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Five Things to Consider Before Cancelling Your Conference

Posted By Ewald Consulting, Friday, March 20, 2020
As a result of COVID-19, we are seeing retail stores and restaurants close, artists postpone concerts, and large events such as festivals cancelling. What should you do about a conference you may have scheduled for next month, or even three months from now? Vicki Thein, Director of Events at Ewald Consulting, has a few thoughts on what to consider before cancelling your conference:


1.     What does the venue contract say?

Carefully review the terms of your contract with the venue. Check to see if force majeure applies and what it covers. If it does not apply, determine the costs of cancelling and if those funds could be applied toward a future event. Additionally, closely monitor the conditions of the venue location and try to get a sense of how many attendees may cancel in order to help you state your case to the venue if needed.


2.     What do your vendor contracts say?

Like venue contracts, review contracts with your vendors. See if force majeure applies, the costs if it does not and if they could give you credit in the event of a cancellation. The flexibility on cancellations with vendors will vary, so be sure to look at each contract closely.


3.     Is there cancellation insurance?

If you have cancellation insurance, get in contact with your insurance agent as soon as you can as they are very likely becoming overloaded with similar requests.


4.     Are you able to distribute the content virtually?

Are there opportunities for your conference material to be put into a virtual conference, podcasts, or other forms of content? Brainstorm what this might look like and if you think it could be successful.


5.     Financial considerations

Can your organization afford to go without a conference this year? This will be a major factor in your decision. Considering alternative conference options like the ones mentioned above could provide potential sources of revenue.


Additional Resources:

·      Event Industry Council - https://www.eventscouncil.org/

·      Meeting Professionals International - https://www.mpi.org/

·      AMC Institute - https://amci.memberclicks.net/


Tags:  association conferences  association events  association management  COVID-19 

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What Traits Define a Good Board Member?

Posted By Ewald Consulting, Wednesday, March 11, 2020
Updated: Monday, March 9, 2020

Board membersWhen building or assessing your board, it helps to understand what to look for in board members. Board members with the following traits help keep meetings on task and more engaging.

  1. They possess the right context
  2. Forbes states that there are four key areas of knowledge: industry, business model, stage of growth and a specific field of function (sales, marketing, etc.). Board members who have knowledge in each of these areas can offer better insight.

  3. They understand how to communicate
  4. This one may seem obvious but having the ability to communicate with others is an essential trait in a board member. This is not just having the courage to speak up when needed, but also the ability to thoughtfully listen to others and respectfully respond.

  5. They have a positive outlook
  6. Jay Love, the co-founder of Bloomerang, a non-profit software company, stated that the heart of the board often is not the most knowledgeable. He believes having a positive spirit is contagious and will help move your organization forward.

  7. They have a deep passion for the organization
  8. According to Love, passion is more important than knowledge. A board member who is constantly rooting for the organization and pondering how it can be better is far more valuable than the person who knows everything about the organization but can’t commit wholeheartedly. There is no use in recruiting a great player if they do not want to be on your team.

  9. They want to learn more
  10. A great board member is aware that they do not know everything. For them, working with others is an opportunity to grow and they are eager to take advantage of trainings and professional development opportunities.

Tags:  board member  board of directors  dynamic non-profit boards  good governance  habits of effective boards 

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Hot Legal Topics for Associations

Posted By Laurie Pumper, Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Heidi Christianson, shareholder and firm president at Nilan Johnson Lewis, recently gave a presentation for Ewald Consulting staff on the top legal issues pertaining to non-profit associations that her law firm handled during 2019. Here is a short recap.

Many associations provide certification programs and/or certificate courses, offering specialized education for members and others. Heidi reported that there has been an increased focus recently on international standards, especially ISO. It is helpful if associations can demonstrate separation between the testing and educational aspects of a certification program. In marketing education programs, the association should not imply that people will perform better on a certification exam by taking courses offered by the association. It is also helpful for an association to have a process for any complaints about the certification program.

Member Demand for Special Meeting
Generally, if at least 50 members or 10 percent of the total membership of an association request a special meeting, the association must call a meeting of the members, even if the members request successive meetings. Obviously, holding member meetings requires the commitment of significant cost and time on behalf of staff and the board of directors. Heidi recommends that when member concerns arise, associations set up listening sessions with members rather than trying to shut them down or writing them off as disgruntled. Many times, special member meeting involve perceived conflicts of interest or appearances of unfair benefit within the association. Listening sessions and transparent communication with members can sometimes head off larger-scale member demands. Association staff and leaders should be aware of bylaws provisions regarding special meetings.

