Meeting Mentor Magazine

May 2024

In-Person Events Drive Increased Optimism for Associations

The continuing rebound in in-person events — and the nondues revenue associated with those events — are helping associations buck the corporate trend of anxiety about today’s unsettled economic and political environment.

While corporate America continues to fret about everything from the fallout from this year’s contentious presidential election to the economy to tech advances like generative AI, association execs are feeling much more optimistic about their ability to thrive in the near future.

In fact, according to the recently released Marketing General International’s 2024 Association Economic Outlook Report, the majority of association leaders are expecting to see increases in membership (61%), nondues revenue (56%) and overall revenue (53%) in 2024 — thanks in large part to the continuing return of in-person meetings and events.

Associations planning to hold only in-person events shot up from 39% in 2022 to 61% for this year, according to the report, which is based on a 2023 survey of association professionals from more than 300 organizations. The increase in in-person events is accompanied by a decrease in virtual-only event plans, with just 1% saying they planned to go this route in 2024, compared to 8% who said the same in 2021. As of 2023, 40% said a return to in-person meetings and events was a strategy they planned to implement to better serve their members, which they appear to be putting into practice this year.

The increase in the number of in-person-only meeting and event plans is buoyed by a big bump up in attendance numbers, with 42% of respondents saying they’re seeing higher registrations than they did in pre-pandemic times. And, while the survey didn’t explicitly ask the question, the increase in in-person meetings and events also may have something to do with the expectation on the part of 82% of respondents that member engagement also would rise this year — something that was also up in 2023, though only for 58% of respondents.

The increase in in-person events also jibes with other main association priorities outlined in the report — where better than through in-person events to conduct the education and training that 73% said they plan to focus on this year, as well as the 64% who plan to emphasize networking opportunities? Other top priorities also lined up with the increase in in-person meetings, including an emphasis on disseminating industry trends and best practices information (39%), nourishing a sense of community (35%), and providing leadership and volunteer opportunities (20%).

However, budgets aren’t necessarily keeping up with the increase in in-person events. While the survey didn’t split out numbers specific to meetings, budgets are mostly flat or down slightly, except for recruitment, which 44% anticipate will increase in 2024.

However, the overall association picture is bright for 2024. Sixty-one percent anticipate an uptick in their net membership counts, while 56% believe their nondues revenue numbers will increase over the course of the year — and 48% believe they will see moderate increases in dues and/or nondues prices. Overall, revenues are anticipated to be up for more than half of those surveyed, even as spending plans are only expected to rise along with revenues for 37% of respondents, and another 35% saying they expect it to stay flat.

The upshot of the report is that, when asked to rate their overall optimism about the economic outlook for their association this year, 36% were either optimistic or very optimistic, with another 48% saying they were at least somewhat optimistic.

Download the full report here.

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About MeetingMentor
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