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Getting Virtual Meetings Right

Getting Virtual Meetings Right

The novel coronavirus pandemic has shifted much of life online. Among the biggest changes are in the world of conferences and meetings. While replicating the intimacy and spontaneity of a coffee break or an exhibit hall is a tall order, there are things you can do to ensure the core aspects of every meeting—sessions and attendee interactivity—are built into your events. Let’s take a look at a few.

Start from the attendee perspective

One of the best strategies for making a virtual meeting better is to look at it from an attendee’s point of view. What are they looking for, and how do they expect to use the opportunity that you’re presenting?

The Chronicle of Higher Education just featured a relevant piece on the subject by Thomas Tobin, an expert in online teaching long before the novel coronavirus pandemic hit. The focus was on explaining how attendees can get the most out of virtual conferences. It offered insight that organizations can use to make sure they are hitting the marks from event planning and execution perspectives.

Among the tips offered: attendees should think narrow and small. In other words, the more specific a topic, the more valuable a learning experience it is likely to be. “Look for narrowly conceived sessions that will help you learn or improve a specific skill,” Tobin writes. “Find and attend more of those than large plenary sessions on broad themes.”

Similarly, Tobin advocates for smaller meetings vs larger ones. While large meetings may sound like they offer greater opportunities to connect and be a part of something large, smaller meetings are better at fostering engagement.

Speaking of engagement, Tobin says one of the most effective ways to ensure conference knowledge sticks with an attendee is to talk about it afterwards—preferably, as soon as possible. As an organizer, you can facilitate this by offering small breakout sessions designed for participants to engage. You can also create hashtags or special groups on platforms such as Facebook and LinkedIn set aside especially for attendees.

Tobin also advocates that attendees connect with their conferences before the events start. This means downloading dedicated apps and, critically, becoming familiar with any platforms or technologies the conference will feature. As a conference organizer, you can be proactive by offering tutorials, question-and-answer sessions, or a simple set of instructions that walk would-be attendees through how you will put on your event. Don’t assume everyone knows Zoom or Google Meet. Instead, take the approach of being as inclusive as possible.

“You can tell that online-conference organizers are well prepared if they provide opportunities ahead of the event for self-guided and/or facilitated practice with the common tools that will be used throughout the meeting,” Tobin writes. “They will also offer you the chance to practice with the tools they plan to use for social interactions, such as chat apps or connection tools in the conference mobile app.”

Tobin’s entire article is available here: https://www.chronicle.com/article/how-to-make-the-most-of-a-virtual-conference. If virtual conferences are in your future, it’s worth the time to read.

Fine-tuning your event

With a topic in place and plenty of pre-meeting preparations planned for attendees, it’s time to shift your thinking to executing the event itself. A recent TechRadar piece shared a few valuable pointers for ensuring your event resonates.

Among the key tips is the suggestion that live events do best. While it’s not always possible to have presenters available during their speaking slots (meaning they record their talks), live is by far the preferred method. “Live presentations are simply more authentic to the audience,” Derek Weeks and Mark Miller, co-founders of the All Day DevOps tech conference, write in their co-written piece. “Think of the difference you feel when watching live television versus a pre-recorded episode. Live events have better engagement.” Plus, it’s hard to ask questions to a panelist that has submitted a recorded presentation!

This doesn’t mean your sessions should not be recorded for attendees, however. By all means, record your sessions for later consumption. But the more live content you have, the better—and you should promote your event as such.

Another item that Weeks and Miller say is often overlooked but very important is having a code of conduct, and enforcing it. Simply put, attendees want to engage without any concern that bad individuals will detract from the experience. “Just because it’s online doesn’t mean that everyone behaves appropriately,” they write. “If people misbehave, don’t be afraid to boot them from your platform.”

Like Tobin, Weeks and Miller also laud dedicated channels for attendees to connect and collaborate. These should be available during the meeting—think instant-messaging features of live video conferencing software—as well as after the event via social media or other means. Your event will start conversations, so give attendees places to keep them going.

Check out more of what Weeks and Miller had to say here: https://www.techradar.com/news/10-best-practices-for-running-a-virtual-conference.

Personalization and connection

Virtual events have many advantages over in-person ones. They are easier to scale, easier to attend, and offer the convenience of being able to go back and experience them later. But the one thing a virtual event cannot do is replicate the intimacy and shared in-person collaboration of a live event.

