Should Members Help With Meeting-Related Decisions?

One group is using online voting to decide the location of its November 2013 meeting. Would allowing members to be involved in more meeting-related decisions mean higher attendance and engagement?

If you think that choosing the locations for your upcoming meetings is enough of a struggle from an internal perspective, whether that means getting your board or CEO’s approval or something else, imagine if that decision was left up to your members. How much would that heighten your anxiety level?

Best case is that handing some of the decision-making power over to members results in higher attendance numbers or more engaged members.

Well, that’s exactly what the 2013 Social Media Tourism Symposium (#SoMeT13US) is in the middle of right now. A few months back, an RFP was sent out [PDF] soliciting bids from interested destinations. It included the usual information (e.g., meeting dates, estimated room pick up and attendee numbers, and meeting and exhibit space requirements), but it also noted that the final destination would be chosen based on a community voting process. In addition, the RFP encouraged each destination to develop a social media campaign to help them get the votes they needed. (Check out the Twitter hashtag #SoMeT13US to see all the current activity going on around this year’s competition.)

To help #SoMeT13US decide which destinations would be finalists, each city had to submit all the required RFP information on one page, which would be posted on all social media outlets during the voting process. Those that met the criteria were added to the selection list, playing off of another competition taking place at the same time: the NCAA’s March Madness basketball tournament.

This year, 13 destinations made the initial list, and three rounds of voting will take place on Facebook to decide which destinations will be in the Championship Final for #SoMeT13US.  The first phase—48 Hours to the Elite 8—took place late last week. The eight were chosen based on which locations had the most votes. (Those votes also determined their seeds in the second round.) Second round match-ups are taking place this week. (As of deadline, the final four had not yet been determined.) The Final Four match-ups will begin next Tuesday, March 26, and the Championship Final voting will happen in a 12-hour window on April 2 to determine the November meeting’s location.

While this idea is fun to think about and could drive a lot of buzz for both the associations and destinations involved, especially when tied in to a popular event like the NCAA Tournament, I would think having members vote to determine a meeting’s location would be out of the question for most associations for a variety of reasons. Nonetheless this whole concept got me thinking about how associations can make their members more a part of the planning and decision-making process for their meetings.

I know that some associations do vet session ideas through member-led selection committees, and sometimes the destinations themselves ask association members to serve on their host committees. But, what if associations allowed members to vote on smaller decisions? For example, would you rather have this person or that person as the opening general session speaker? Or would you rather the community-service activity be held at a food pantry or at a youth shelter? Or something broader like, “We’re looking to hold a session on the increasing role of virtual meetings. Who in the community would you like to hear speak on this topic?” Worst case is that no one participates, but best case is that handing some of the decision-making power over to members results in higher attendance numbers or more engaged members both prior to the meeting and onsite.

How do you think associations can incorporate their members into the meeting planning and preparation process?


Samantha Whitehorne

By Samantha Whitehorne

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

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