“Don't just create an event, create an experience,” says the SOS Event team.
Here are some ways to make your event fun and memorable.
Creating an Experience
Inviting leading experts to speak about pressing topics in your industry and networking events are a good start. According to Bizzabo, (36%) of event marketers claim their biggest challenge comes from increasing event registration. Planners are starting to explore alternative, fun, and informal activities so prospective members feel energized and excited about becoming a member, such as; movie nights, simple team building, emphasize hands-on activities and collaborative learning.
All about the Attendees
Creating personas can help in the creation of proper content and communication methods that will appeal to your attendees. Personas are fictional, generalized characters representing various needs, goals and challenges of your members. Create fictional characters to represent each type of member you would like to attract to your association. Have a persona in mind (just as you would think about a friend if you were to write a letter to them) as you develop event content and communications for the group each specific persona represents.
To increase attendee interaction consider pairing up each prospective member with a long-time member who can welcome them and introduce them to other members. The IRS broadly defines associations as “a group of persons banded together for a specific purpose”, attendees are more likely to become a member of an association if they feel a strong sense of community, coordinated activity, and opportunity to build several lasting connections. According to EventMB 2018 report, attendees’ priorities are networking (82%), learning (71%) and entertainment (38%) and self-improvement is important to (37%) and time out of the office is appealing to (16%).
According to ASAE’s 2012 Benchmark report, event registration counts for about (50%) of non-dues association revenue. Consider making joining even more compelling by offering an event discount or benefits for new members. Highlighting a member registration price versus a non-member price for every event, along with additional member benefits your association may also offer, can serve as a reminder for people who are looking to become members.
Location. Location. Location.
It seems that getting members to keep registering is a challenge for many associations. Changing the location to somewhere unique is a way to get members engaged, excited, and builds word-of-mouth marketing around your association’s events. According to EventMB 2018 research publishing, (53%) of events are taking place in unusual venues, demand for non-traditional meetings facilities is expected to increase by (3.8%) in 2018.
I am an Arizonan. I was born and raised here. I have owned horses and barrel raced, and I read westerns; Louis L’Amour was one of my favorites, so my blog is going to start with the western theme of riding for the brand.
In the West riding for the brand meant staying loyal to what matters. In the solitary world of cowboys, that means the ranch (brand) for whom they worked and their personal moral compass.
After I got past my cowgirl phase, I went to work. One of the jobs I had in the early eighties was as a waitress for Coco’s Restaurant. At that time, Coco’s had very distinctive uniforms and you could get fired if you were caught wearing your uniform outside of work. Coco’s philosophy was that, because the uniform was so recognizable, wherever you wore it, you represented the brand - so no after work drinks in uniform.
Just another way of riding for the brand.
So, by now you are asking yourself what does this have to do with associations?
I believe once you say you are part of an association you become a representative of the association, especially if you are a board member or association staff.
Association leadership needs to be focused and visibly committed. They need to exemplify a guiding culture that nets a positive impact for the association. Association leadership needs to nurture meaningful relationships with everyone.
A board or staff member grumbling about the association can have far reaching repercussions on the association.
Association leadership needs to put forth an association culture that makes prospective members want to be a part of it.
Associations sell the invisible. The ROI on association membership is usually presented as a list of member benefits. Members do appreciate the tangible benefits they receive, but that alone does not drive membership; relationships, culture, and passion for the cause drive membership.
Association leadership needs to live, demonstrate, and communicate that culture and passion.
In other words, association leadership should always ride for the brand.
If you are like me, the day to day tasks can get in the way of the overall big picture for an organization. Thinking strategically is very important for every association – but how to make it top of mind?
Strategy itself is really a way of thinking about, and planning, the steps you will take to accomplish a purpose. If you are like most organizations, you spend at least one board meeting a year on strategic planning. Usually this session involves an overview of your Vision, Mission and Values, as well as accomplishments from the past year.