So what do you do to help close that gap for attendees? As mentioned above, start by giving them platforms to talk on. A more subtle but equally important part of forming that connection is the classic swag bag or conference gift. How many times have you seen a backpack, messenger bag, or bag tag with a certain conference logo on it and thought, “Hey, that’s my industry!” Giving virtual attendees that same sense of community is possible—it just takes a little more effort.

Offer sponsorship to a company for a giveaway, and then tell attendees they can have the gift sent to them for free if they provide their mailing address. This not only helps empower the community, but it can beef up your database for future outreach.


GRC Marketplace

We have several clients that have had success connecting virtual attendees using customized promotional items from our GRC Marketplace (www.grcmarketplace.com). Some are sticking with traditional conference gifts such as key chains or bags, while others are getting creative during the pandemic by sending out stress balls or touch tools that can be used for everything from elevator buttons to point-of-sale pin pads.

Putting it all together

Virtual events are more than just sitting in front of a camera and broadcasting. They require not only different technology but also a different perspective. Recognizing this is the first step to creating a successful and well-received event.

We’re happy to help you plan and execute your virtual event. Reach out and start a conversation!

Contact us today.

Virtual Meetings: A Short Primer On Making Them Better

If there is one thing we’ve all learned during 2020, it’s that virtual events do not offer the same experience as in-person ones.

In some cases, like music concerts, there is no substitute for the live, crowd-filled version. But in others, it’s possible to accomplish virtually what normally happens in-person.

Virtual meetings fall into this latter category. But getting them right takes some preparation and a bit of a different perspective. MindTools has a useful checklist for ensuring your virtual meetings are effective for everyone involved.

For organizers, picking the proper technology tops the list. Do you need to record your meeting? Will attendees need to access it via tablets and smartphones as well as computers and smart boards? Review your needs, then ensure the platform matches them.

Another key point is to have someone designated to be the meeting leader. Someone needs to be in charge, especially in a virtual environment where body language and other non-verbal cues are hard, if not impossible, to pick up.

Ground rules are another must-have. Should attendees all have their cameras on? Will there be open-discussion that requires having mute buttons off the entire time, or should attendees be on mute unless they’re speaking? Setting expectations at the outset will help attendees feel comfortable.

Depending on the group attending, you may want to have a short introduction period or roll-call involving all attendees. This works well for small, inter-organization gatherings. If you’re meeting with a few well-known colleagues, it may not be necessary.

Virtual meetings can be effective—with a little planning. Read the full MindTools post here for more details: https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/running-effective-virtual-meetings.htm.

Grassroot Communication Unveils GRC Marketplace, Its New Division Specializing In Cost-Effective, Innovative, Branded Promotional Items

Grassroot Communication has expanded its offerings to include promotional products via its new GRC Marketplace online portal.

GRC Marketplace, available at www.GRCMarketplace.com, enables businesses, non-profits and associations to match the perfect promotional items with their campaigns. The new GRC Marketplace offers a million customizable products at a range of prices that can fit into every promotional budget.

“With our decades of experience helping clients create effective, multi-channel marketing campaigns, expanding into promotional products is a natural step,” said Sherene Rapoport, Grassroot’s vice president of sales and marketing. “The timing is ideal as well, as using innovative tactics such as giveaways. Creative reminders to stay in front of clients is becoming a valuable way to stand out during the current period of social distancing.”

GRC Marketplace

Customers can browse the online marketplace’s 1,000,000 products and consult with us on a simple item. In addition, Grassroot’s team will help craft the ideal campaign based on the objective, budget, and timeframe. A dedicated contact for GRC Marketplace customers, Betsy Hall, has extensive experience in the promotional products business and is ready to help all existing and future Grassroot customers.

Ready to add promotional items to your next campaign? Need branded items for your staff or customer-facing elements of your business? Visit www.GRCMarketplace.com and get started!

Amid Live-Event Uncertainty, Some Guidance For Moving Forward

The novel coronavirus pandemic has changed a lot about the way business is done. Arguably the largest change has a direct impact on the association world: the strict limitations, if not outright cancellations, of large-group gatherings. In the membership world, this means conferences and meetings.

Like it or not, associations are beholden to local regulations at their venues. If you’re headquartered in a state that is opening quickly, your event still may not happen as scheduled if it’s in a hotspot. Even if you happen to be ready to go, attendees may have other ideas. If there’s international travel involved for your attendees or your event site, you have even more hurdles.

