Virtual Conferences: Empowering Professional Associations

Learn how non-profit associations are likely to find that incorporating virtual conferences into their overarching strategy adds significant value and strengthens the sense of community among their audience.

Carol McGall

December 02, 2021

Non-profit associations are likely to find that incorporating virtual conferences into their overarching strategy adds significant value and strengthens the sense of community among their audience and around their mission.

A virtual event platform and virtual event software can better enable them to scale conference activities, extend their reach, raise brand awareness, message more effectively, and gather and analyze valuable data to drive business decisions. The virtual event platform and software will enable them to design an immersive experience and host a virtual conference for any and all target audiences within their purview, and to get a clear read on the return on their investment and objectives.
 

The Benefits of Virtual Conferences

Many nonprofits struggle with the challenges of reach—particularly those with the objective of serving a global audience with their conference offerings. Virtual event platforms enable you to create an immersive, inclusive virtual experience for all, including those who might never be able to attend an onsite event. The platform and the software allow for branding in ways that will make it clear to attendees why your conference—and your association—is the place to be for the information and networking they are seeking, and to strategically deliver your message by audience segment to achieve the best outcomes. And you can build spaces, activities, and interactions that continually provide you with data that lets you know what is on attendees’ minds, how you can better serve them, and how you can strengthen your offer of professional community to better serve your target audiences.

The beauty of how virtual technology complements onsite activity lies in the fact that the virtual conference is “always on,” unbounded by time and geography. Participants can attend from anywhere in the world on their own time, and the event can continue to live on, attracting new participants and generating new content and data.
 

Create Virtual Conference Objectives Tied to Business Goals

The good news is that a virtual conference platform and virtual conference software can help you achieve just about any of your conference goals and objectives. Virtual conference platforms and virtual conference technology offer the opportunity to customize your virtual conference strategy and construct your conference from an array of virtual spaces, sessions, and interactions so that it is the ideal conference experience. The most effective way to build a solid virtual conference strategy is to be clear on the business goals the event is intended to achieve.

While a non-profit often has an altruistic mission, that mission is often driven by several businesses and revenue streams within the organization, each with its own goals and objectives. The flexibility and varied capabilities of virtual conference technology means that you can likely achieve all your goals.

But the process of planning your virtual conference components can become overwhelming without a set of clear, agreed-upon objectives placed in priority order. Without clearly articulating, documenting and communicating a set of objectives compiled by all stakeholders, competing interests can be vying for the same resources, making it very challenging to plan (and later evaluate and report on) your ideal conference.

At the end of the day, you want to create an event that will be considered a success and a good investment across the organization. By taking the time up front to gather your stakeholders and work together to create an accepted set of goals and objectives for your conference—including the virtual components—you will be able to refer back to the objectives doc when building your agenda, choosing and organizing features and functions to deploy throughout the virtual conference, and identifying data to capture, analyze and report on before, during and after. Once you determine what it is you want to accomplish with your conference and your virtual conference platform, you can focus in on how you want to go about it, building your conference strategy and tactics.

The following case studies provide examples of how non-profit organizations leveraged virtual conference platforms and tools to achieve their business objectives.
 

Virtual Conference Case Study:
Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society


The Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) partnered with Notified to create event television at their global conference. HIMSS TV live streamed a multi-day news program to its viewers around the globe. The conference featured an official news desk, field analysts and an on-site studio.

By partnering with Notified, HIMSS was able to create live content and then syndicate it across a wide variety of channels, including Facebook, Twitter, HIMSS.TV, conference TV monitors, a hotel TV channel and Roku. By capturing the energy of the live event, Notified's streaming solution brought awareness to HIMSS19 content, sponsors and luminaries. HIMSS TV doubled their conference audience size and exceeded their sponsorship revenue goals, resulting in a significant increase in event ROI. Following this success, HIMSS TV expanded its presence and was activated during its 2019 European conference in Helsinki.
 

