Just because YOU built it, do THEY need to come?

“We are interested in doing some research to identify why the members that don’t come, well, don’t come to our events”

-Anonymous, or it could be any event organizer really

In my experience, about 15-25% of members…on average (based, again, on my experience so don’t start quoting specific numbers from some research conglomerate) come to an association’s annual meeting.  Which means that for the other 75-85% of members, there are limited benefits beyond a publication and website, and the resources it can provide to the passive member.

“More strikingly, the proportion of people who say they will drop their membership regardless of who pays has steadily increased, suggesting that members are still looking for value in their membership.”

– ASAE  Winter 2011 Association Member study

I am a lifer in this business and as a member of several associations. I go to (and enjoy going to) many  industry events.  In my mind, what we do is important.  For support of my beliefs, I googled “why attend a convention” and found lots of other committed individuals sharing why  it’s important.  Whether it is a hobbyist who collects things, a doctor, or a writer, they attend because they enjoy  the live experience.  So, I had to keep looking to find out why the other side says “why not?”.

Finally, I found the “Ah Ha!” moment.  A survey by the Christian Research Association on “Why People Don’t Go to Church”.  The reader can replace “go to church” with a blank, because I think it applies to many, many events people don’t like doing…church, the dentist, eat vegetables even though we know they are good for us, stop driving fast, stop texting while driving…all apply.

The survey results struck me, because I think it connects with why people aren’t going to some of the events we all put on.  As you read these, consider your own life decisions outside of work:

From the Christian Research Association (www.cra.org)

#1 – Boring or Unfulfilling…42%.  Now I don’t know if you can hold the religious leaders personally responsible for all of that…I mean, I don’t always go to church really excited about the program!

However, I can’t say every convention or meeting I go to has me really excited about the program either.

#2/3 – Don’t agree with the beliefs/moral views…I don’t get this.  So why are you a member, of the religious, professional, or social organization?  Obviously,  there are probably some people who just join to be a joiner, keep paying their dues, and really don’t align with the important goals of the organization.  We have those in many organizations.

#4/5 – Don’t need to go/Other things I prefer doing…as a member, you really don’t need to go to a convention or meeting.  I don’t go to the dentist unless the pain is so severe I can’t see straight and there is a pain akin to a knitting needle stabbed in my ear.

Ironically, and as a way of bringing this back to the point, I did go to my dentist yesterday as a matter of fact.  He is the quintessential conversion target.  Continuing education is very important to him.  Yet, here is why he shared he doesn’t go:

  1. Costs for him/his staff to attend these events;
  2. The associated transportation/housing costs once you are there;
  3. The cash it takes away from his business at a time technology is changing at a light speed pace
  4. The availability of interesting, hands-on education through other local resources;
  5. Time away from his practice that takes even greater amounts of revenue out of his business;
  6. Time away from his family;
  7. Time that he would prefer to use to enjoy other things in his life.

Not unlike church.  Not unlike my fellow members of associations to which I belong.

I’m not going to change his mind.  However, when we discussed virtual/hybrid delivery systems for his education from those organizations, from the very live environments where others are choosing to be…not unlike the audience for a football game that prefers their big screen TV at home, versus those that really want to be there in person…he was engaged in the conversation and said that if they could get the continuing education figured out, that would be a terrific solution.  Like a live football game, both the live attendee and virtual participant get to enjoy the event in the manner in which they choose to enjoy it.

There are many ways that people learn, and connect, and network.  My company, Freeman, is one that has invested in technology  to expand that list and introduce our creative event planning minds to wider audiences.  At PCMA this year, an additional 17% of members were able to participate in the selected live sessions because for a variety of reasons, they couldn’t be there. There were many comments that it has made some members want to come now; others may never come.  However, these live events are now relevant to them, and give them a chance to connect to the live experience.

What is becoming clear,however, is that members increasingly prefer a mix of in-person and virtual education programs from their association.

–  ASAE  Winter 2011 Association Member study

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