Q. I’m an association planner and I’ve watched my association’s membership decline over the last few years. A decline in membership has meant fewer attendees to our events and a smaller budget to work with. As an event planner, I feel helpless. What can I do to increase attendance and membership?
Answer from Meredith Low, Meredith Low Consulting: This question is bigger than just events attendance—but you can still take a leadership role in developing solutions. In many associations, events are a major element of member benefit (sometimes generating revenues for other programs)—and therefore play a key role in supporting membership.
Does the organization recognize the decline as a general problem? Is there a strategy to address it? Has there been a discussion about how events can play a role in that strategy?
What to do depends on the root cause of the decline. Is it due to lack of interest, lackluster marketing, or deeper industry changes?
Can events marketing be aligned with membership marketing? Events generate amazing content—can they be used as part of a more general content marketing strategy? If the event marketing is more sophisticated and purposeful than membership marketing, can you cross-fertilize ideas and tactics?
If the decline is due to fundamental industry changes, how can events help you address that? Are there new member segments you could help attract through different programming or venues, perhaps even through collaboration with other conferences (from co-location right up to a melded conference)?
You might also want to consider a review of your event portfolio. The organization’s goal isn’t to hold events; it’s to deliver services to members. How can the events do this? Do you need more or fewer? Different delivery platforms? Different people involved in planning?
Do you need members to get delegates? What’s stopping you from marketing the conference to those who aren’t members— and maybe never will be?
Declining membership is typically a concern across the organization, and events can play a pivotal role in tackling the problem. Ideally, this could also integrate the events more fully into the association—and gives you the opportunity to demonstrate your leadership.