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Three Takeaways from ASAE’s Annual Meeting

Three Takeaways from ASAE’s Annual Meeting

by | Sep 11, 2023

I could feel the energy even before I entered Atlanta’s cavernous Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Thousands of people danced, screamed, ate, drank and celebrated the dawn of a new season. But they weren’t there to cheer on football’s Atlanta Falcons in a pre-season game. They had come for the opening reception of the 2023 ASAE Annual Meeting & Exposition, where it was clear that the association industry has put COVID-19 in the rearview mirror.

Associations Are Thriving in Our Post-Pandemic Society

When the pandemic first struck in the winter of 2020, several experts questioned whether trade associations and professional societies would survive. Many depend on meetings and conferences for a large percentage of their annual revenue. A perception lingered that nonprofit associations move too slowly to adjust to the “new normal.” Association leaders worried that members and prospective members, especially among millennials and GenZers, might find the networking, connection, and peer support they wanted and needed in burgeoning online forums and Zoom rooms rather than in traditional trade and professional groups.

If anyone continues to worry about the future viability of associations and societies (associations), the ASAE Annual should put those fears to rest. The community is alive and well, and here are three takeaways from the four-day event that prove it.

The pandemic forced associations and societies to adapt and innovate

The Daily Now, the official newspaper of the ASAE Annual Meeting, featured an article about the American Physiological Society (APS), which took the opportunity to retool its annual meeting by ending a long but unproductive partnership with four other societies.

The article quoted APS CEO Scott Steen, FASAE, CAE, as saying, “We asked ourselves, ‘If we could start with a blank slate and create an annual meeting now, what would it look like?’” Many associations tore up their strategic plans and started over, often with shorter time horizons. Others gave up ineffective products and services, cut way back on office space and other expenses, and found new ways to add value for members in virtual settings – including new apps that allow members to take their associations with them anywhere they go.

In other words, associations didn’t let the pandemic crisis go to waste, and many have emerged leaner, smarter, and stronger.

Associations are leading the way on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI)

One would be hard-pressed to find a more diverse gathering of professionals than the one partying on the field at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. The meeting agenda was chock-a-block with sessions about DEI, including one featuring Victor R. Carter-Bey, D.M., M.B.A., the CEO of the Casualty Actuarial Society (CAS), an AKCG client, and communications expert Sheri Singer.

They shared a series of four reports that CAS commissioned to explore DEI in the insurance industry and recommend how actuaries and the industry can address potential racial bias in insurance pricing. The CAS also encourages unrepresented groups to consider actuarial work as a profession and to engage with CAS.

Like many other groups, these efforts have run into resistance and criticism from a vocal minority of members, but CAS is pressing on. “A large majority of our membership base supports our efforts to make our community more diverse, equitable and inclusive,” Mike Boa, CAS’s chief communications officer, told me. “We’re moving full steam ahead because our leaders and members recognize the important role that DEI will play in the future of the society.”

Associations are well-positioned with Gen Z

As the oldest members of the youngest generation make their way into the workforce, associations are positioning themselves to engage them both as members and staff. Several sessions at the meeting focused on what motivates Gen Z, how they prefer to engage and interact, and how associations can help them achieve their personal and professional goals. The good news:

  • Gen Z is hungry for connection and networking, albeit with a preference for digital platforms and virtual opportunities.
  • They’re purpose- and mission-driven and eager to get more out of their jobs than just a paycheck and benefits.
  • They are the most diverse generation in American history and welcome it.

All of this should make a career in associations appealing to members of Gen Z, though groups will need to rethink how they do business to capture their interest.

AKCG Can Help With Any Communications Challenge

AKCG can help non-profit associations and other organizations successfully enhance their reputations, raise visibility, weather crises, rebrand and reposition themselves, boost membership, and raise revenue.

Leonard Greenberger

Leonard is Vice President at AKCG – Public Relations Counselors and heads the firm’s Washington, D.C.-area office. Leonard provides strategic planning, issues/crisis counseling, branding and marketing communications, and media training services. He has particular expertise working with 501(c) organizations in the energy, science and construction sectors.

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