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New Ways to Deal with Host-Destination Controversies

ASAE has developed a tool to determine whether laws in host cities conflict with an association’s values. Meanwhile, helps associations counter the effect of local laws they oppose—without resorting to boycotts.

These days, most associations are clear about their values in general as well as their positions on particular issues, some of which could conflict with laws in host destinations. As a result, the American Society of Association Executives recently released a framework developed to guide its own board’s decisions when state or local policies or legislation in a meeting destination run counter to ASAE’s organizational values.

The framework, titled Event Location: Questions for Consideration, includes a series of questions the ASAE board will consider when a contentious legislative or policy issue has been flagged in a confirmed or potential host city for an upcoming ASAE event.

The framework is broken down into sections, including:

  • Information-gathering on specific legislation prior to responsive action
  • Legal and ethical questions to be considered in event contracts
  • Equity analysis of a destination
  • Association actions to address a given issue
  • Ongoing issue updates in the destination
  • Collaborating with a destination’s political and tourism representatives

The document was created by a State Meetings Task Force appointed by the board and was edited by numerous ASAE volunteer groups to incorporate member feedback.

“Meeting-location decisions have a different calculus in every organization, but ASAE is sharing this framework with the broader association community because this is an increasingly complex issue for association leaders to navigate,” said Lakisha Ann Woods, CAE, CEO of The American Institute of Architects and ASAE Board Chair. “The takeaway is that there are actually many actions an organization can take to affirm and live by its core values without cancelling or moving an event.”

In addition to considering how adverse policy issues impact associations in an event location, ASAE also sought feedback and constructive input from destination leaders in developing the document. “Association leaders must abide by their organizational values, but their partners in the destination management and hospitality communities are often willing and able collaborators to find a solution for associations struggling with how to respond to adverse political issues,” said Michelle Mason, FASAE, CAE, ASAE president and CEO.

According to a recent member survey from the ASAE Research Foundation, 86 percent of respondents chose not to cancel or move meetings/events as a result of a controversial political, social, or cultural issue.

Dealing with Controversy from Another Direction
With most association conventions booked several years in advance, laws that change in host cities between the booking and the event itself can also cause problems of conscience among association leadership and membership, and possibly hurt attendance.

To approach such a conundrum in a positive way,, a nonprofit platform that allows associations and their meeting attendees to align their values and their spending, has launched. The platform, developed by a volunteer board and support teams, is similar to the carbon-offset model for environmentally sustainable business events. Traveler-specific and general sales taxes paid by attendees during meetings in destinations where laws do not align with their values can be offset with donations directed to charities that do.

“Attendees can be conflicted between needing to engage with their professional and industry networks and not wanting to support states that have enacted restrictive legislation targeted at specific groups,” noted Elena Gerstmann, cofounder and president.SocialOffset gives everyone involved a third way. At its most basic level, SocialOffset says ‘no’ to event boycotts and ‘yes’ to making a difference in that destination.”

Once an event organizer or a destination partners with SocialOffset to host a campaign, 100 percent of the funds donated by meeting attendees are given to one or more vetted local nonprofit groups that deliver programs, services, and advocacy for racial justice, LGBTQ+ equality, hunger relief, housing security, environmental sustainability, and reproductive freedom. Event organizers can choose a group to support, though individual attendees can also seek out their own causes through SocialOffset.

The initiative’s inaugural board of directors features respected leaders from the association and event industries, including Marc Beebe of IAEE; Beth Surmont of 360LiveMedia; Christie Tarantino-Dean of the Institute of Food Technologies and formerly of Association Forum of Chicagoland; Erin Fuller of MCI USA; KiKi L’Italien of Tecker International; Rhonda Payne of Flock Theory and formerly of ASAE; and James Pogue of JP Enterprises. “This team immediately saw the urgency to create a solution and worked tirelessly over the past few months to get SocialOffset established, funded, and launched,” said Gerstmann.

As for cost, SocialOffset charges event organizers $500 per campaign. In addition, sponsoring partners such as destinations, convention centers, hotels, speakers, entertainers, and other supplier companies, make annual investments ranging from $5,000 to $20,000 to support the infrastructure and help the product evolve.

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