HIMSS TV

 

Virtual Conference Case Study:
American Society of Health-System Pharmacists


The American Society of Health-System Pharmacists represents 58,000 pharmacists, student pharmacists and pharmacy technicians who serve as patient care providers in acute and ambulatory settings. Its annual Midyear Clinical Meeting & Exhibition provides hundreds of educational activities at to maintain and enhance the skills and abilities of pharmacists and associated personnel in health systems. Their goals:
 

  • Broadcast and scale ASHP Midyear Clinical Meeting globally

  • Provide a world-class education and networking event

  • Drive attendee engagement

  • Deliver analytics on key performance indicators

     

ASHP Event

 


Throughout the meeting, attendees were able to view live keynotes – which included celebrity guest speakers – and breakout sessions, as well as on-demand video content. ASHP was able to have a virtual Residency Showcase and Personnel Placement Program, providing booths where attendees could explore career options. Attendees were also able to interact at booths in the virtual exhibit program. In total, there were nearly 500,000 visits to the various booths, delivering value to the organizations that participated. Attendees were able to connect utilizing 1:1 Video Chat as well as Scheduled Breakout Rooms to engage in conversations and open dialogue. The results:
 

  • 1,857,002 virtual event space visits

  • 66,488 group chats and message board posts

  • 27,236 total virtual event registrations
     

If you don’t have deep experience planning a virtual conference, or integrating a virtual conference platform and virtual conference technology into your traditionally onsite event, across your team, consider asking for help from the pros who deliver your platform while you develop the new skill sets required on your own team. They can help you choose the right features and functionalities, design the most effective reporting, and even help you with production of digital assets. Relying on the experts for guidance will save time, reduce stress, and bolster your confidence that the event you are planning will satisfy your virtual conference objectives.
 

Targeting Multiple Audiences with Your Virtual Conferences

The flexibility and scalability of virtual conference technology allows you to target and serve multiple audiences so that you can achieve your virtual event objectives. Here are just a few that might be on your target list.
 

  • Members: Perhaps your most valuable and valued customers, your members likely represent not just a significant portion of your revenue, but also a broad demographic. Virtual conference technology will enable you to customize their experience based on their membership typ  e (e.g., student, professional, senior, life member), geography, gender, age, and areas of interest. It will also enable you to do the same for prospective members who may be learning about your organization for the first time, or who have not yet come to understand the value in affiliation through membership.
     

  • Volunteers: Volunteers are often the lifeblood of the organization. In many associations, they drive the agenda and mission from strategy through implementation, and frequently extend the reach of staff and administration. By cleverly orchestrating the elements of your virtual event, you can both actively and passively identify new volunteers who may become future chapter leaders, committee chairs, working group leaders, and board members. Not only can you provide opportunities all along their journey for them to raise a hand for relevant roles, you can gather information about their experience, expertise and interest that can direct you the best candidates for some post-event volunteer recruitment outreaches.
     

  • Subject Matter Experts: Knowledge is a fuel that drives conference attendance, and also advances the mission of many nonprofit associations. Subject matter expertise is essential to creating relevant, meaningful content for your events, website, publications, and other formats through which you deliver thought leadership, whether it is placed behind your firewall for members only, or used for marketing that underpins your business objectives. Access to SMEs across your industry is essential to keeping your finger on the pulse of industry trends and new developments. As with identifying volunteers, identifying SMEs can be accomplished both actively and passively by providing opportunities for participants to offer their expertise and by creating data capture opportunities that can help you identify those with potential for targeted, ongoing outreach.
     

  • Course/Exam Registrants: According to the American Association for Society Executives, education is among the most prominent drivers of the decision to attend a conference. If your association offers courses for continuing education or certifications of competency, you can leverage your virtual conference platform and virtual conference software to recruit new candidates, and keep existing candidates moving through your program. If continuing professional development (CPD) credits are required of those are members or who earn your certification, the virtual conference and its sessions can be leveraged to meet those needs.
     

  • Donors: If fundraising is listed among your top event objectives, you can leverage the virtual aspect of your conference to raise awareness of what you have already achieved with recent donations, and of your plan for the future, contingent upon successful fundraising. Participants can be asked to contribute or to provide referrals for prospective new donors.
     

  • Press: Having allies in the press can go a long way in promoting your conference and your brand. Use the video conference feature to enable press interviews of your plenary speaker, your board members, authors in attendance, and anyone else who will make for good content for the press. The free PR is priceless. Just be sure to prep your interviewees. Speaking with the press can be tricky and is not for the inexperienced. If appropriate, consider including a representative of the organization on each interview.
     

