Six big tips for planning great association events with a small staff

Even when you have a small staff, you can plan great association events. Here are six big tips to help.

Hosting events can make a big impact on your association. It can drive non-dues revenue and provide learning and networking opportunities, which are among the benefits members value most.

When you have a small staff, hosting association events can seem challenging. But it doesn’t have to be. This article provides six key tips for planning great association events, even with a small staff.

Making Memorable Events Easier with YourMembership AMS

Impress attendees at your association's next event while making the event planning process easier. Learn how leveraging an inclusive association management system can make a huge difference.

1. Define your association event goals.

As with any big project, it’s important to establish a goal for your association events. You might want to offer your members a wider range of learning opportunities. Maybe you want to provide more networking opportunities to members and non-members. Perhaps you want to drive revenue from new sources.

No matter what your goals might be, try to narrow your list to one key goal. This approach will make it easier to develop your plan, as it will help to guide your decisions about the event. It will also help you to determine which type of event to host.

Keep in mind that your goals should be clear and achievable. Consider using the SMART approach for goal setting, which provides a framework that can help you articulate goals for your association events.

2. Select the right event type.

You might have started your event planning knowing exactly what type of event you want to host. However, it’s worth considering the event type or format before you move forward with your event. Here are two things to consider:

What event type will best help you reach your goals? Even if you already know what type of event you will be hosting, take time to make sure the event format will truly help you meet the event goals you’ve defined. Some event types to consider:

  • Conferences – These events can range from annual conferences to regional conferences.
  • Meetings – Meetings can be ideal for smaller groups and/or focusing on a single topic.
  • Webinars – Offering some key sessions online can help to expand your content to a broader audience since attendees do not need to travel to an in-person event to participate.
  • Round table discussions – These events can feature a panel of leaders in your industry or profession discussing various aspects of a hot topic.
  • Networking-focused gatherings – Events focused on networking can offer attendees a valuable and convenient opportunity to connect with peers, product/service providers, and employers in your industry or profession.
  • Education-focused workshops – These events can range from lecture-style educational sessions to more hands-on workshops to help attendees gain the professional education they need to advance their industry knowledge and their careers.

And keep in mind that you don’t have to choose a completely new event format to reach your goals. You can add and combine event types to meet your needs. For example, if you are aiming to offer more learning opportunities to members at your next annual event, consider adding some workshops focused on popular topics in your industry or profession. Another example: After your in-person event, offer webinars featuring key topics from the event to reach people who were unable to attend.

What do past event results tell you?

Look at the results from your last events to understand what worked and what didn’t. Consider changing or modifying your event format to improve specific areas of your next event. For example, if attendee feedback pointed to the need for more networking opportunities, consider adding a meet-and-greet activity to provide dedicated time for networking. Or, if you found that many attendees asked for more details about your in-person event sessions, you might offer some key sessions as webinars so that attendees can revisit topics or recommend that their colleagues attend those sessions online after the event.

3. Build a winning event team.

When you have a small staff, the idea of an event “team” might sound out of reach. But remember that you don’t have to plan and execute every detail of your association event by yourself. Here are some ideas:

Recruit event volunteers. Volunteers can be a huge help when you’re pulling off an association event with a small staff. Establish a range of event volunteer opportunities – from event planning to on-site event help. Write clear descriptions for each opportunity. Then, promote the volunteer opportunities through your website, member newsletter, blog articles, social media, and personal asks.

Ask event sponsors to help. Consider each of your sponsors’ expertise, and think about how they might be able to help plan or develop event sessions. They will likely welcome a chance to have more exposure to your staff and your event attendees by helping with event planning and execution.

Don’t forget about your board members. While your board members already donate time and money to your association, they might welcome more opportunities to meet and interact with members. Ask your board members if they have interest in helping out, and let them know that you have a range of opportunities for them to lend a hand.

4. Optimize your event budget and event revenue streams.

It’s always good to make the most of your event budget. It’s also helpful to optimize revenue streams for your events. Here are some ideas:

  • Understand what your members want. Know your members’ needs and expectations so that you can deliver more of what they want and not waste time and money on things they don’t need.

There’s no better way to know how to deliver the content and event experience your members want and need than to ask them. Send them a survey to get their input, and be sure to share the feedback with your event team.

TECH TIP: YourMembership association management software (AMS) by Community Brands has survey functionality built in, making it easy to create and send targeted surveys and get feedback.