Suffice it to say that the events world is not going to be the same for a while. ASAE conducted a snapshot poll in early June, asking several pertinent questions about planned events. Among the eye-opening results: 50% of association executives believe their next in-person conference will be in 2021 or later, or have no idea. Nearly 25% of them said their associations canceled at least four in-person event slated for 2020. The major takeaway: uncertainty reigns.
Grassroot Communication | In Person Events

But events will happen, and when they do, associations and event planners have to be prepared. The International Association of Exhibitions and Events (IAEE) has taken the lead in developing a best-practices guide for safely reopening events to attendees and exhibitors. The guide is not prescriptive, because every event is different—from number of attendees to the venue layout. But the 35-page guide runs event planners through big-picture basics on how to assess risk, establish protocols for ensuring physical distancing is practiced, and—perhaps most importantly—how to communicate it all to audiences.

Much of the guidance relies on existing protocols, such as using event-specific apps to supplement communications efforts. But other things are completely new to the events world, such as health screening.

The 35-page guide is available at IAEE’s website at https://www.iaee.com/covid-19-resources/. The first version was released in early June. IAEE plans to keep updating the guide as protocols change, so bookmark that page.

It’s Spring, and Almost Nothing Is the Same

Springtime is usually the season filled with renewal and growth—both in the world around us and with a lot of membership-based organizations. Our original plan for this issue of Member Centric was to focus on keeping your new members (renewal) and adding new ones (growth).

But this spring isn’t like most springs—in fact, it’s like no other spring we’ve ever seen in our lifetimes. The novel coronavirus has brought the global economy to its knees. Simple pleasures like meeting a friend for coffee are not possible as we stay inside—or at least away from each other—and limit the virus’s spread.

The abrupt shift has meant every organization must change. Working from home is now expected, wherever possible. The Grassroot team is maximizing this, with only our on-site production staff still going to our facility on a regular basis (and practicing aggressive social-distancing measures when they do). We’ve also shifted some of our quick-turn production priorities. We’re printing a lot fewer business cards, and a lot more COVID-19-related posters, signage and other information for use in lobbies, offices, and other places.

For many of our associations, similar shifts have taken place. Virtual meetings have replaced conference-room gatherings, and in-person events are postponed until the second half of the year, at the very least. Communicating with members has taken on an even higher priority. Perhaps your strategies need to shift based on what we’re learning during the novel coronavirus pandemic—distance learning may become a feature, and not an afterthought, for instance.

In this issue, we’ll share some of what we’re seeing, what we believe will help you get through a very trying time, and what long-term changes may be awaiting on the other side.

First Thing’s First: Funding

Before you talk about some ideas for managing and mitigating the disruption caused by the pandemic, you first have to get through it. If you’re like most nonprofits, finances and funding are your most pressing issues, and that’s only exacerbated now. Rather than diving into how to tackle this, we’re simply going to refer you to references put together by the National Council of Nonprofits. Here’s the link:


There, you will find resources that talk about possible funding sources at the national level, including the pandemic-related emergency funding. There are also links to state-level resources, as well as detailed analysis of some of the most common options.

Member Centric Newsletter

Trying New Tools

If pandemic-influenced workplaces have one thing in common, it’s the rise of using technology to get people together. Maybe your organization already used collaboration software like Slack or video-conferencing tools to help keep everyone on the same page. If so, then you were a step ahead. If not, you now have plenty of opportunity.

Many service providers are offering extended trials of their products. While it’s a good marketing ploy, it’s also a great opportunity for your team to try out some new tools and see how they work. As we’re headed to press, popular video-focused tools that are available free for a time include Microsoft Teams, Google Hangouts Premium, and GoToMeeting. Also worth checking out: Dropbox Premium, for file organization and sharing.


Maintaining Connections

A membership organization’s foundation is built on community. This has only grown more important during the current era of social distancing. Much like your workforce, your members are seeking outlets to stay more connected. This is an opportunity for your organization.

Hopefully, you have regular newsletters, social media feeds, and other communications tools that help you keep members engaged. Keep using them. You should also consider adding more ways for them to engage with each other, if you don’t have several already. Examples include dedicated Facebook or LinkedIn groups, where members can connect and share information.