I recently took a two-day refresher course on strategic planning, which not only gave me some new tools, but helped to solidify why Strategic Planning is so important. Like that famous saying “Those to fail to plan, plan to fail.” Certainly we want our associations to succeed, so strategic thinking and planning become of paramount importance.
There are four main steps in the strategic planning process:
1) Analysis/Assessment – looking at the current state of the organization and doing an internal and external environmental scan. Familiar tools for these environmental scans is the SWOT and PESTEL Analysis.
2) Strategy Formulation – looking at the current mission, vision, values and strategic goals and objectives help us know if we are on the right track.
3) Execution – coming up with and operational plan, which includes your tactics and action plan, is a key component to success.
4) Evaluation – how do we measure, monitor and adjust in order to be successful?
For the purposes of this blog, I want to focus on step #1 – Analysis/Assessment.
I have often used the SWOT analysis in my strategic planning, however, I confess to not always knowing what to do with it in order for it to be the most valuable for the organization. In the refresher course I took, we looked at how to map the different categories – Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunity and Threats – in order to come up with goals and objectives. For instance – if a strength is accreditation and an opportunity is membership growth, a SO Strategy (Strength/Opportunity) might be “to strengthen messaging around accreditation and create a marketing plan to get the word out to potential members.” This little tip was worth the price of admission.
The other tool that was introduced to us was the PESTEL Analysis. This analysis looks at the Political, Economic, Socio-Demographic, Technological, Environmental and Legal issues that surrounds your association. I had not used this tool before and loved the way they laid out questions to help you consider ramifications you may not have looked at before. For example, a political question could be “what are the trends and key players at the Federal, state and local levels, that could affect us during the next 3 years?” Or under Socio-Demographic, the question of “what are the demographic and social trends that affect our members” would be a good question to ask.
Another great thing to do during strategic planning is doing some Scenario Planning. Outline a couple of scenarios for each area we identify as top initiatives. Brainstorming these scenarios can lead to surprising goals and objectives, including sometimes realizing the initiative is not important and should be scrapped.
Bottom-line: strategic thinking and planning is a must. If your organization hasn’t done a strategic planning session in more than a year (or ever) SCHEDULE IT NOW! An annual board retreat is a great place to start. Hiring an outside consultant always works well, but if you have the expertise on your board or staff, use them. Putting on your strategic hat and working to come up with goals and objectives that will propel the organization into a stronger, more resilient future is worth the time and effort to get it done.
In the summer following my sophomore year of high school, I started my first “real job.” Like many teenagers, I went to work for a famous fast food establishment. And, like many teenagers, I had little use for the miscellaneous pearls of wisdom and motivational platitudes frequently dispensed by those in positions of authority, including the store managers. After a few weeks on the job, I developed a special disdain for a placard the franchise owner had affixed high upon a wall in the back of the restaurant, near the dishwashing station. In glaring, oversized font, the sign read, “Rule #1: The Customer is always right. Rule #2: If the Customer is wrong, refer to Rule #1.”
Whoever came up with that sign, I would think to myself during those first few weeks, certainly never worked here. It seemed impossible to do anything quickly enough to make customers happy. They complained that the line moved too slowly. They complained that it took too long to enter orders into the register. Even the customers who took minute after minute to count out and then pay with hundreds of pocket lint-studded pennies (and there were many of them) complained when their orders weren’t ready in a matter of seconds.
In those summer months I often worked as a closer, waiting on customers or cooking food for six hours, followed by two hours spent mopping, scraping, and scrubbing. I have vivid memories of long summer days spent taking orders from chronically impatient patrons, followed by evening hours spent plunging my hands into scalding water to scrub grease-encrusted cooking implements. Whenever I’d catch a glimpse of that sign, I would grumble under my breath, “Yeah, right!” After every shift that summer, I was convinced anew that the sign was mocking me.