Antitrust Concerns
It sometimes happens that one or more association members demand that another member (a competitor) not be allowed to exhibit, sponsor and/or advertise with the organization. Heidi stresses that all members (and non-members) should be treated fairly. Unless a member company has violated a law or regulation (and the association has some type of hard evidence that the law or regulation has been violated), the association should allow that entity the ability to advertise, exhibit or sponsor. It’s OK to charge more for non-members, within reason. Denying a member company the ability to advertise with an association probably would not rise to the level of impeding the ability to do business. Association boards should be cognizant of antitrust issues, and thoughtful about when an association’s decisions may impact a member’s ability to compete in the market.

Please note that the information provided here does not constitute legal advice; please consult with your own legal counsel on your specific situation.

Tags:  association legal issues  association management  non-profit legal issues 

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2020 Technology Trends

Posted By Ewald Consulting, Thursday, December 26, 2019
Updated: Wednesday, December 18, 2019

As we wrap up 2019 and begin planning for 2020, here are some technology trends for 2020, according to Gartner analyst and VP Rita Sallam:

  1. Augmented analytics – enables more people to gain insights from data;
  2. Augmented data management – by 2022, data management manual tasks will be reduced 45% with machine learning and automated-service-level management;
  3. NLP (natural language processing)/conversational analytics – by 2020, 50% of analytical queries will be automatically generated by search, NLP or voice;
  4. Graph – the application of graph processing and graph databases will grow 100% annually through 2022, enabling more complex and adaptive data science;
  5. Commercial AI/ML will dominate – there will be more commercial platforms rather than open source to manage artificial intelligence and machine learning techniques;
  6. Data storytelling and visualization – creating meaning from numbers to take action, by understanding the story that data are telling us.

For more insights and trends from Gartner: https://www.informationweek.com/big-data/ai-machine-learning/10-data-and-analytics-trends-for-2020/d/d-id/1336310

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Improve Board Performance Through Role Clarity

Posted By Ewald Consulting, Wednesday, December 18, 2019

For a board to work effectively, it must be clear about the role of the board collectively and the roles of the individuals who comprise the board. According to the 2017 BoardSource Leading with Intent study, many boards receive average grades on understanding their roles and responsibilities. 37% of CEOs and 25% of chairs give their boards a “C” grade or below in this area. Further, boards with higher grades of “A” or “B” perform much better across many areas of board work:

Survey Results: Clarity of Board Roles

These data demonstrate a correlation between a board’s understanding of its roles and responsibilities and board performance.

To strengthen your board performance through better role clarity, consider:

  • Accurate job descriptions for officers and other board members. Assure these are read and understood by each individual and understood within the context of other members’ job descriptions;
  • Ongoing board education about the organization’s bylaws, policies and procedures. These are required reading, plain and simple, and should provide good guidance on how the organization works in addition to providing good context for how individuals work;
  • Solid understanding of the governance and staffing org chart: Who reports to whom, who is accountable for what, etc.;
  • Ongoing board education about the organization’s products and services. Individuals should not limit themselves to a good understanding of their own accountabilities but need to understand others’ as well to have functional context for their own roles;
  • Understanding of the organization’s business model. Know how the organization makes its money, spends its money and to what desired ends.

The preceding is not an exhaustive list. But before you get into deeper conversations about your board’s performance, make sure you are considering some of these fundamentals. Many organizations find these items to be low-hanging fruit when it comes to boosting board performance.

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Transition from Traditional Board Meeting Agendas

Posted By Ewald Consulting, Thursday, December 5, 2019

people sitting around table in a board roomThe issue, as anyone who has served on a board or managed a board can tell you, is that most board meetings are boring and ineffective.  They tend to focus on reporting instead of using their time to discuss important matters and to make effective decisions. The International Association of Rehabilitation Professionals (IARP) is no different, with five different sections and several committees that all want to ensure their work toward ongoing objectives is shared with the other board members.  As a result, this reporting took approximately three-quarters of each meeting—leaving little time to work together to solve issues or to further develop their strategic plans.

