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Survey Shows Virtual Events Helping Associations Get By, Barely

Data gathered from managers and executives for North American trade associations reveals notable non-dues revenue difficulties without in-person events, but also improved ability to fulfill some member needs via digital.

Live events are perennially the primary source of member engagement and non-dues revenue for associations, and the Covid pandemic has brought significant challenges on both fronts. Proof of this is found in the 2021 Association Communications Benchmarking Report released in August by Naylor Association Solutions, which surveyed more than 500 senior staff members at North American trade associations and association management companies.

For example, 75 percent of North American associations saw flat or lower non-dues revenue generation in the past year, while 61 percent expect lower non-dues revenue this year—and 30 percent expect the drop to be greater than 10 percent. Further, 46 percent of respondents expect to have difficulty rebuilding advertising, sponsorship, and exhibit sales to pre-pandemic levels even after in-person events start to return.

On the other hand, 64 percent of respondents consider virtual conferences and events very or extremely valuable, compared to 56 percent in 2020. Also, the number of associations having difficulty in transforming their legacy events to the virtual medium has fallen considerably in the past year. In 2020, four out of five respondents said they were having difficulty with the transformation. In 2021, only two out of five said that.

As for member engagement and communications, 82 percent of respondents rated face-to-face interaction at live events as the best way to gauge member needs—but 73 percent say online surveying during events and at other times as an efficient way to learn what members want and need from the association.

To read the full 2021 Association Communications Benchmarking Report, click here.

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