A white paper produced by the London-based Institute of Association Leadership reports that 46 percent of association executives who were surveyed canceled their organization’s largest event in 2020, while another 46 percent moved the event online before the end of 2020. But with 70 percent of those virtual events not charging a fee for members to attend, the report’s authors state the following:
“Some organizations have been seemingly apologetic for the move to digital, charging nothing for their content. Inexplicably, some associations perceive online provision as being less meaningful than content delivered face-to-face. The ease of access to vast amounts of good-quality digital content should be recognized as an invaluable member benefit rather than presented as an inferior alternative. But many organizations have undermined their value proposition by failing to charge for such membership services.”
Further, “associations that have adopted this approach have, of course, seen a negative financial impact. Conversely, those that have focused on delivering high-quality content rather than focusing on delivery models have seized the opportunity to continue adding value to their member’s experience and have enjoyed lower levels of financial disruption. Indeed, some have benefited from enhanced income and impact.”
Later in the December report, the authors—Andrew Chamberlain, managing director of U.K.-based Consort Strategy and Issie Carroll, business development executive for the firm—present several “calls to action” for associations in order to maintain their revenue streams in the future. One of their ideas is to rely less on in-person events and more on paid hybrid and virtual learning opportunities. However, the authors note that “associations cannot simply take a physical event and drop it into the virtual environment, then expect the same results. Virtual events fail when associations do not adapt [program design] to the technology which now acts as their event venue.”
The survey of IAL members also found that, on average, associations lost 30 percent of their income in 2020 versus 2019. The authors say this could be the beginning of a longer period of lackluster revenue among associations for which “the in-person event has been their main offering for a long time, as they might assume that they will struggle to articulate what else they can offer to members. For such associations, there will definitely be a negative financial impact unless they recognize opportunities and embrace change.”
The full white paper is available only to members of IAL.