The leadership and staff spent a great deal of time discussing how to more effectively use staff and volunteer time before, during and after board meetings; so in June 2018, they began utilizing a standard report template that each board member would upload onto their Higher Logic folder/file system.  A file system had been built within their Board of Directors folder system with a folder for each board meeting and within those, folders for an agenda, board reports, financials as well as additional items.  Each month, a reminder email would be sent to the board 5-7 days prior to the meeting that included the directions on how to upload the file.  This process has worked extremely well and has saved staff many hours working to obtain, compile and deliver board reports. This process was well received and has had very positive feedback

With the standard report process in place, the leadership decided to take things a step further and proceeded to re-organize their board agenda.  In June 2019, they eliminated reporting items and requested from board members agenda items that would drive discussions.  They worked with staff to build a new agenda template and new processes which included requiring board members to read through all of the uploaded reports prior to each meeting to be prepared. 

The first step that was implemented involved staff working with the board to establish a roll-out timeline to coincide with one of IARP’s three in-person board meetings where a full explanation of the reasoning could be shared, and a complete review of the materials and processes would be communicated.  The reason for the in-person explanation and directive was to ensure that each board member understood the purpose and the new process, which would then lead to greater participation.

The second step included developing thorough explanations and directions for the new process and tools.  Many board members were unsure about their ability to work within the new system—but with consistent messaging and patient assistance, we have been able to ease them into the new process.  We have worked closely with our volunteers for the first few months to coach them how to think differently and to establish timelines and consistent directives.

The final process included a reminder email sent by staff 5-7 days prior to each board meeting.  The reminder included directions on how to upload their reports as well as a request for discussion/decision agenda items no less than 3 days prior to the board meeting so the agenda could be uploaded with plenty of time for review. 

As a result of implementing this new agenda, the IARP board meetings now consist of meaningful dialogue and effective decision making.  We have received very positive feedback as the board has been able to focus more time on strategic plans, future objectives and necessary discussions/decisions.  They have seen less wasted time and consequently feel more involved and capable of leading others.

To manage ongoing effectiveness, the board will assess the process annually and will correct course as necessary.

Tags:  association management  board  Case Study  meetings 

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The Importance of Diversity & Inclusion in the Association World

Posted By Arzu Alimohd, Thursday, November 14, 2019

ANDI class of 2019This year, I had privilege of participating in the first cohort of Association’s North Diversity & Inclusion Leadership program. As I applied and checked off the requirements for the application just a year before, I did not expect how much it would impact my career, network and skills.

Each quarter, our cohort met for either a half day or full day for leadership training that revolved around a certain skill. This included communicating, presenting and writing, executive presence and conflict. With a cohort of six, each session pulled you out of your comfort zone — you had to participate throughout. This made the experience much more engaging compared to a classroom style lecture with a bigger group. The content and exercises were really valuable, including a DiSC behavioral profile assessment and presenting in front of your cohort with feedback on your skills. What really made the program valuable was the people. From the first day, our cohort became close and started engaging in the content and discussed how it pertained to challenges we have faced in our professional lives. Knowing our diverse group all have a diverse background and stories to tell, it became easy to open up and gain advice from our peers.

This program has not only given me insight on how to implement my leadership skills to the associations I work with, but it also taught me how to incorporate more diversity and inclusion initiatives within association strategic goals. There is not a standard for an association when it comes to diversity and inclusion and every association has a variety of policies and practices it implements. What is known from current research is organizations that are more diverse and inclusive are more profitable and valuable (https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/organization/our-insights/delivering-through-diversity).

According to the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) Foundation, diversity and inclusion within associations can benefit the organization financially, help generate ideas and give the organization authenticity and an advantage compared to other organizations (Enhancing Diversity and Inclusion in Membership Organizations, page 9). These benefits will only occur if the diversity and inclusion strategy is managed and effectively actionable.  This can be achieved in a variety of ways — whether by a detailed plan, assignments to staff and volunteers, task forces, committees or a combination. The terms “diversity” and “inclusion” are very broad, so organizations must narrow their targeted outcomes – what are some communities that the organization would like to have participate or think would benefit? Does your board represent your member base? How can the association open its door to more communities or partner with other organizations for mutual benefit? Diversity and Inclusion has multiple layers within an organization — board and volunteers, staff, member base, workforce and more.

When associations talk about diversity and inclusion, there is usually an emphasis on diversity more than inclusion (Enhancing Diversity and Inclusion in Membership Organizations, page 15). It is beneficial to look at both diversity and inclusion when determining these goals and to not assume one means the other. They go hand in hand, but increasing a certain area does not mean all may feel included in the organization. It is no surprise that each field is different in its diversity – age, gender, location, etc. — so the organization must look at not only its members, but the field to determine what to focus on.  A common way associations can expand their community is looking at schools or educational programs that train in the profession and partnering with them; this can be determining a student rate for membership or event attendance to expose the community to the organization, creating a student competition, or teaming up with schools to host events. It is also important to think about the organization’s target workforce and look to improve the field along with the organization. A common misconception is because the field is not diverse, the organization does not have to be diverse; but there are ways the association can help diversify its workforce.

