What Can You Learn From Your Non-Attendees?

Of course you want feedback from your conference attendees, but there also may be lots of value in what your non-attendees have to say. What should you ask?

Every month here at we receive a metrics report giving us data from our readers that includes things like number of pageviews, average time spent on each article, and a list of content that was most shared.

Associations should not get caught up in trying to convince people to attend meetings and lose sight of making the meeting experience great for those who will always come.

I’m always excited to read it (and not just to see if something I wrote earned a top spot), but also to see how we compare to previous months and where our readers’ interests are at the time.

As I was looking over December’s report, somehow our nonreaders popped into my mind, and I started to think about whether or not we should be concerned about those who don’t open their Associations Now Daily News or read an article on our website. Can we learn anything from them? And if we could, what would we ask?

Then, a few days later, I came across this somewhat-related discussion about whether you should survey members who do not attend your events in the Meetings & Exposition section on Collaborate (ASAE member log-in required), which served as inspiration for this blog post.

The gist of the discussion was this: An association had seen a decline in attendance at its most recent annual meeting, and in order to prepare for the next one, the organization wanted to survey past attendees about why they had declined to attend in 2014. They were specifically looking for examples and advice on how to get the most worthwhile feedback.

A few others jumped into the discussion, offering up their own opinions and experiences, including that surveying non-attendees could give you valuable insights. This suggestion comes with the caveat that there are people who will never attend because your meeting conflicts with other professional and personal obligations or simply because they are not “conference people.”

One respondent added that associations should not get caught up in trying to convince people to attend meetings and lose sight of making the meeting experience great for those who will always come.

I think these are all valid points, but I also think there is still value in hearing from your non-attendees, particularly those who attended in the past, but like any other survey or approach to soliciting member feedback, you must be thoughtful about it. And even though I’m not a meeting planner, here are a few questions I would be curious to have answered by non-attendees:

  • What other professional development meetings and conferences are you attending?
  • What are the barriers keeping you from attending our conference?
  • What could we offer at our meeting or conference that could make it a must-attend for you?
  • Were you aware of our conference? Did you receive emails and other marketing materials?
  • While you did not attend our conference, did you keep up-to-date with it through the live coverage on our website or on social media?

What I’d be interested in knowing from the last question is, given the rise of social media and the ability to lurk on these different channels and still receive some conference takeaways (of course, minus the ever-important face time and networking opportunities), do people who are on the fence use these tools as a reason not to attend?

These five questions are just a start, but I think they get to the heart of  both what keeps attendees away and what would compel them to register. If you’re curious to take a look at what a non-attendee survey could look like, ASAE just so happens to have one from the American Immigration Lawyers Association [PDF] in its Models & Samples Collection (member log-in required).

Outside of Collaborate and the ASAE site, there are also a number of other resources and viewpoints. Here’s another blog post offering tips on creating a non-attendee survey, such as selecting the correct audience segment and sending it at the right time that it’s most useful to an organization.

Now it’s your turn—what questions would you like your non-attendees to answer? Or if you’ve already engaged your non-attendees, what have you learned? Please share in the comments.


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!