5 Tips For Negotiating a Cancellation With Your Event Venue

By Stevie Kernick, Owner Emeritus, Account Manager

A long-term client had its Annual Conference scheduled for mid-August in Milwaukee. Already questioning the wisdom of proceeding with plans to host the conference with the uncertainty resulting from COVID-19 and shelter-at-home directives, the association’s board of directors was weighing the pros and cons of a cancellation recognizing that steep penalties were possible. 

No decision had been made until…

The morning of April 2, 2020, news outlets reported that the Democratic National Convention was postponed from mid-July to mid-August in Milwaukee. That was the tipping point in the board’s decision. 

Imagine hosting a conference in the same city at the same time as a national political convention with a projected attendance of over 50,000. Restaurant reservations – unavailable.  Shared ride services – impossible. City sidewalks – jammed. Hotel lobbies – overrun.

Within minutes, staff reached out to the hotel to inquire about cancelling for 2020 and rescheduling for the next year. Though this association would typically be booked several years in advance for their annual conference, the 2021 contract had stalled when the hotel sales manager was furloughed because of COVID-19.    

One hour after we reached out to the hotel, an electronic vote was distributed for board approval of the cancellation. Three hours later, the hotel issued a contract addendum moving the entire Annual Conference footprint forward to August 2021 without penalty. The following morning, the hotel contract addendum was signed, sealed, and delivered.

Just when you think you’ve seen and experienced every possible meeting calamity, you realize you haven’t.

Here are a few tips to keep in mind if you’re encountering a similar situation:

  • Start the discussion with your leadership as early as possible if there is the slightest chance that you might cancel or reschedule a meeting.
  • Prepare multiple scenarios that would work for your group and, hopefully, the hotel.
  • Get everything in writing. In the event of a cancellation, be sure the terms of that cancellation are in writing beyond just the wording in the contract.
  • Search for a win-win solution.
  • Check the CVB website often for other events and meetings that may be in the city at the same time as your conference. These other events may not end up affecting your group, but it’s good to have all relevant information.

If your association is struggling with the decision to cancel a meeting or move it to a virtual platform, IMI Association Executives is here to help. We have 30+ years of conference experience and can help you choose and execute the best event strategy for your organization. Call us today.

5 Things To Remember When Creating Emails During a Crisis

by Allison Winter, Communications Associate

With the current COVID-19 crisis, it may be hard to find a balance between inundating your members with emails and going completely silent. While we don’t want to overwhelm our members, we also don’t want to leave them wondering what our organization is doing and how it impacts them.

I recently attended two helpful webinars, Email Marketing During a Crisis: Lessons & Advice by Brightwave and Best Practices for Email Marketing During a Crisis by Litmus, that shared helpful tips to avoid either scenario. Here are a few takeaways.

Check Automated Messages

First, check all automated messages that your organization sends. Remove any information that refers to events that have been cancelled or moved to a virtual platform. Also, don’t forget to edit any information regarding office hours or services that have changed. 

Cull Images

Make certain that the people in your images are following all social distancing guidelines. Remove any images that include groups of people, individuals shaking hands or hugging, and other actions and activities that are currently discouraged.

Consider Your Tone

Though we’ve all been taught “This Is Your Last Chance” and similar subject lines generate opens, now is not the time to create a heightened sense of urgency. Instead, consider communicating in a way that creates a sense of safety and security for your reader. Before sending any email, read it several times to think about all the different ways your tone could be interpreted and edit as needed.

Create Brief Messages

Don’t send an email just so your organization’s name appears in your member’s inbox. We’re all being inundated with information every day, so keep in mind that your members may be experiencing email fatigue. Only send messages when you have something to say. Keep your email brief and, most importantly, provide value to your reader.

Choose Empathy

Above all, remember there is a human being sitting on the other side of the screen. Think about where your members are, what they’re doing, and the experiences they may have encountered that day. One of the most powerful quotes I took away from the Litmus webinar is, “If you wouldn’t feel comfortable sending it to a family member, then don’t send it.” Now is not the time to let the bottom line cloud our judgement or use manipulative scare tactics. We must choose empathy.