No matter how many audiences/audience segments you need to target to meet your conference objectives, the flexibility and functionality of a virtual conference platform will allow you to address, engage, and build a sense of community and connection among them all in ways that continue to support your mission even after any onsite activities have ceased.
 

Using Virtual Conference Strategy to Drive Revenue and Meet Goals

There are so many ways you can use a virtual conference platform and virtual conference software to drive revenue and meet other non-revenue conference goals that it’s almost mindboggling. From the minute you begin planning, to the day you present your report to leadership, you can be growing your participant population, creating content, driving engagement, and building community. That’s the beauty of a virtual event platform that is “always on”—it isn’t over just because the main event has ended. In the virtual space, there are ongoing opportunities to create content and spark dialogue that keep the conversation, and the feeling of community, going.

Hitting registration and participation targets will probably be the overarching objective of your virtual conference strategy, so remember that you can use all the marketing and promotional tools at your disposal to attract participants before, during and after the event.

That said, as we discussed above, the several businesses and revenue streams that support the mission of your nonprofit will each have their own goals and objectives. Here are some of the most common business lines and scenarios for leveraging a virtual conference platform and virtual event software to achieve conference-associated revenue (and other) goals.

Driving membership and dues revenue: Recruitment, recovery and retention are “the three Rs” of membership, and your conference represents a huge opportunity to recruit new members, provide the proof of value that retains existing members, and revitalize the interest and commitment of lapsed members. The virtual conference platform and software enables you to involve members in the planning of the agenda and activities and make them feel special during and after the main event. As you create this unique, high-value experience for your members, be sure to promote the members-only value add to your prospects and lapsed members, giving them every opportunity to choose membership and become a part of the exclusive experience.
 

  • Offer a special welcome for members: Set aside a unique space in the Lobby for members to gather; create a special welcome message delivered by the virtual host; upon entry, offer badges that identify members, spotlighting longevity of membership (Senior Member, Life Member) or special roles (Chapter Director, Committee Chair, Board Member).
     

  • Create exclusive events, activities, and experiences for members only:
     

  • Use the sessions and video conferencing capabilities to enable members-only access to speakers, senior industry executives, members of your board, and other influencers and thought leaders. They’ll love bragging about who they met with at your event.

    • Give them special priority when booking sessions with career coaches, mentors and headhunters, product demonstrations with sponsors, and making connections with others who can help them achieve their professional goals.

    • Create polls, games and activities with advanced incentives, prizes and badges that will make other nonmember attendees rethink their status.

    • Enable smaller, more intimate groups of members to gather, by region, by special interest, even by age (Young Professionals) or gender (Women in Industry) in ways that are not accessible without membership.

    • Develop post-event opportunities like webcasts with event speakers, video chats on hot topics to keep the conversation going, working sessions to solve challenges identified during the event—any good reason to reconvene as members and get even more value for their membership dues.
       

  • As you spotlight participants and their engagements throughout the event—for example when posting to your social channels about your conference or using push notifications to guide the participant journey—be sure to include members in your spotlight. People love to see their names in print.
     

  • Create special content assets (maybe even their own Resource Center) for members: deeper insights from your plenary speaker, additional data sets and data modelling tools, checklists, “how to” guides, white papers tied back to presentations, podcasts, videos, relevant book chapters—any value add that provides more detail, synthesizes complex information, or helps them do their job more easily. Ideally, they will bring this value back to their “hive;” this is a great way to raise brand awareness while substantiating registration fees and time away from work.
     

Generate registrations for education, courses, training and certification:  The virtual conference platform and virtual conference software make it possible for you to promote and gain registrations and revenue for your educational offerings, and, if you choose to, to enable participants to earn credits and advance their education while attending your event.
 

  • Advertise your educational offerings—for example, on the virtual event site, in promotional emails, and on any downloadable materials that you create for the event. Enable registrations for courses, trainings, and certification programs right from your virtual conference event site.
     

  • Develop information sessions for prospective study candidates to learn more about your offerings, ask questions of program coordinators, and perhaps even benefit from a real-time discount on program registration. Enable video chats between interested participants and members of the Education team.
     

  • Open a networking channel for current enrollees to connect and create virtual study groups.
     