  • Streamline content production. When you have a small staff and tight budget, it’s important to develop content as efficiently as possible. Here are some ways to streamline content production:
    • Ask industry experts to present recent articles or studies they’ve written.
    • Look at your member survey and what your members are talking about in your online member community to inspire ideas for session topics.
    • Repackage and repurpose existing content. For example, combine related topics from blog articles or short webinars into a more comprehensive session or workshop.
  • Drive more event registrations. Getting more people to attend your events is an ideal way to drive more event revenue. Here are some highly effective ways to optimize event attendance:
    • Use a microsite to draw more attention to your events.
    • Put targeted emails, text messages, and other marketing communications to work, which is much more compelling than sending out one-size-fits-all messages.
    • Offer personalized registration paths to help attendees see the value the event offers them and making them more likely to register.
    • Share the event through your online community to create buzz and build excitement about the event.
    • Automate your event wait list process to remove manual steps from the process, boost the efficiency of your event management, and help ensure you fill every seat for your event.

TECH TIP: YourMembership includes functionality that supports these techniques, and more, to help you drive more event registrations.

  • Optimize event sponsorships. Selling event sponsorships can be one of the most effective ways to drive revenue from your association events. Here are some tips for getting the most out of event sponsorships:
    • Get to know event sponsors better. Survey your past event sponsors to gain insights into how to retain them as sponsors and attract new sponsors. Ask them what benefits they found most/least important to their sponsorship and what opportunities or benefits they’d like to see in the future.
    • Offer a variety of event sponsor opportunities. Using feedback from your sponsors, offer a wide range of event sponsorship packages. Be sure to provide options at various price points so that companies can choose the packages that meet their goals and budgets.

TECH TIP: Using YourMembership AMS, you can make it easy to pay for sponsorships and exhibitor booths through your online store.

    • Deliver great event sponsor ROI. Plan to provide extra perks to your event sponsors to give them the most bang for their buck and keep them returning as sponsors. For example, in addition to the benefits of their sponsorship package, provide a space for them to meet one-on-one with attendees. Another example: Ask them to provide giveaways for you to use as prizes in drawings throughout the event, and recognize the sponsor as you announce each winner.


5. Market your association event like a pro.

To drive more people to your next event, put multiple communications channels to work. For example:

  • Website – Create a web page or microsite to share details about your event. Explain what attendees can expect and what they’ll gain by attending the event.
  • Email marketing – Segment your list for different target groups, including potential members, current members, and potential sponsors/exhibitors. Plan an email series with messages for each group. Some email communications to consider: registration now open, call for speakers, session descriptions now available.

Also, plan an email series for registered attendees to keep them informed of event details. And plan an email series for sponsors and exhibitors to give them the instructions and deadlines they need to participate.

TECH TIP: YourMembership AMS includes online community functionality to help you build a vibrant online community.

  • Social media – Schedule social media posts in advance so you can save valuable time before and during the conference. Create an event hashtag and share it in your attendee communications, on your website, and in your online community to encourage attendees to post about the event.
  • Text – Use text messaging to provide convenient updates and valuable information about your event to your members and registrants.

TECH TIP: YourMembership AMS offers SMS text messaging functionality that makes it easier to build and send text messaging campaigns.

6. Put the right event management technology in place.

With the right event technology, you can streamline event planning and management, giving your small staff more time and capabilities to deliver great association events. An effective technique is to use event tools that are built into all-in-one association management software. When event tools are built into your AMS, you don’t need to jump back and forth between an event management system and your AMS to look up details. It’s all right there in one system.

This type of technology allows you to do things like:

  • Easily set up and manage details of your association’s meetings and events from one system
  • Use workflow automation features from your AMS to automate manual event-related tasks, freeing time that staff can use to deliver better events
  • Provide a modern, convenient, and smooth event experience from start to finish for attendees, sponsors, speakers, and staff

TECH TIP: YourMembership AMS is built for small to mid-size associations like yours and includes robust event management functionality to help you easily create, host, and manage your organization’s events. You can copy events to save time on event setup. You can also manage everything – from event details and online registration to ticketing, check-in, and badge printing – all through one system.

Discover more tips for planning great association events - even with a small staff

Check out our "Small Staff's Guide to Planning Great Association Events" for simple techniques and genius tech tips for creating next-level events!


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