When two associations are similar but different, how can you leverage the similarities to offer dynamic educational opportunities?

We offer association management services to two associations that have many similarities but can also be viewed as competitors (they compete for consumers’ recreational dollar spending). When the board of each started discussing training opportunities connected to their annual general meetings, the two boards saw value in combining their efforts for a larger, joint one-day event. For more on association collaboration, please see Association Collaboration—Is your Association Partnering for Success?

What are the potential challenges when you look at joining forces?

The initial step necessary to ensure success of a joint meeting is open and honest communication. Each organization needs to be clear about their needs and expectations from the education they provide to their members. Each group needs to be transparent on the needs and wants from their membership base when delivering training. Is the training hands-on, is it theoretical, do you have general session or speaker tracks that dive deep into targeted areas?

The outcome of this open conversation should be the development of a memorandum of understanding (MOU). The MOU should outline and formalize the relationship between the two associations and clearly outline the duties, responsibilities and expectations for the work needed to be done to make the event happen. The MOU should also clearly outline the financial commitment from each organization so it is clear what happens to profits and what happens in the case of a deficit.

Once the MOU is in place the education committees need to come together to look at the theme for the event and the type of speakers that might be pertinent. Each group needs to clearly outline the learning styles of their members so the format can accommodate the members of each association. Are there speakers that can deliver a message to both membership bases that are generic enough to fit into both industries? If so, that is a good starting point. Develop the program, ensure there is consensus on the program material, and develop a plan to communicate it to the associations’ members.

The communication promoting the event needs to be clear so each association’s members understands that this is a combined meeting and the format has changed. There may be some resistance from members about combining the meeting, so you will need to determine who from each organization will deal with these issues. Ideally it would be a member of the education committee or the executive director that fields these concerns.

The MOU should deal with how delegates, sponsors and members register for the event. Outlining the details will be important, as there will be financial implications to consider on the revenue and expenses that are allocated between the two groups. If one organization has more people attend than the other, it should be pre-determined how that is handled. The best approach to registering delegates is to combing the registration system to have clear communication and anticipate questions members might have about the event.

Most associations have sponsors that support their educational events as it is a great way for sponsors to become more visible to the association’s membership. Ideally it is best if each organization can maintain their projected revenue they earn from their educational / AGM event sponsors. Again, this should be discussed and agreed upon as part of the event planning and all details should be part of the MOU.

The challenges I mention can be overcome with a clear communication strategy and a commitment from each association to see the event be a success.

What are the advantages of combining forces?

The combining of resources can create a larger pool that allows the planning committee to go out and find better speakers than they could afford if they were doing it on their own. Finding good speakers is not always easy to do, and having a healthier budget will allow you to go out and approach higher quality speakers.

There can be value in members being exposed to other industries to show the members that they don’t operate in a bubble. As an association executive we have learned that there are trends that can cross over from one industry to another. Exposing your members to what is happening in other industries can be very positive as they can learn from the successes of others.

You can also provide more value to suppliers / sponsors if there are common suppliers between the two organizations. This provides great value to the suppliers, as the audience and exposure is larger than if each group did their event separately. It also saves the suppliers money as they only need to attend one event, which saves them time, and who doesn’t want to save time?

We have three association management clients that combine their AGM and educational events. The two associations I mentioned earlier decided for the first time this year that it would be advantageous to join forces and host their annual general meetings and education. They had a positive experience and positive feedback from their members and sponsors. Eighty percent of the sponsors are common between the two groups, so the sponsors were very pleased to be able to participate in one event versus two separate events.

Overall the benefits can outweigh the challenges when associations collaborate to deliver education events. A well written MOU and open lines of communication between associations will go a long way to making your event a success