It is important to understand that being a truly diverse and including association is not a one-size-fits-all scenario. Each organization must look at its field and determine its priorities. Diversity and inclusion initiatives are also never “one and done.” It is critical to consistently analyze the programs and reevaluate if needed. There is a lot to unpack with the terms diversity and inclusion when it comes to organizations — but be sure to incorporate the values of the organization, define the needs of the community, and then put words into actions and priorities of the association. As D&I initiatives become a more frequent conversation in the association world, a forward-thinking organization looks toward embracing inclusivity and heterogeneity to truly thrive in the future.

Sources: ASAE Foundation - Enhancing Diversity and Inclusion in Membership Associations https://foundation.asaecenter.org/research/diversity-and-inclusion.

2018 McKinsey Report - Delivering through diversity  https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/organization/our-insights/delivering-through-diversity

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Investing in Your Board as Leaders

Posted By Darrin Hubbard, Tuesday, November 5, 2019
Board room  

When non-profit association board members are elected, they bring a variety of experience and talent to help further the organization. Some board members have risen through the ranks of volunteer leadership while others may be industry figures who elevate the stature of the organization. What can we as association executives do to not only maximize their contributions, but also provide a rewarding volunteer experience? In my 15 years working with non-profits, I have seen boards coalesce and perform as a high-level team and others finish their term feeling like they did not accomplish as much as they could have.

What is the difference between the two? While no single factor typically determines a board’s success, I will review two common challenges I have seen and some strategies to address them.

Challenge #1: It takes the board too long to get going

For the purpose of this example, let’s assume a board is seated for one year with staggered terms. At the beginning of your board year, you will add new board members; at the end, some will transition off. Even if you maintain a strong core on the board, the dynamics (and likely the performance) change.
What can you do get new board members up to speed faster? Effective board service starts with an orientation. Several models and examples are available online to use with your organization. What I find most effective is an orientation that addresses:

  • Both the history of the organization and the current state of affairs;
  • Key documents like bylaws, policies, procedures, board-staff responsibilities, list of staff with contact information, etc.;
  • Time for you ask key questions of your incoming board: What do you want to accomplish during your term? Why did you decide to run for the board?

I try to schedule at least an hour for my board member orientation to discuss the materials at a high level and allow time for Q&A. Typically, I do this soon after the election, often using a video conferencing platform so it can be recorded and referenced again later.

An effective orientation will allow for a faster start and give you information about individuals’ desires so you can better align their interests with opportunities and understand individual dynamics that are being added to the group.

Challenge #2: Leaders have different talents

When you have an effective leader or someone who was adept at managing the board, their successor may possess a different skill set.

What can you do so the organization does not lose momentum? The governance of many organizations allows for the incoming leadership to be named through succession of the chairs or elected well in advance of the beginning of their term. This is your opportunity to understand and influence the preparedness of your next leader.

Several in-person and virtual trainings are available to help you and your incoming leaders prepare for their term. ASAE has an Exceptional Boards course where the chief elected officer and chief staff officer attend together. BoardSource has an online certificate program. Perhaps there are organizations in your industry that provide training programs specific to that vertical.

Another strategy you can use is including that incoming leader in “business review” meetings with current leaders. These meetings allow the incoming leader to be involved in determining the strategy in ongoing projects, so they have the background and knowledge to bring it to conclusion during their term. Some associations do this in-person for a day, meet at an association event or in a series of meetings as their term approaches.

Start early! Several organizations publish quality thought leadership around board effectiveness. ASAE has its Guide to Volunteer Leadership, Bob Harris has a library of templates and resources available at no cost, BoardSource is a DC-based organization with a focus on effectiveness, to name a few. Check with your local SAE to see what kinds of resources they have. By sharing resources throughout the year with your leaders, you demonstrate your care for their development and also the success of the organization.

Invest in your volunteer leaders today to reap benefits tomorrow. Keep your Board’s momentum strong by developing your volunteer leaders.

What are some things you do to invest in your volunteer leaders?

Tags:  board  board member  leadership 

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Top 3 Reasons Your Conference Needs Mobile

Posted By Ewald Consulting, Thursday, October 24, 2019

What was once a deluxe conference amenity has become a necessary tool of engagement for successful events. Make your conference mobile and watch as speakers, exhibitors and attendees connect and communicate online. Excite your potential audiences before the event starts, engage with the attendees onsite and evolve throughout the process in response to change. All it takes is an app.