If you’re struggling to send emails with a consistent and empathetic voice, then contact IMI Association Executives. We specialize in creating content that engages your members and advances your mission. Contact us today to learn how we can help you.

3 Must Haves For a Successful Affinity Program

by Allison Winter, Communications Associate

Is your association looking for a way to generate non-dues revenue? Affinity Programs can create additional income while also adding an incredible new benefit for your members.

Simply put, an Affinity Program, as defined by the ASAE Handbook of Professional Practices in Association Management, is:

“a relationship between an association, an association’s members, and an external business.”

So, basically, an association receives compensation for giving a business permission to promote certain products or services to its members. In turn, the member traditionally receives lower prices for certain products or an enhanced customer experience they wouldn’t receive otherwise.

Though starting an Affinity Program may seem intimidating, ensuring you have these three must haves will help the program run smoothly and generate your association that desired non-dues revenue for years to come.

1. There Must Be A Need

First, and most importantly, there must be an actual need for the product or service the external business will be promoting. Today’s member isn’t interested in a small discount or a product unrelated to your association’s mission. They’re looking for unique products and meaningful services that meet their specific needs.

An easy way to see if this product is something your members will get excited about is to email a simple poll to gauge their interest. Make sure to provide your members with as much information as possible about the business and products so they can educate themselves and answer accurately. You don’t want your members thinking they’re receiving one thing only to find out it’s something entirely different once the program officially rolls out.

2. You Must Have A Strong Agreement

Behind every successful business relationship is a strong and clear agreement. This is no different for Affinity Programs, so make sure to contact your legal counsel once you decide your association wants to work with an external business. While your legal counsel will know what is best to include in the contract in regards to your specific agreement, some items you may want to consider including are:

  • Marketing Responsibilities
  • Performance Expectations
  • Legal Obligations and Liabilities
  • Reporting Expectations
  • Causes For Termination

3. There Must Be Ongoing Monitoring

Finally, part of any thriving Affinity Program is ongoing monitoring. Depending on the size of the program, ensure that the external business will be sending you quarterly reports. Additionally, setting up in-person meetings or conference calls at least twice a year can ensure both parties are receiving their desired results.

Do you have questions about creating that perfect Affinity Program for your association? Or do you need help managing or revamping a current program? Contact IMI Association Executives! We’ve helped our clients create and maintain successful Affinity Programs, and we’re ready to help you. Contact us or submit an RFP today.

7 Things You Don’t Want to Hear About Membership Management

by Nancy Haywood, Account Associate

As a new Membership Coordinator, gaining and retaining members may seem intimidating. Here are seven things to keep in mind.

1. Gaining members takes time.

New and existing associations can go thru lulls in attracting new members. It’s ok to have a lull, but don’t let it be your norm. 

2. Mass emails sometimes equal “OMG”.

When someone joins a new group, they are usually flooded with emails. Don’t take it personally if they complain to you. Listen to their concerns and ask what communications they would like to receive. If your group doesn’t have a way to opt members out of specific emails, then keep a spread sheet of the members who prefer to receive less emails.  Then, when it is time to send certain, emails simply remove their name from the recipient list.

3. You don’t know everything, and that’s ok.

You probably have a lot of great ideas on ways to increase membership. Remember to take time to see what has worked and not worked in the past. You might be surprised that some of your great ideas have been tried before.

4. Work hard to show them why should they join.

What incentives does your group provide for members? Be it discounts on purchases for webinars, conferences, or access to free CE credits, give them a reason to join versus always hanging on the sidelines as a nonmember.

5. Membership forms are incredibly important to get right.

You want to gain knowledge on new members and their background, but remember General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), and other US state privacy laws. If you are asking for members for information, have an actual need for why you want it. The information you can garner from their application can be a gold mine for your marketing department. Suggested info to collect is name, address, phone number, email.  Depending on the type of group you have, you might consider credentials, primary area of employment, if they are decision makers for their company, and why they joined.