  • What could offer better educational value for your audience than your own content? Use the opportunity of this virtual conference event to enable qualified audience segments to earn CPD credits to fulfill your own—or complementary organizations’—requirements for continuing education. Note: If possible, facilitate and capture data on the other organizations where your participants are submitting your sessions for credit. This may signal either an opportunity for a strategic partnership, or a place to look for new recruits.
     

  • A multi-session virtual conference is also a great time to provide training for your volunteers: chapter leaders, committee chairs, working group leaders, and even board members. You can use the virtual time and space to educate them on new policies and procedures, new benefits and services you now offer, new platforms, and any other updates. You can also use the virtual conference platform to enable workshops where they can come together as peers and offer their insights on potential improvements to their respective programs. Think of it as forming a community within a community—one that can help you make your organization even better at what it does.
     

You may even consider hosting a bespoke multi-day multi-session virtual events for your volunteers. In this way, you can incorporate association updates, brainstorming sessions, working groups and mentoring opportunities to create their own unique immersive experience. And all the challenges of coordinating travel itineraries and expenses for your volunteers will be a thing of the past.


Subscriptions/Publishing/Content: If your organization produces thought leadership and specialty knowledge in the form of serial content (magazines, book series, conference proceedings, etc.), your virtual conference platform and virtual conference software is ideal for generating new subscriptions and reinstating lapsed ones.
 

  • Offer participants/targeted segments access to some of your gated content, either by enabling downloads or providing temporary access to gated content. Promote this offer on your website, social, emails, push notifications, etc.
     
  • Offer a conference rate on books and subscriptions to attract new readership and reactivate lapsed subscriptions.
     
  • Create active and passive means of identifying participants who would make good contributors, editors, reviewers, etc. As you would to recruit volunteers and SMEs, provide opportunities for individuals to either self-identify as potential resources, or provide sufficient profile information for you to identify those who might pre-qualify as resources, all in support of your publishing venture.
     

Virtual Conference Case Study:
The Society of Hospital Medicine


SHM found a clever way to generate revenue and put their attendees in the role of advocates and champions. During their annual conference, they offer on-demand video content that attendees can purchase for colleagues who cannot attend. The activity supports the society’s lifelong learning initiative, extends their reach to those who cannot attend, and increases revenue. The increase in on-demand content purchases from non-attendees was also followed by a dramatic improvement (38%) in the number of hospitalists proactively purchasing this content onsite.

Advertising/Sponsorship: The flexibility and scalability of the virtual conference platform enables an array of opportunities for advertisers and sponsors:
 

  • Marquee messaging

  • Display ads/Video ads

  • Email outreaches and in-event notifications

  • Sponsored sessions and networking spaces

  • Exhibit halls

  • Job boards

  • Sponsored games and polls

  • Conference briefcases

  • Badges

  • Prize Center
     

The ability to customize a sponsorship opportunity can create new opportunity to attract prospective advertisers and vendors who are looking for new channels and are not sure if your conference is a good fit. It affords the opportunity for you to build them their own test drive.

Despite the capacity for customization, we recommend creating a small set of sponsorship packages, tiered and clearly delineated. Clearly defining tiers makes decision-making easier for prospective sponsors, and scarcity can create a “bidding war” of sorts among your target audience. 

Merchandise Sales: If your organization has gotten its brand on through the sale of merchandise, a conference is an excellent venue for promoting and selling branded mementos. You can use your virtual conference platform and software to drive traffic to the store, then fill it with everything from the new edition of your most popular handbook to the latest conference-branded gadget.

Job Board/Career Center: Conference attendees have made it clear that, whether their highest priority is education or networking, it’s all about the career. And many sponsoring partners have a recruitment goal among their objectives, having found that conferences attract some of the most motivated, career-focused professionals in the community.

Virtual event planners can create a job board and career center to serve multiple purposes and audiences. Sponsors with recruitment and brand awareness goals will pay for the opportunity to post jobs and career-related content, and attendees will feel well served by the direct access to job opportunities with the industry leaders in your space, as well as the content their Talent teams are known to create.

If it fits your strategy and your objectives, why not allow participants seeking career advancement to post their resumes to a career center on the virtual event platform, and enable recruiters to invite select participants to video chat during the course of the virtual conference? If they successfully recruit from your conference, it’s another reason for them to come back and spend more of their conference dollars with you.