After one especially frustrating lunch shift that involved an exploding milkshake machine, I’d had enough and decided the sign needed to go. I retrieved a ladder from the storage room and proceeded to ascend toward the offending sign. At the very moment I reached the ladder’s apex, I heard a vaguely familiar voice call out from below, “What are you doing up there?” I looked down to discover the face of the franchise owner staring up at me. With comically perfect timing, he had arrived to perform a surprise inspection.
In hindsight, it’s easy to see that I wasn’t exactly thrilled to be spending my summer shuffling between a cash register and a fry station when so many of my peers were enjoying more leisurely pursuits. That summer, I too often let youthful disgruntlement color my perceptions when it came to customer interactions. In reality, there were usually only a handful of impolite customers each day. Most of the people I dealt with were perfectly pleasant, even if they occasionally expected their orders to be ready almost instantaneously (it was, after all, a “fast food” establishment). Instead of viewing the job as an opportunity to hone my communication and customer relationship skills, I allowed myself to view each interaction as a nuisance.
When I came down from the ladder, I mumbled something about having to straighten the sign. The franchise owner laughed knowingly and said, “You know, I don’t actually believe the customer is always right. And you don’t have to believe it either. But if your actions convince each customer that you believe it, you’ll do well in business.”
I appreciated his candor, and from that day forward I made an effort to put his words into practice. I adjusted my attitude. I tried harder to see things from the customer’s perspective. And, every once in a while, when customers did get on my nerves, I used those moments as opportunities to work on skills that might come in handy later in life. I stayed at the job for two more summers and even received a small college scholarship from the franchise owner at the conclusion of my senior year.
Providing excellent customer service is obviously essential within the association management industry. Succeeding in this line of work requires being responsive to and respectful of our clients’ – and their members’ – questions, requests, suggestions, and even their occasional complaints. In the association world, our customers might not always be “right” in the sense that we may not always agree on the best course of action to meet a particular goal, or the time required to do so. But when they push back, when they challenge us to do better or work faster, they are “right” in a more important way: they are right to care about the outcomes we are charged with achieving on their behalf. Maybe there was something to that sign after all.
We are always looking for ways to increase our fundraising. Recruiting new donors is a prime focus, but there are ways that we can seriously impact the amount and frequency of donations from existing donors as well.
There is an interrelationship between the number of times you contact or “touch” a donor or prospect and the amount of the gift(s) they give. And if your primary focus is to only show your gratitude during those contacts, the donations will increase exponentially.
Example: I worked with one nonprofit group that made a point to thank and appreciate their donors without asking for anything else in return. The staff of this organization brought together a group of members (The Gratitude Committee), volunteers, board members and staff, who were passionate about their cause…and who enjoyed talking on the telephone. The group objective was to call members, visitors, and donors just to thank them for their support – whether it be money, volunteering, prayers, etc. - and to have a minimum of 3 contacts with each person through the year.
Methodology, On the initial call, they did not ask for anything, instead expressing gratitude and a sincere appreciation for their support. In fact, when people they called asked if they were calling for a donation, the team members clearly explained that was not the purpose of the call. This may sound counter-intuitive, but this group found many of their donors and visitors were shocked when they were thanked and not asked for anything else.
On future contacts, the objective was still to show gratitude and not ask for donations. This group made the Thank You phone calls, sent a hand-signed and addressed Thanksgiving card in November, made calls to personally invite people to free events, tours and more.
Results: So how were their results? The Gratitude Team worked in conjunction with several other groups and projects, so it is tough to pin down the specifics. But here are some of the things we saw:
With an Attitude of Gratitude, the sky is the limit for your fundraising. Use your imagination and go for it!
Stay tuned for more….
We often find that catering can be somewhat overwhelming. Whether your company is ordering for a monthly meeting, annual conference or special event, there are ways to simplify your catering needs and save money. With literally hundreds of food options, spanning dozens of menus, it can be tough to determine where to start. So, we thought we would share some simple but effective ways to help.
