign’s path as well. You can create different paths for different audiences, setting a unique cost, pitch, and call-to-action.

 

Follow up with a survey.

Once your event is said and done, you don’t want to lose touch with your members. How else will you know what they thought of your event?

A perfect way to get member feedback and boost member engagement is through a post-event survey.

A post-event survey can be sent through email or direct mail. However your association decides to do it, a survey will get the feedback you need to better your events.

Make sure your post-event survey is member inclusive. You don’t want to create a survey that caters to one membership level/ career type and leaves out the rest.

You also want to make sure you only ask the most important questions.

SurveyGizmo reports that response rates can increase all the way to 85% depending on the quality of both the participant and the survey. With that in mind, you want your survey to be appealing to members.

We all know how important time is to members, so you don’t want to take up any more time with your survey than necessary. Keep the list of questions concise, but make sure they cover the important topics.

Create an event that members can’t help but engage with. With the right planning, marketing, and creativity, your events can see an increase in both attendance and engagement.