Association Executives from over 70 Associations attend Presidential Forum Virtual Symposium Day 1 to discuss Association Event and Conference management in the presence of covid-19

Association Executives from over 70 Associations attend Presidential Forum Virtual Symposium Day 1 to discuss Association Event and Conference management in the presence of covid-19

On June 17, 2020, over 70 Association Executives convened for a Virtual roundtable Symposium to discuss Event and Conference management issues.  Session #1 was about the technology adoption and attendee experience related to transitioning from in-person to virtual conferences.  The peer-to-peer discussion was led by Jason Paganessi, VP of Technology from American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA).  Session #2 was about navigating the cancellation or rescheduling of in-person conferences/events, specifically the unprecedented legal, insurance and financial aspects.  This peer-to-peer discussion was co-moderated by Nori Jones, CFO of SHAPE America, and Mark Espinosa, CFO of American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS).    

For Session #1, in summary some of the biggest takeaways and surprises were as follows:

  • In transitioning the in-person to virtual annual conference, one Association chose not to use the word “cancelled” in any of its communication to avoid potentially negative stigma.
  • Several Associations mentioned [much] higher attendance with the virtual conference compared to the historical in-person annual conference – in one case a 6-fold increase in the number of attendees.
  • Engaging trainers to help speakers with their online presence.
  • Happy hours were an effective draw for sponsors.
  • Didn’t need a software platform, just used Zoom or Gotomeeting.
  • The virtual event is viewed as a good selling point for getting previous non-attending members/non-members to later attend in-person events.
  • Lack of attendee interaction was a shortcoming that one Association wanted to overcome the next time.
  • Conducting the virtual conference across a long window (e.g., 2 weeks) was considered too lengthy.
  • ASAE will be hosting a Virtual Platform Demo Day on June 29-30.  Good opportunity to see these vendors in one place.
  • 1st time virtual conference using Zoom – had only 1 negaive feedback out of 250 attendees!
  • Some other technologies used by the Associations included Social27 built on Microsoft Teams
  • Using pre-recorded presentations and then having attendees use the live chat to comment and ask questions.
  • Use of virtual Breakout rooms
  • Posting on-demand videos from sponsors
  • Incorporated online shopping experience in combination with conference.
  • Official wellness sponsor with online trainer to lead brief exercise breaks.
  • One issue is replicating the networking experience of an in-person event online.

For Session #1 our sponsor was Aura Innovative Technology who briefly shared their mobile registration app used for virtual and in-person events. Aura is a specialist Aptify implementations and cloud hosting company.  Aura also developed an association management software solution based on Oracle’s popular NetSuite software.  For more information contact James Chen, CEO,,  Phone (312) 479-6211

For Session #2, in summary some of the biggest takeaways and surprises were as follows:

  • Getting out of cancellation fees took a lot of negotiation, but was successful.
  • Using the local ordinances, state executive orders, and CDC guidelines to support legal arguments for getting out of your conference related contracts.
  • Staying in touch with local officials, visitors centers, and conference center management to know what direction they will be taking on local ordinances and being in the know as soon as they are announced.
  • Working closely with attorneys to tailor the cancellation letters.
  • Some Associations had communicable disease coverage, but this appears no longer available in the future or is prohibitively expensive.
  • Some Associations processed all attendee refunds to make the claim on insurance.
  • Some Associations mentioned willingness of attendees and sponsors and exhibitors to transfer fees to next year’s show.  Always give this option instead of refunding everyone was the advice by some Associations.
  • In some cases paid speakers were not flexible on the fees, while many other accommodated with lower fees or offering to do multiple virtual event presentations for the same cost of the one-time in-person keynote.
  • Rebooking hotels to future date has helped Associations from losing deposits.
  • What if there is an outbreak at the hotel that you are doing a future in-person event.  How to handle potential liability exposure was seen as an issue.

For Session #2 our sponsors and also subject-matter experts were attorney Richard Bar from  GKG Law as well as insurance practitioners Patti Loftis and Derek Symer from AHT Insurance,  and Greg Plotts, CPA from Aronson LLC.  Our subject matter experts, well versed in legal and insurance matters related to conferences and cancellations, provided the association executives additional guidance during the peer-to-peer discussion.

