New Opportunities for Association Meetings

Meetings, particularly those held by government agencies, have been put under the microscope over the past few months. But how can association meetings make the most of impending changes?

Meetings and conferences have been getting a lot of attention lately—and it hasn’t been all too positive. In April, the General Services Administration’s 2010 conference with an $823,000 price tag was reported all over the news. Then, in August, the Veterans Affairs Department faced similar inquiries by its Office of Inspector General over two 2011 training conferences in Florida. These examples of wasteful and excessive conference spending led to scrutiny by the Obama Administration and a bill being passed in September by the House of Representatives that limits federal agencies’ spending on conferences but not the number of conferences they can attend.

With limited travel dollars, organizations will have to think of new, creative ways to market their meetings and convince federal employees employees theirs is a must-attend.

But that doesn’t mean all concern is gone. Several industries and associations are still worried about the potential impact of the passage, and some have already seen the effects of decreased spending. For example, an article posted on earlier this month reported that 80 National Weather Service employees were kept from attending the National Weather Association’s Annual Meeting after the Department of Commerce failed to approve funding for travel to the meeting.  Of course, no meeting wants to lose out on one attendee, let alone 80.

And just this week we ran an article detailing how some scientific groups and associations have asked members of Congress and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) “for exemption from spending and attendance limits, saying the meetings are important for sharing scientific research and industry collaboration.” While OMB and Congress have yet to decide whether they’ll allow exemptions and exceptions to the rules, let’s, for a minute, imagine they don’t: What could that mean for the industries and associations involved?

Sure, it’s easy to jump to the negatives: smaller net revenue, a not-so-ideal buyer-sell ratio on the tradeshow floor, and less opportunities for face-to-face collaboration and interaction between members, among others. And I’m not saying these aren’t legitimate concerns and shouldn’t be taken seriously.

But, at the same time, I also wonder if there’s an opportunity for associations in all of this change and uncertainty. Associations may be forced to finally focus more on virtual and hybrid meeting models that ensure high-quality collaboration. And with limited travel dollars, organizations will have to think of new, creative ways to market their meetings and convince federal employees theirs is a must-attend. What other opportunities do you see for associations to rethink their meetings?

Samantha Whitehorne

By Samantha Whitehorne

Samantha Whitehorne is editor-in-chief of Associations Now. MORE

Got an article tip for us? Contact us and let us know!