6. Members can ask a lot of questions.

Remember when you were new at your job? You most likely asked tons of questions because you were new to the company and its processes. It’s the same way for new members. Many new members are excited about their new group and want to make sure they are making the most of their membership. Start to take notice of the questions you seem to be asked over and over. Create a welcome email that has tips and tricks that you can send them once they join.  It will cut down on your emails and empower your new members.

7. Reports are your best friend.

Membership is picking up, now what? You want to show off your results and the best way to do that is with membership reports. If your database system is capable, create membership reports on a monthly basis. This will allow you to identify trends on when people are joining, who is joining and their reason for joining. The more info you know the better you can be at gaining new members. It takes time to see the trends but it is well worth it. 

If you need help growing your membership, then IMI Association Executives can assist you! Contact us today to see how we can help grow your membership and keep your retention rates high.

Why Great Customer Service is Crucial to Nonprofits

by Ashley Wilson, Account Associate

At its core, customer service is a knowledge of services and experience that achieves results — and connecting to your customer so you can reach the best possible outcome. No matter the sector, the human relationship that is customer service is critical to success.

So why is that?

A company is just a business without the people who work there. It’s the people who make any company great. The same can be said for a non-profit. A non-profit is just an association, without the people there to organize, serve, and support. Without the people there is no success.

So, you have people? Great!

That one factor means you can provide great customer service, right? Wrong.

Customer service means connecting to the members. Members, or the community your non-profit serves, are the heart of any organization. The bonds you build between people are what can cause an association to grow or to fail. With strong bonds and a real connection to the needs of your organization, the association can grow. 

Like any relationship, being in tune to the needs of your community are key. Not sure how best to serve your members or how to select your next new member benefit? Ask! Give opportunities for your community to provide feedback.

Without these connections and a strong customer service focus, non-profits will struggle to succeed in membership growth and retention. Ultimately, customer service is intrinsic to a well-run non-profit organization. 

If you’re searching for assistance with customer service, then contact IMI Association Executives! We build relationships and deliver solutions. Submit an RFP today.

Moving From an Anniversary to a Calendar Year Dues Cycle

by Linda Owens, CAE, Owner and President

Are you a smaller non-profit that is spending lots of time and energy on anniversary dues billing each month? Switching to a calendar year dues cycle could save staff a lot of time!

Have you considered these benefits to moving to a calendar year dues cycle?

  • Aligns your organization’s budget and activity year with the budget and activity years of your members.
  • Smooths your organization’s cash flow throughout the budget year.
  • Improves the accuracy of your organization’s budget since the dues revenue is typically received in the first three months of the year. If dues are not received as expected, then the organization has the remaining nine months of the year to reevaluate expenses.
  • Saves staff time with handling dues billing once a year vs. twelve times throughout the year.

Once the decision is made, how do you notify your membership?

  • Send an email or letter to each member notifying them of the change. Be sure to include an outline of how this decision will benefit the organization.
  • Give your members options on how to transition to the new dues cycle.
    • A single payment: pay a pro-rated amount for the remainder of the current calendar year along with the annual dues for the next calendar year.
    • Two payments: pay a pro-rated amount for the remainder of the current calendar year and be invoiced for the annual dues for the next calendar year.

A calendar year cycle has been more common among smaller non-profits while anniversary-based dues cycles are more common among individual membership organizations. Calendar year cycles tend to align with an organization’s fiscal year and are easier for a small staff to manage since billing takes place during a specified span of time vs. all year, freeing the staff to focus on other management tasks. Are you interested in learning more about what IMI can do for your non-profit? Email me at linda@imiae.com for more information.

3 Ways to Know When to Bring Your Donations Appeal In-House

by Caroline Behe, Account Manager, and Keith Williams, Account Manager

Getting ready to plan your next fundraising appeal and looking to save some costs? With mailing lists totaling in the thousands, it can be quite daunting to think about printing, stuffing, and mailing out your appeal letters from your office. But, at the same time, the cost savings could be a real boon.

So how do you know when it’s time to do your appeal in-house and how do you know when to stick with your third-party creative design and print team?