In addition to driving revenue streams, nonrevenue objectives may also be part of your virtual conference strategy and objectives. In many ways, these are as important as revenue in underpinning the viability of your entity. They lend credibility, enhance relevance, augment offerings, and extend reach into local professional communities. While they may not be easily tied back to revenue, they can be tracked and counted among the results of your well-executed virtual conference strategy. Here are just two examples of nonrevenue objectives that you might set for your conference.

Supporting Researchers/Students: Students are an important target audience for professional associations. Many are not aware of the value of affiliation with a professional organization and building a supportive relationship early in their career trajectory can result in a loyal member for life. Helping students pick the right programs, find the right career paths, and connect with mentors can provide early experience of the lifelong value of membership in a professional association.

Conferences are often forums for researchers and students to present and defend their research. Using the virtual conference platform, you can enable them to present their papers to a responsive audience and foster a dialogue that further creates a sense of community and mentorship among students, researchers, and practitioners in your field. Particularly in the case of students, the goodwill and relationship that you establish with them at this early stage in their career can result in long-term loyalty, membership, and volunteerism for many years down the road.

How to Identify Volunteers, SMEs, Authors, Mentors, Job Candidates and Other Human Resources for Virtual Conferences

As mentioned above, an association must often depend upon its community of practitioners in order to fulfill its mission. Finding individuals to run your local chapters, contribute content that supports your content strategy, mentor young professionals, or helm a committee or working group on a current industry trend or challenge is not easy, but it becomes easier when you have a virtual conference platform that supports your objectives.
 

  • Build an opportunity to self-identify as an expert or to offer their services as a volunteer into the registration process.

  • Incorporate a session on “How to Get Involved” into your agenda and make it fun and interesting—a cocktail hour or an element of gamification.

  • Create an in-event email or announcement or social posts spotlighting volunteers in attendance and thanking them for their service and include a link to “register your interest” or “get involved.”
     

Voting: Depending on your association’s bylaws, and how and when the entity usually conducts elections and decides on initiatives, your virtual conference platform and the capabilities of your virtual conference software may present an opportunity for you to invite qualified participants to voice their opinion with regard to leadership and key strategic initiatives that may be on the table. It can be challenging to get the attention of your audience during the day-to-day happenings of their lives, but while they are engaged at your conference, and the feeling of community and belonging is heightened, why not encourage them to invest some time and thought in the future of their organization? While voting in a final round for association leadership may be outside the scope of your conference, a “primary” election may be useful in reducing the field. And having your audience “weigh in” on your strategic initiatives is a good way to gauge whether your vision truly aligns with what they want their professional association to do for them and for their peers.
 

Summary

As a non-profit association, you serve many constituents with diverse needs. Variables like area of technical interest, geographic location, age, gender, career aspirations, job title and professional level all trigger different needs and expectations. Given the number and types of constituents you serve, and the diversity of their needs, planning a conference that ticks the box for everyone can be challenging. But when you add the flexibility, scalability, and capabilities of a virtual conference platform and virtual conference software, you now have a tool that enables so much more, putting that goal within reach.

To be successful in an environment that is “always on,” you need to be clear on your virtual conference objectives. They will inform your virtual conference strategy, and all the decisions you will make about how to use virtual space and virtual technology to present your offerings and achieve your virtual conference goals. If you need guidance, you can always refer to your virtual conference platform pros. They can help you architect the ultimate virtual conference experience, capture the priceless data and content that your event and audience can generate, and create meaningful reports to take back to your executive team.
 

Get a Demo of Our End-to-End Event Platform

Whether you’re incorporating virtual events to support members, engage conference attendees, attract candidates for your continuing education programs, or engage volunteers, Notified is here to help bring your vision to life.

We host over 100,000 events annually on behalf of thousands of customers around the world while providing dedicated support with a focus on data.

All event solutions include:
 

  • Dedicated project manager
  • Interactive environments with live & on-demand programming
  • Flexible branding and personalization options
  • Accessibility – anytime, anywhere, and from any device
  • Robust analytics and reporting
     

And, from strategy and planning to implementation and delivery, our consulting services team supports you every step of the way.

Contact us today to set up a free demo and learn more about our consulting services.