Walking to a New Beat: Don’t Let Historical Conference Offerings Hold You Back
We all fall into the same trap. “This is what we’ve always done,” we say. These are dangerous words for associations. They lead us to complacency and we risk losing our ability to feel fresh to attendees. The National Association of Neonatal Nurses (NANN) recently ran into the same issue – and decided to approach it head on.
While preparing for our 32nd Annual Conference, NANN made initial plans for programs and features based on the previous year’s conference as many associations do. With a fairly new staff in place, we weren’t married to any feature or program and decided to completely revamp several. We took a hard look at one in particular: the March of Dimes Silent Auction.
NANN’s Silent Auction fundraiser was stale. Initial success had faded, participation was waning, and excitement was at an all-time low. In addition, local chapters tasked with creating gift baskets for auction seemed to have lost interest as well. Lower interest meant fewer donations for March of Dimes. Did it make sense to keep an old program running? It would have been simple to ditch it all together, but it was critical to NANN to continue their support of March of Dimes. The solution? A simple program and teamwork at its best.
The Walk for Babies Fundraiser was born from several cross-functional teams working with a core idea: to encourage attendees to incorporate fitness into their conference experience, have a healthy competition, and donate to the March of Dimes. With Millennial team members driving much of the creative process, the “Walk for Babies” was created. But, questions arose quickly, such as:
- How will we track steps onsite during an already busy schedule?
- What can we offer as an incentive?
- Can prizes be sponsored?
- How will we manage the raffle?
- Will people even participate?
- What are our chances of success?
Staff quickly came together to answer these question and implement the fundraiser with no reference points, budget, and only limited time. Despite these challenges, the plan started to take effect with March of Dimes in full support.
- Steps wouldn’t be tracked, but pledged on the honor system.
- Participants would wear colorful buttons proudly announcing the number of steps pledged. (This was also a friendly technique to encourage a healthy competition among attendees!)
- Prizes were chosen to reflect the healthy initiatives set by this fundraiser, like Whole Foods and DICK’S Sporting Goods gift cards. Although there wasn’t time to find sponsors in 2016, we will in 2017.
- March of Dimes learned take donations a new way via SQUARE, something they can do at future conferences.
- To encourage participation, scripting was incorporated into Registration staff training.
The fundraiser was an overwhelming success. The March of Dimes raised $5,000, twice as much as the most successful silent auction. One hundred thirty attendees participated, gladly donned their buttons all week, and winners were genuinely overjoyed with their prizes. The feedback was outstanding from participants. Throughout the conference, attendees shared their love for the new format. The best part? March of Dimes was thrilled and just might take this fundraiser to other events. It was a win across the board.
Change can be difficult. It’s a hard task to scrap a comfortable program and not only implement something new, but something successful. With the right team in place, one idea out of the blue can blossom into a successful campaign. Taking a necessary risk like this keeps your association fresh and inviting. Attendees have plenty of options on what conferences to attend. While the educational content is valuable, memories of new, fun and “feel good” features will set your meeting apart.