  • Richard Bar is the practice nonprofit specialist and was named to Washington Post Magazine’s Washington DC 2020 Super Lawyers List.    Rich can be reached at, Phone (202) 342-6787.
  • AHT Insurance is a leading insurance practice for associations and nonprofits.  Read their latest professional guidance on your transition to virtual events and conferences:  You can reach Patti and Derek at,  phone (703) 737-2234 and,  phone (202) 845-8260.
  • Greg Plotts is a partner in the nonprofit/association practice group of Aronson LLC, a leading CPA firm in the Metro DC region helping many associations on their event cancellations and navigating through the economics of covid-19.  More information:  You can reach Greg at, phone: (301) 231-6226

Symposium Day 1 concluded with Happy Hour.  The association executives got a chance to be the first to see the results of a nationwide survey of Associations on the topic of Event Cancellations caused by covid-19.  This groundbreaking survey was conducted by ORI, Inc. over a 2-month period and provided the audience with extensive insight into how covid-19 has impacted the operations of associations.  The results were presented by Kathy Benson, CEO, and Jay Yeo, Consultant.  You can get more background information, and/or obtain a copy of this report electronically at:  For more information contact Kathy Benson at, Phone (571) 257-3205

Association Executives from over 70 Associations attend Presidential Forum Virtual Symposium Day 2 to discuss Member Engagement & Acquisition as well as Non Dues Revenue Strategies

Association Executives from over 70 Associations attend Presidential Forum Virtual Symposium Day 2 to discuss Member Engagement & Acquisition as well as Non Dues Revenue Strategies.

On June 30, 2020, over 70 Association Executives convened for Day 2 of the Association Executive Virtual roundtable Symposium.  Session #1 and #2 were held previously in the month.  Session #3 was about how the various associations in attendance are using data and technology to drive member engagement and acquisition.   The peer-to-peer discussion was co-moderated by Reggie Henry, CTO, American Society of Association Executives (ASAE), and Villy Savino, VP Technology Transformation at CoreNET Global.   Session #4  was about Non-Dues Revenue. What has your Association Done [orTried to Do] to Create an Alternative Revenue Stream.  This peer-to-peer discussion was moderated by Prabhash Shrestha, PMP, CAE; Group EVP and Chief Digital Strategy Officer, Independent Community Bankers of America (ICBA)

For Session #3, in summary some of the biggest takeaways were as follows:

  • Reggie Henry kicked off the conversation by doing a Zoom Poll of the audience which revealed:  most associations in attendance viewed their adoption of technology for member engagement as 2-4 on a scale of 5.  The second questions asked about the use of AI (artificial intelligence) in which a vast majority of associations said they were not using any AI driven algorithms in their software technology.   The final question related to the impact of covid-19 on engagement where the audience was evenly split into three categories whereby covid-19 was either making member engagement easier, more difficult, or no-change.
  • Sense of belonging and hyper-personalization were key attributes of how to elevate member engagement and acquisition.
  • Associations are seeing the use of unstructured data as being increasingly important to drive decisions.
  • Regarding unstructured data one association shared that they did polling of early career professionals (millennials) during their conference.  This led to findings that many were PhD candidates so needed access to research and technical material, and many were also looking for career advancement or to find a new job.  This information led the association to design a career center based on these needs.  It also helped inform them of the value of the technical and research materials of their association.
  • Associations talked about how they measure and drive engagement.  Some key elements of engagement included educational course attendance, volunteerism, voting, committee membership, participation in any aspect of the association.
  • One association mentioned using netForum’s A-score system as a metric for member engagement.  They look at 10 different criteria for the member engagement score.  The limitation is that it is only based on member data in netForum, but phase 2 is to incorporate data from their LMS and their community collaboration platform.
  • Another association shared their loyalty model.
  • Putting more attention to newcomers and getting people more involved with committees.
  • Engagement is about what the member thinks about the value of their membership.  One association asks members “what are the top 5 things you are trying to get done” and see how the Association can help.
  • A couple of associations mentioned Prop-Fuel as a member engagement software in use.
  • Issue for small associations is the lack of resources available. How to incorporate new innovations with limited resources.
  • 1st three years is the critical phase for determining if a member will stay long-term or not.
  • One association mentioned their focus on getting back to basics – helping members with networking and connections, quality education.

