December 1, 2022

Planning Engaging and Exciting Association Events: 4 Tips

Featured image for “Planning Engaging and Exciting Association Events: 4 Tips”

Association events are a great way to engage members by bringing them together to network, learn from each other, and stay on top of industry trends. Besides these benefits for members, associations can also leverage these events to drive revenue and increase member retention rates.

Your association and its members can only reap these benefits if you thoroughly plan your events. Staying organized is the first step to a successful event, so you’ll want to start by making an event planning checklist and then stick to it as much as you can. The difference between a good association event and a great one, though, is what you include on that checklist.

In this guide, we’ll walk through four planning tips that will take your association events to the next level, including:

1. Choosing an Event Format
2. Securing Event Sponsorships
3. Building in Networking Time
4. Developing an Effective Marketing Strategy

Throughout this process, you’ll have a number of resources at your disposal to help you plan the best possible event, including your association website and your members themselves. Gathering digital feedback and data from members about each activity at your event is often one of the best ways to increase your ROI and improve your association’s events over time. Let’s dive in!

1. Choosing an Event Format

The first decision you’ll need to make when you plan an association event is what format to use. This choice will depend both on logistical considerations (such as location and available resources) and the type of experience you envision for attendees.

The three event formats you can choose from are:

  • In-person. Live events generate the most excitement and provide the best environment for networking among attendees, but they also require a lot of resources and effort to pull off.
  • Virtual. Virtual events are the most convenient, flexible, and cost-effective for attendees and organizers alike, but the lack of face-to-face interaction and technical difficulties can make them less engaging.
  • Hybrid. With a hybrid event, you get the best of both worlds in some ways—but you’ll also have to work through the technical issues of virtual events and the logistical difficulties related to in-person events.

If you’ve hosted events of any format in the past, attendance data and member feedback can be helpful in making this decision. Imagine you hosted a virtual event last year and a fully in-person event the year before. The virtual event had higher attendance than the in-person event, but both received mostly positive feedback. You might conclude, then, that this year’s event should either be virtual or hybrid to maximize engagement.

Also, keep in mind that each format will require different considerations when it comes to the event budget. For example, you’ll have to pay for a venue to hold an in-person event, software for a virtual event, and both for a hybrid event. Weigh the pros and cons of each option to choose the event format that best fits your association’s needs and goals.

2. Securing Event Sponsorships

No matter what event format you choose, you can make your association event more cost-effective and attract attendees by securing sponsorships. When a business sponsors an event, they contribute money, goods, or services to your association in exchange for brand promotion.

To get the right event sponsors, you’ll need to approach businesses who share your association’s values or can relate to your mission. When you ask them to sponsor your event, send a personalized message that leverages data and storytelling to explain why your association is a good fit to partner with this particular business.

You’ll want to have a first draft of your sponsorship agreement prepared when you contact potential sponsors. This way, you can provide details about what exactly you want the business to provide for your event and what you’ll do to promote them in return. When partnering with a small business, be sure to include their financials in this sponsorship agreement. Small businesses manage their costs and expenses very efficiently.

Once you’ve secured some event sponsors, you’ll want to build relationships with those businesses to make the most of your sponsorship. Double the Donation’s guide to corporate sponsorships offers several helpful relationship-building tips, including:

  • Sharing a detailed plan for success.
  • Communicating with them regularly.
  • Thanking them both personally and publicly after the event.

Putting in the work to research event sponsors up front will help both you and your sponsors build a more positive relationship. Your members will find out more about their business and they’ll provide valuable support for your event. More than that, building relationships with your sponsors can have long-term benefits for your association as you form connections that you can leverage for future support.

3. Building in Networking Time

A major reason why association members attend events—and join associations in the first place—is networking. They get to learn from experts by participating in workshops and listening to speakers and interact with like-minded professionals in the field.

To this end, you’ll want to set aside specific times at your event for member networking. For an in-person event, you could host a reception where attendees can connect informally over food and beverages. Invite the event’s guest speakers to the reception as well so attendees can introduce themselves outside of formal sessions.

Virtual networking will likely need to be more structured, but you can incorporate it into sessions through discussion groups and breakout sessions. You could also create a separate discussion board for attendees to leave less formal comments and read each other’s ideas throughout the event.

However you go about facilitating networking during your association event, it’ll be an important part of your member engagement strategy. Another aspect will be sending out feedback surveys after the event to learn firsthand what went well and what could be improved. Make sure to include a question related to the event’s networking opportunities so that you can continue to refine that aspect of your events to build a stronger member community over time.

4. Developing an Effective Marketing Strategy

Even if you thoroughly research event formats, secure great sponsorships, and provide networking opportunities, your association event will only be a success if you promote it well. Members need to know what the event is about, you can create a nice presentation to showcase that. Also, when and where it’s happening, and how to register well in advance.

The most useful event marketing tool you have at your disposal is your association’s website. Morweb’s guide to building membership websites suggests using your association website builder to create a single dedicated webpage for event information. Some event page best practices include:

  • Posting each event as soon as you finalize the date and location. The sooner your association members know an event is happening, the more likely they’ll be to attend. Even if you’re still confirming some event details when you determine the date and location, go ahead and post it to your website with a note that more information will become available as the event approaches.
  • Sharing simple online registration forms. Supporters will appreciate it if they can register for your event quickly and easily. Plus, collecting names, contact information, and payments in advance will help your association prepare more effectively for the event.
  • Privatize members-only events. If an event is limited to association members, make a note on your main event page and require members to log in to access the registration form.

In addition to your association website, you’ll want to promote your event through other marketing channels, such as:

  • Email
  • Social media
  • Text message
  • Direct mail

No matter what combination of communication channels you choose, the key is to market association events early and often. Your first communication about the event should alert your members when the event is happening so they can mark their calendars. Then, you can send registration reminders and share additional details like speaker names and schedules as the event approaches. This way, you can get more new registrants and generate more excitement among those who have already signed up with each marketing message.

The Gist

People tend to join associations to network with others in their field and explore opportunities for professional development. If your association plans engaging events, you’ll give members what they signed up for and more. Use these tips and digital resources like your website to get started, and ask for member feedback along the way to take your association events to the next level. Good luck!