Before you bring your appeal in-house, consider the following:

  • You must have the internal resources – both the creative and technical experience – to create and execute the appeal in-house.
  • The physical cost savings may be there, but did you factor the investment of staff time? Also consider that sometimes managing a third-party can be as time consuming as doing it yourself.

If you have determined that you have the internal resources and staff time to bring the appeal process in-house, then consider the following:

  • The costs of hiring a professional communications company may not be justified. We sometimes do what we have done because we have always done it that way. Analyze the ROI. After looking at the numbers more closely, we came to understand that we were spending too much compared to what we were taking in. We were able to decrease costs by 2/3 and increase total donations by 45% by managing the appeal in-house.
  • The ability to target letters, e-mails, and social media to make the message more personal may be easier than working through a third-party. We were nimbler with our messages as we were able to be responsive to what we saw happening in real time. For example, if you see your social media posts creating more donations, you can quickly purchase more Facebook ads or post more on your preferred social media platforms.
  • Adding a personal touch is easier. Each letter touched the hands of our staff which means the Executive Director personally signed each letter. When needed, a letter also included a handwritten note.

There is so much to consider when doing an appeal. You have a limited number of times you can contact your donors for financial support so you want each of those times to be their best.  You should look at each appeal letter opportunity to see what works best at that point in time for you. Don’t shy away from your own internal skills and abilities! 

If you’d like assistance with your donations appeals, IMI Association Executives can help! Our expert staff will assist you with everything you need to run a successful campaign. Contact us today.

Why Ideas Are Like Spaghetti Noodles

by Clint Owens, Owner, Vice President, and IT manager

As we go along each day at work, great, innovative ideas come to mind. However, we dismiss them or don’t share them with someone because we’re scared the idea might not stick. That great idea has succumbed to fear and starts to slip away, we fall back into our comfort zone of just doing what we always have done and we let a great idea fall to the wayside. My advice? Treat your idea like a spaghetti noodle.

Let me explain.

Growing up, my best friend Jim’s mother, Millie, was an amazing cook. Millie made her spaghetti noodles, bread, and sauces from scratch. The first time I went to my friend’s house for dinner, Millie was making spaghetti. I was sitting at the kitchen table with Jim and his brother and I noticed Millie pull a noodle from the boiling water and throw it against the wall behind the stove. I watched Mille do this three or four times. Being inquisitive, I asked Millie, “Why are you throwing the noodles against the wall?” Millie said, “When the noodle is cooked perfectly, it will stick to the wall.” So, like any other 12-year-old boy, I asked, “Can I throw one?” I actually threw two. The second noodle did stick and we all had a good laugh.

As strange as it may seem, ideas can be like the spaghetti Millie used to make. When a great idea comes to mind, let it simmer, then throw it against the wall to see if it will stick. Don’t allow discomfort and fear to undercook your ideas.

Wondering how you’re going to execute your great idea? Contact IMI Association Executives! We specialize in assisting associations turn their great ideas into reality.

Seven Tips For Webinar Speakers

by Christine Wilks, Account Associate

So, your professional association has asked you to do an educational webinar for its members. Some people can deliver a killer in-person presentation but are very uncomfortable when it comes to presenting to an audience they can’t see. I’ve compiled a few webinar presenter tips that will help ensure that you are equipped to deliver an amazing and memorable presentation.

1. Know Your Audience

Speak the language of your audience. When preparing your webinar presentation, know who will be watching the webinar – companies, organizations, specialties, etc. This will allow you to tailor your presentation so it is valuable and relatable to your attendees. 

2. Prepare the Presentation

The webinar should address ONE topic. Do not try to cram too much into a webinar, you will lose your learner and will simply run out of time. Avoid a “death by PowerPoint” presentation. Don’t just read the slides! If you use a PowerPoint, the slides should be prompts on points you need to cover to keep your presentation flowing. With your slides, ensure there is something new to look at every minute or so on the screen. Use powerful images in your presentation that align with your content to keep the audience’s attention.   

A great way to include multiple engagement opportunities with webinar attendees to keep them entertained are polls. Create and provide to your facilitator one or two polls to be conducted during your presentation and have attendees enter their answers in the chat box. Some platforms even provide in-time results on the screen.

