Friday, March 23, 2012

Association Meetings Should Be About Member ROI

The power of social media to effect change is increasingly becoming evident. Consider the recent and poorly thought out legislation on the piracy act. Interested and engaged individuals and organizations pushed back and the silent majority raised its collective voice to say to congress, ‘this is really a bad idea.’ Within a matter of days, the author withdrew the legislation. A short time later, we had the Susan G. Komen fiasco that may have permanently damaged the value of that organization to breast cancer awareness. Then there is the OCCUPY movement cropping up everywhere.

This week, a number of high profile, engaged members are chiding ASAE on social media for its selection of opening session keynote speakers. It seems that some (not all) of our industry associations have lost focus on why people attend annual conferences. It is a time for members to come together, to learn, to exchange ideas, and to meet new peers. Why would anyone think that we would want to hear political rhetoric or that it would be an invigorating way to energize the attendees? Why would anyone want to pay what is not an insubstantial registration fee, lodging, travel and meals, not to mention the time spent away from one’s work to listen to those two debate each other. The Business Journals, noted that ASAE wanted to provide members with “political insight into the election process and how the current political landscape will impact the country.” Seriously, ASAE thinks its members need insight into the political process. I am just not comfortable that an ASAE member meeting is the right place for this type of conversation. I share the concerns of others speaking to this issue.

The fact that a single session could invoke such negative reaction in members makes one think in a broader sense. The cost of attending meetings is considerable, and in an economy that is painfully slow to recover, the personal decision to attend a meeting is just that—the return on the individual’s personal investment of time, energy, and money. If one does not attend ‘keynote’ sessions because they find the topic and speakers offensive, if one spends most of the meeting in the hallways, nearby lounges and cafes meeting with peers because the education offerings are rudimentary, pedestrian, or unimaginative, then why spend the money to attend the conference at all? If meetings truly mean business, then should not the content of the meetings be such that the personal return on investment is achieved? I would love to hear what others think.