In the weeks leading up to your event, a mobile app campaign drives excitement for a future experience. Downloading a conference mobile app provides a tangible teaser for a still far-off event. It gets the conference on the minds and in the hands (literally) of your audience before a meeting convenes. 

Through yet another channel, your brand, your content and your vision can reach your anticipatory audience.

Pro tip: offer an incentive to download the app. Nothing spurs attendees into action faster than the possibility of free stuff.


At any event, you’ve just gathered many of the best minds in your field in one space for a few hours or a few days. Now that they’re here, you need them to engage: with speakers, with exhibitors and with each other!

  • Engage with Speakers: Speakers come prepared as subject-matter experts. Polling and survey features offered through a mobile app can turn a presentation from a one-sided lecture into an interactive event. A mobile app’s ability to collect real-time data from the audience allows speakers to connect with attendees, answer questions and shape their presentations to suit the crowd.
  • Engage with Exhibitors: Companies joining you from far and wide come with expectations to make connections. As their unique swag often demonstrate, sponsors and exhibitors want to get their name in your hands. With a mobile app, it already is. Exhibitor websites and contact information, and digital handouts become instantly available to all attendees. It’s a simple perk for the companies that might just keep them coming back for more.
  • Engage with each other: The universal advantage of in-person events is the networking opportunities inherent. However, as attendees meet new faces in the field, especially at large events, it can be difficult to keep track of these new contacts. Mobile apps provide a fully filled-in contact book and messaging system without the hassle of keeping track of business cards or asking for phone numbers. Encouraging attendees to include their picture with their profile? Even better for those of us not blessed with the gift of face/name memory!

You’ll want an app a mobile app to drive your speakers and attendees to not only to listen but to engage. Empower your audiences to connect through a technology we all know well.


Despite your meeting planner’s best efforts, plans change. As rooms fill up faster than anticipated and speakers call in sick—your mobile app can alleviate the headache of last-minute change.

Rather than disparaging your beautifully branded signage and collateral with handwritten speaker updates and blacked-out sessions, leverage the power of digital technology to make quick updates looks seamless. 

Mobile app push notifications provide a sort of virtual intercom. Communication is immediate and allows your event to evolve as quickly as the outside world.

Conferences are a great opportunity for your organization to showcase the caliber of members and body of knowledge. Mobile applications will only help you improve your conference attendee’s experience and increase the ROI of your event.

Tags:  conference  engagement  event planning  marketing technology  mobile  technology 

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Trends in Conference Management

Posted By Ewald Consulting, Thursday, October 17, 2019

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Millennials are now the largest generation in the U.S. workforce. As of 2017, there were 56 million Millennials (ages 22-37) working or looking for work — over one-third of the workforce.

Chart displaying growth of millennials as a segment of the workforce

With a growing need for our workforce to be trained and upskilled, conferences can play an important role in employee development.

To get Millennials to attend conferences and join our organizations, we must create more engaging and technologically focused offerings to meet this market segment who are interested in experiences, involvement and engagement.

7 Conference Best Practices

  1. Define and communicate the purpose and mission of the event to prove ROI. Create downloadable “Convince Your Boss” letters.
  2. Personalizing strategies – who are the sessions designed for? Are they interactive to engage attendees? Is there time for connection and conversation? How can attendees connect with other attendee segments and interests onsite?
  3. Purposeful experience – well-being activities, social impact days to give back to the community.
  4. Performances and offsite events at museums or local attractions.
  5. Enhanced conference technology including chatbots, 5G internet, wearable technology, real-time data, creative room design with technology access and charging stations, mobile apps.
  6. Nutrition, mindfulness and wellness: planning for dietary requirements; creating time for “brain breaks” – doodling, coloring, outside walks, Legos.
  7. Engage attendees using gamification – there are many gamers in this segment of the workforce.

Here are some additional resource articles on meeting trends to generate more ideas for your conference.

As our attendees and stakeholders continue to shift, associations must change up our conferences to not only maintain registration numbers but to take them to a whole new level: driving community, engagement and membership. Over one-third of the workforce and those who need education, community and engagement the most are counting on us to drive innovation and offer engaging and memorable experiences using trends and technology.

Tags:  association management  conference  delivering value  engagement  engaging millennials  event planning  member engagement  millennials  tips  trends 

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