3. Write down an outline or create a script

The script is a valuable tool to keep you on track and prevent you going on tangents that could cost you time. Scripts should include when to ask webinar attendees a question or request that they answer a poll. To go even further, include when to take a breath and/or pause and also when to advance the slides (especially if you have more than one speaker). This visual cue will keep you in check if you start speaking too quickly or when to change presenters or slides. Here’s an example introduction script from one of my recent webinars:

In recognition of National Nursing Week, today’s webinar is brought to INACSL members at no cost.


For those of you who may be new to INACSL, it is a non-profit organization whose mission is to promote, research and disseminate evidence-based practice standards for clinical simulation methodologies and learning environments.  This webinar is one example of how INACSL aims to meet its vision as Nursing’s portal to the world of clinical simulation pedagogy and learning environments. 



Highlight sections that are important to add a little extra energy. With a solid webinar script, you will sign into the webinar fully prepared and ready to go without any hesitations on where to begin. Having said this, don’t let the script make you a robot. Even if you are nervous, keep working to channel the verbal and physical qualities that are unique to you. Audiences want personality! Do not be afraid to let yours come through. You need not to sound scripted or robotic to be an effective speaker.

4. Make sure your facilitator (or host) schedules a practice session

This is the time for mistakes! If your facilitator does not offer a practice session, ask for one. Practice sessions are crucial for a successful webinar. I always schedule a first practice session about a week before the live or final recording session. Scheduling within this timeframe allows speakers to ask questions, correct any timing issues or make edits to the slide presentation before going live. Other benefits of a practice session:

  • It provides an opportunity to train on the platform. Whether it is how to advance your PowerPoint slides, type a question in the chat or mute yourself. Without proper preparation and training before a webinar, you may be confused if you are not familiar with their webinar platform. For optimal sound quality, use audio through the computer (VoIP), with a USB headset with microphone to avoid creating feedback/echoing during your presentation. If you consider yourself “technically-challenged” do not hesitate to ask for multiple training sessions until you have it down.
  • You and the facilitator will have time to review the agenda and objectives of the webinar content to ensure it aligns with the text on the webinar registration page and that it fulfills the objectives. If there are other speakers, you will have the chance to generate some chemistry.
  • Do a dry-run of the entire presentation including the introduction and conclusion. This is especially important if the facilitator or another speaker has prepared them to see if the content is long enough to last the entire length of the webinar, to get you comfortable with your pace, to test the slides, and to determine if and how much time there will be for Q&A.

Sometimes our anxiety can build up and we forget how to pronounce a word or we lose our train of thought. Practicing your presentation can help ensure that you are ready.

Expect at least a few hiccups and be prepared for them. Don’t panic if technical difficulties pop up. If you misspeak or accidentally skip one of your points during the live session, don’t make a show of it. Sometimes it’s best to just keep going. 

5. Log in early

Request all key players of the webinar login to the webinar at least 30 minutes before attendees can log on to the webinar. Use this time to do a last review of the content, ensure your engagement tools are set-up, test the sound quality and check that the audio is working. For those who are used to speaking in front of an audience, consider having another person or two in the room. If your webcam is set up on your monitor, have a person sit directly behind it – looking at them will appear you are making eye contact with the viewers. Also, standing up to present (with the right headset to ensure audio quality) can ease you if you are more used to in-person events. Always keep your microphone muted when you are not speaking. Any other presenters, panelists and even the facilitator should do so as well.