A good place to start is to understand the different types of catering. Each type has a slightly different type of planning, pricing, and ordering procedures. Once you can narrow down to one of these, it will help simplify your menu choices, while also saving you time and money on the ordering. Here are three basic types of catering to consider:
From small office meetings and trainings to large regional events, the ability to have great food delivered on site saves time and money while allowing you to focus on the more important task at hand. Continental breakfasts, box lunches and buffets are all popular for corporate catering.
Social Event Catering
From office birthday parties, staff fun days, member meet and greets to retirement parties, social events cover a wide range of events (and food). Appetizers, bartenders and edible centerpieces are just some of what you might see catered at events like these.
Seasonal or major public events all fall into this category. This is where you will find lots of people. Planning for these takes a pro to make sure you have all the right menu choices for your audience.
Now that you have your category determined, remember that you are in control of what you order. Sounds simple, right? The reality is with so many choices it’s easy to overlook your budget and end up with more food than you can afford or can eat!
According to Randy Peters Catering, the following four tips will help you save you time and money when ordering for your event. Keep these in mind as you consider your next order:
Remember, professional caterers are part artists and part service providers. The more information you can give them the better. Also having a great caterer on file is always an amazing resource.
Sometimes your organization is in need of some killer graphic design. Whether you need a poster for an event, a design for your upcoming annual report or to spice up your social media imagery, an aesthetic presentation and visual appeal is essential. Plus, it just looks nicer.
The problem arises when it comes time to decide how such needed skills will be paid for. You could hire a graphic design artist for your needed projects, but graphic design isn’t cheap! Project rates average anywhere from $20 to $300 per hour, assuming that the designer charges hourly (some designers charge a project-based fee, which could be even higher).
I am fortunate in that I took it upon myself to pick up some graphic design skill sets, which have proven very beneficial for many of the non-profits I’ve worked with. I am proficient in the Adobe Creative Suite, which includes some excellent graphic design programs, but this software requires a very specific skill set and many people (including myself) struggle with just the basics. So what do you do when you’re on a budget and you need a quick flier design for your upcoming event? You use a DIY graphic design tool.
DIY graphic design are simple-to-use web-based platforms that remove the barriers of complicated software, enabling just about anyone to create a beautiful design. The platforms are usually template-based with simple, customizable drag-and-drop features. Here’s a list of a few web-based DIY graphic design tools that will simplify your next graphic design project:
Canva (free subscription available) – Canva is the big Daddy of DIY graphic design platforms. It’s the one I’ve used most extensively, and so far I have no complaints. They have an extensive gallery of templates to choose from. You can download your files as PDFs, JPEG, or PNG files and customize the design for just about anything – social media posting, flier, newsletter, card, poster. I even took it upon myself to complete their user training program. Apparently, I’m now an advanced user.
Easil (free subscription available) – Easil is a platform very similar to Canva. They have thousands of templates to choose from for just about any purpose, but also provide design assistance and offer full service printing too!
Easel.ly (free subscription available) – Easil.ly is a DIY web-based graphic design tool created specifically for infographics. They offer an excellent non-profit discount rate (50%) for their pro accounts, which are already only $3 a month. They do have a free subscription, but your access to templates is very limited. So far, I can’t determine that there’s any connection between Easil and Easel.ly – despite the similar names.
Pic Monkey (paid only) – Pic Monkey is a photo editing tool that also includes graphic design features. The platform offers online photo editing, image retouching and collage making. They also have a print shop and offer online trainings for all their features. The only downside is there’s no free option. Their subscriptions start at $5.99/month.
Be Funky (free subscription available) – Be Funky is a platform similar to Pic Monkey. It is targeted mostly to photo editing, with graphic design and collage maker features included. However, design is limited to things like geometric shapes, emoticons and stickers. This looks to be a great alternative to Adobe Photoshop.
It’s great to see that there are innovative minds out there who want to simplify the design process. Nonprofits are no longer limited to paying for designers for graphic design services. Find the DIY platform that works for what you need, sign up and let your creative juices flow!