For Session #3 our sponsor was  Ron Berns shared Rasa’s eNewsletter product used widely by associations which utilizes AI (artificial intelligence) to tailor each eNewsletter’s content to the interest of each reader based on what he/she had clicked on previously from a content-perspective. Ron showed how this is valuable for member engagement/personalization as well as a tool for acquisition (measuring what content your audience is interested and how it might shift over time depending upon current affairs).  Ease of implementation is also an important feature of Rasa. For more information see  Contact Ron Berns, Senior Sales Executive,,  Phone (301) 706-6060

For Session #4, in summary some of the biggest takeaways were as follows:

  • To start the dialogue, Prabhash Shrestha provided the audience an extensive catalog of various non dues revenue that associations are currently engaged in:  digital ads, sponsored social posts, micorsites, mobile apps, affiliate marketing partnership programs, association directories, content (subscription, syndication, pay per access, publishing, data reporting), API technology solutions, market intelligence, industry statistics, journals & publications, co-created online events, magazine and eBooks, online learning, credentialing , job board, support services (e.g., call center, education provider, technology support, etc.), admin services to chapters & affiliates.
  • one association talked about a business innovation and readiness model that they are developing for use by their members.
  • Another association developed an accelerator/incubator program to fund early stage companies that are targeting to serve the members of the association.  Those early stage companies that are successful will become affiliate partners of the association and the association will be able to garner future ongoing royalty income.
  • Digitalized publication for members and non members
  • Working on a data exchange platform
  • Extensive Webinar series and focused on becoming more of a learning organization
  • Expanded offering for member professional development.
  • One association created a new product development process to define how new ideas will be hatched and brought to market as products.
  • Connecting members, sponsors and exhibitors as a fee for service.
  • Industry partnerships.

For Session #4 the sponsor and subject-matter expert was Celerity. Albert Thibault, Director of Business Development, shared an overview of how Celerity helps Associations build out their digital presence to enhance revenue generating opportunities. Examples he shared included Somos and Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) where Celerity was able to provide the digital platform for successfully launching new revenue streams. More info:  Albert Thibault can be reached at phone (202) 907-5597.

Results of Nationwide Association Survey on Event Cancellations caused by COVID-19

Results of Nationwide Association Survey on Event Cancellations caused by COVID-19.

Association Executive attendees of the Presidential Forum Symposium on June 17, 2020 were the first to receive the final results of a groundbreaking nationwide Association survey conducted by ORI, Inc. entitled COVID-19 Association Event Cancellation Survey.

The report examines how associations are navigating the repercussions of cancelling or rescheduling conferences amid the pandemic. As a bonus, the ORI report also included the results of a recent survey taking the pulse of how the crisis is affecting associations more broadly—at the organization and individual levels—to provide additional valuable insights. Follow the link below to access the final report.

AI-driven insights. ORI analyzed the stories that association leaders shared using leading-edge AI-powered text analytics technology to detect the recurring themes, sentiment, and emotion expressed in their comments. This crisis is affecting us all in different ways, so we felt it was critical to examine your association peers’ personal experiences—in their own words.

High-value insights. Check out the full report to explore the top findings and themes, including:

  • 42% of respondents cancelled 1 – 3 events, while 22% cancelled 10+ events
  • 49% of respondents commented on their experiences moving from in-person to virtual/hybrid events
  • The importance of building strong relationships and working together to find alternative solutions emerged as a top theme—particularly in relation to working with venues, conference centers, and hotels
  • Many respondents encountered difficulties around insurance not covering pandemics, negotiating cancellation conditions, and needing to invoke the Force Majeure Clause
  • Reimagining what future events will look like, revenue loss, and a reduction in retention dominated the anticipated long-term effects of event cancellation

As the repercussions of COVID-19 continue to be felt across organizations around the globe, the ORI, U.S. Transactions Corp., and Aronson teams hope that this report will help you gain a better understanding of how the crisis is affecting your peers—and inspire you with innovative ideas for pivoting and adapting during these trying times.

For more information contact:
Kathleen M. Benson
CEO & Co-Founder

Wade Tetsuka
U.S. Transactions Corp.

Greg Plotts, Partner
Rob Eby, Partner
Aronson LLC
301.231.6226 or 301.231.6291