6. Game time! 

Before the webinar begins, here are some effective preparations for the best staging:

  • If you are doing the webinar from a home office, ensure that your children, pets, neighbors, etc., won’t interfere or make any noise during the live webinar. Alternatively, if you are doing the webinar from a work office, find a quiet room with a door where you won’t be disturbed. I’ve found putting up a sign saying, “Live webinar in the process, please keep your voices down.” to be effective.
  • Close all your windows, browsers and tabs, leaving only the webinar browser tab open.  Turn off your cell phone, email and IM apps on your computer to eliminate potential disruptions. 
  • Have a glass of water or other beverage close to you without ice. You may need a quick sip and the microphone will pick up the clinking of the ice.
  • Select a nice solid colored shirt to wear the day of the webinar, preferably not black.
  • Ensure that whatever is shown behind you on the webcam screen is neat and tidy. Eliminate any pictures on the wall that may be considered unprofessional.
  • Ensure there is a light set-up behind you. This makes everyone look better on webcam.
  • If you are using a portable webcam, make sure you have the best angle on the camera, so it’s not too low or not too high. Ask your facilitator to provide feedback on your position on the webcam: too close will look strange, and too far away will be hard for the audience to see you.

7. After the webinar

A best practice is to offer your contact information to webinar registrants to be able to reach out directly to ask questions. If your facilitator is encouraging or mandating participants to submit evaluations of your presentation, ask for a copy of the results. Evaluations, especially if the respondents are anonymous, provide excellent feedback to improve your next presentation!

Do you need assistance in running your association’s webinars? Contact IMI Association Executives to see what we can do for you!

What We’re Reading

by Linda Owens, CAE, Owner and President

IMI team members are always reading leadership and association management related blogs. Here are some of the posts we found interesting during 2019:

The Number-One Productivity Hack: Timeboxing
A study reveals today’s most powerful productivity strategy, and it’s perfect for planners.

How to Bear (and Be the Bearer of) Bad News
Whether you’re giving bad news or getting it, people around you are bound to be upset. In those cases, a little empathy and self-awareness might go a long way.

How to Overcome Deadline Dread
Facing down strict deadlines can be stressful. Here’s how to ask for more time or resources to get things done.

Membership Hack: “Ask Me Anything” Calls
The Digital Analytics Association hosts a monthly call modeled off Reddit’s “Ask Me Anything” series. DAA members dial in to ask whatever is on their minds.

Secrets of Online Engagement
Successful online communities have the right people, technology, and strategies in place to spark member engagement, says Marjorie Anderson, founder of Community by Association and manager of digital communities at the Project Management Institute.

Master These 6 Strategies to Avoid Overcommit and Increase Your Productivity
At the core of productivity is focus. Great leaders know that saying yes to fewer commitments means they can create greater impact.

Reach Members on the Air with Podcasts
Podcasts are growing in popularity right now, and it could be a medium ripe for associations to recruit, retain, and engage members.

Spring Clean Your Routine: Four Ways to Boost Your Productivity
Don’t just focus on your closet or your file cabinet: Spend some time this season working on ways to minimize distractions while maximizing productivity.

3 Phrases That Matter When “Selling” Your Organization’s Membership

Words matter. If you’ve ever done any kind of marketing, you know that. And even as a consumer, you know that. Certain phrases just compel you to make a purchase.

Membership Hack: Onboarding Webinars
The International Coach Federation onboards new members using a live webinar to introduce them to key benefits and services. This early engagement opportunity also helps boost first-year retention.

Use a Content Calendar to Engage Members in 2019
The member experience ebbs and flows with activity throughout the year, which is why a content calendar can help you plan for member engagements in 2019. Here are a few tools and techniques to get you started.

Future Focus: When Looking Ahead, Talk to Members First
As part of an initiative to examine future forces shaping the corporate real estate profession, CoreNet Global spent time interviewing its members worldwide. The effort resulted in a new study forecasting industry trends that will affect members and the association by 2025 and beyond.

Watch Out: Email Mergers Are Heating Up
In the past year, a number of major email service providers—particularly, and most prominently, Campaign Monitor—have expanded via acquisition. What should associations know, and what are the pitfalls to avoid?

How to Create Marketing Personas for Your Association (and Use Them to Make Better Decisions)
What if I told you that there was a way to close that gap between this dream and the reality of your team’s resources and capacity? This is where your association’s marketing personas come in.

Leadership is about coaching. Here’s how to do it well
You can start with one simple behavior change that will bring a massive impact.

IMI Association Executives has been gaining knowledge since 1986. We provide turnkey, high-touch service to the not-for-profit community. Contact us today to see what we can do for you.