As a Nonprofit, budget constraints are a constant hindrance. Fortunately Google for Nonprofits tries to remove those hindrances by offering their Basic package of G Suite to Nonprofits. One limitation worth mentioning up front is that this service is only available to 501c3’s. If you are a c4 or c6, sorry to say, you will have to pay. That being said, there are some great benefits of using their service.
Video – No doubt in today’s world video is becoming a requirement to engage with your audience. Google allows you, among other things, to use Youtube to take donations, and have access to their YouTube Spaces. (YouTube Spaces are venues around the globe that are for creators to utilize for creating new content). Just having access to YouTube for video storage is huge, it takes the burden off of your own computer or costly cloud storage for storing large files.
Ad Grants – Google also allows 501c3’s to utilize their AdWords services. If you aren’t familiar with AdWords, it is how Google handles its online advertising (those ads you see on the side an top of the page when you do a google search). Once you sign up and are approved, you are given a $10,000 per month grant towards advertising. It is on a “use it or lose it” basis, so be sure to properly setup your keywords. It does take some time invested in setting it up and understanding the process. But usually once you have it setup, it takes minimal maintenance on a weekly or monthly basis.
Designated Email - You also can get a custom email address for free. So instead of your email ending in @gmail.com, it would end with @yournamehere.org. This is a small but important factor in establishing your credibility as a Nonprofit. You want to make sure your brand is being presented in a professional manner, especially if you are asking for donations.
These are just a few of the highlights of Google’s Nonprofit program, there are many more resources they offer that can be found here https://www.google.com/nonprofits. They also have a large learning section that shows you step by step how to get started. Additionally, we here at SOS can also help you make the most of their services. Get in touch with us and let us know how we can help!
Recently I’ve attended a few industry conferences and they all have been chock-full of great information and what always seems to be a ‘hot topic’ are the industry apps.
So, after much trial and error, I’ve put together a list of some of the current apps that help you stay organized, connected and informed.
You can download these apps right to your smartphone or tablet and start using them right away.
Here is my list of Smart Apps for Smart Devices:
These additional apps are for video and photos – they are amazing at keeping your videos sharp and organized. Check them out and see which one is right for you.
Photo & Video
Event & Social Media
So, with my smart app list, you will be ready for any job that comes your way.
What do Alexander the Great, Alfred the Great and Catherine the Great all have in common? They were all considered to be great leaders – what made them great?
Alexander the Great had incredible success as a military commander, due to his bold strategy, his ability to vary his tactics, and the loyalty of his troops. He was described as perceptive, logical and shrewd. He had a great thirst for knowledge, a love for philosophy and was an avid leader. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alexander_the_Great. I’m sure having Aristotle himself as his personal mentor had its advantages.
Alfred the Great was described as open-minded, an advocate for education, and an exceptional listener. He had a reputation as an educated, knowledgeable and merciful man. He improved the legal system, military structure and the quality of life for his people. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alfred_the_Great
Catherine the Great had a reputation as a benefactor of the arts, literature, and education. Russia was revitalized under her reign and was recognized as one of the great powers of Europe. She was described as courageous, intelligent, logical, optimistic and ambitious. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catherine_the_Great
What qualities do they all have in common? Strategy, ambition, courage; knowledge and education; perception, logic; and the respect and admiration of the people around them.
In my life, I can recall a few leaders who really made a positive impact. And all of those leaders shared the following qualities:
Leadership is asking questions, building teams, building trust, and equipping others to lead. Leadership requires confidence, creativity, compassion, conviction, consistency, and the ability to influence others. BEING a leader is about building relationships and inspiring and engaging others.
In nonprofits and associations, we use the term servant leader, which “focuses primarily on the growth and well-being of people and the communities to which they belong.” https://www.greenleaf.org/what-is-servant-leadership/
A servant leader should have the following qualities:
Those of us privileged to serve in the nonprofit sector should strive to apply these qualities of leaders and servant leaders in our daily lives when dealing with family and friends, bosses and co-workers, colleagues, constituents and the general public.
We may not get the term “the great” behind our names, but we should strive to be “great” at what we do.