How Events Helped One Association Connect Diverse Groups
ACPA executive director and Folio: Association Media Summit panelist experiments with event formats and mission.
This is the fourth in a series of Q&A's with panelists appearing at the Folio: Association Media Summit on May 3rd in Washington, D.C.
While virtual events and other web-based means of connecting people continue to emerge, traditional face-to-face gatherings are still vital for all but the most cutting-edge associations.
That’s certainly the case at the American College Personnel Association – College Student Educators International (ACPA), where the mission is to bring together professionals, practitioners and scholars in student affairs and services. Events may hold even more importance for ACPA than the average association because of the very diverse makeup of the audience ACPA seeks to reach.
Folio: spoke with the group’s executive director, Dr. Cindi Love, about how ACPA’s very nature and mission compels it to think more creatively about events. Love will be a speaker on the panel, “Super-Charging Your Events,” at the Folio: Association Media Summit, in Washington, D.C. in May.
Folio: What are you trying to focus on in terms of designing and staging events?
Love: Accessibility for everyone worldwide is at the core of everything we do—for those who have unique physical challenges in navigating space and those who cannot attend physically, as well as for multiple languages, different time zones and economic conditions and ways of understanding and practicing higher and tertiary education.
Our audience compels intergenerational and international effectiveness in communication, style, culture and more. We have to be edgy while maintaining our reputation for rigorous research and scholarship. The 65-year-old, English-speaking tenured professor sitting next to the 19-year-old graduate student working in a residence hall have to click or we have a problem.
We switched our membership database to Salesforce this year, making our registration seamless for anyone to self-register with a tablet or iPhone regardless of location, currency, or language.
Folio: What types of events are working for your association?
Love: Last year we hosted a Presidential Symposium at the New York Institute for Fashion and Design. We had 45 people in-house and 2,000 on line for a six-hour schedule that included the rock-star researchers in our field as well as practitioners. The Twitter response was higher than that for our convention, which is over the top already. We only spent $11,000.
We also added a Global Summit for Student Leadership, which brought 25 students from around the world, and we held our first convention outside the U.S. in Montreal. ACPA Video On Demand makes it possible for people all over the world to access our content 24/7/365 as well as attend the Convention and other events virtually or on demand. We had 50,000 unique viewers in 2015-2016.
Our convention is a break-even event for us and, for the foreseeable future, will be part of our portfolio for the reasons mentioned previously. At the same time, we are pushing the innovation envelope in everything we do because the event must draw 3,000-plus to break even. People expect us to provide the best in research and practice as well as high accessibility and affordability for the next generation.
Our recent convention had more than 1,100 program submissions and we accepted over 60 percent. We also have a very diverse audience in terms of years in the profession and skill level. One-third of convention attendees are graduate students. Forty-five percent are mid-level professionals and the remainder is senior administrators. Creating high engagement in this diverse mix is a challenge.
We have been very successful in attracting and retaining both the youngest generation and the most seasoned in the same spaces, physically and virtually. This has been hard for some associations. We have quadrupled our on-line community connections in less than 12 months using strategies developed by our Team for Impression & Impact.
Folio: How are you supplementing traditional face-to-face events?
Love: We publish the leading Tier 1 journal in the field, the Journal of College Student Development. As a result our events have a large draw for leading scholars as well as practitioners. We have always been heavily engaged in individual program sessions led by these individuals. They are our content experts and the foundation upon which we build the international dissemination of best practices and scholarship in our field. In the past, all of this dissemination was done face to face at the convention or institutes or in print publications. Today, we hybridize virtually everything that we produce with a face-to-face element and a digital on-demand element.