Virtual meetings are another possibility. Along those lines, the folks at Higher Logic are offering their event-engagement tools free for any organization that had to cancel an in-person gathering this year.

Going online with meetings, conferences, and trade shows is a worthwhile opportunity, but it also presents some challenges, and requires some planning. Will you be charging for the event? Recording it for later consumption? Thankfully, the same vendors that offer software to help manage events and virtual meet-ups have a vested interest in satisfied customers. Tap into them—it may even be worth budgeting for both the software and some training.

Staying The Course

The pandemic will pass. Many things will be different, but your organization, and your members’ needs, probably won’t shift very much. Your members are surely dealing with pandemic-related challenges, just like you and your organization. But a major challenge does not push the rest of life—or work—to the side.

Remember this as you put together your near-term communications. Your members count on you to keep them informed and educated, as well as connected. By all means, communicating about how the novel coronavirus is impacting your association and your members is appropriate. But don’t forget the reason your members belong to you in the first place.

Looking to get more insight from your data? We can help!

Contact us at susan@grassrootcommunication.com and let’s get started.

Coronavirus, how we can help

We at Grassroot Communication, like everyone else, are keeping an eye on the latest news about COVID-19. We’re writing to ensure you that we will do everything we can to support your operations, even as the community adopts social-distancing and other preventative measures.

Our CSR reps are available even when they work from home. Your calls are routed to their extensions, which will ring on their cell phones if they are not in the office. Our CSR’s are monitoring their emails and checking messages routinely,  so rest assured that your project will continue to move through our production.

We are offering shipping and pick-ups to your home addresses. Everything from sending proofs to dropping off materials can be done to your personal home should you need us to.

Set up a webex meeting with us to discuss how you can be more proactive in the current environment. We expect a very crowded environment for nonprofit messaging during the U.S. election cycle this summer and fall, and the COVID-19 crisis adds even more uncertainty.

We are actively encouraging our clients to use the springtime as their primary fundraising and member outreach season. Is there anything we can do right now to offset any potential and unforeseen impacts on fundraising and outreach? Contact us to set up a call with us today.

We will continue to stay in touch as events unfold. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to us with any questions or concerns.

Stay safe and healthy,

GrassRoot Communication Team

Do Not Reply? … There’s A Better Way

If you have an email account, you’ve seen messages from do-not-reply addresses. They can be useful in certain circumstances, but chances are, none of those circumstances apply to your organization.

Simply put, do-not-reply addresses are almost always a bad idea. As this HubSpot blog post points out, they discourage two-way communication and are susceptible to getting caught up in spam filters. They also can run afoul of U.S. laws governing email distribution by businesses.

There are better ways to manage the incoming email that you are likely looking to avoid by using a do-not-reply address. Among the ones we like the most: use alias addresses. These can be filled on your end to help separate responses—messages to prospects might from a “hello@yourdomain.com” address, for example, while messages to active contacts can come from a more recognizable address, such as an executive’s first name (jane@yourdomain.com).

Filters can also be used to sort through auto-response messages, such as “message delivery notification” to help you keep your list current—undeliverable addresses can be removed, for instance.

If your messages generate a number of manual responses, consider having an auto-response of your own. You should strive to answer every inquiry, but depending on volume, it may take your team a few days. That’s fine—but it could be reassuring to your audience to receive confirmation that their message has been received, and your team is on the case.

For more tips on how to manage replies without closing off communication, check out HubSpot’s tips.

2020 Membership MARKETING RE-SET: Let Your Data Help You Deliver

As you embark on your 2020 membership recruitment plan, some of the most important work comes long before you even begin sending out your first campaign collateral or even plotting your campaign. Think of it like using a road map to plot a long car journey.

Simply put, before you can figure you how to get to where you want to go, you must know where you are. For membership-based organizations, we recommend starting with member retention.

The calculation is simple, but just to make sure we’re all on the same page, we will go over it here. Calculating your retention rate can be done in five steps:

1. Pick a time period, such as one year.

2. Determine the number of members you had at the beginning of the period (B).

3. Determine the number of members you had at the end (E).

4. Determine the number of new members added during the period (N), and subtract this from the end count (E-N).

5. Divide (E-N) by B—so (E-N/B), for your math-savvy folk—and you have your retention rate!

Factoring out added members is key, because they were not present at the beginning of the time period. Only members at the beginning of the specified period should be viewed as candidates for retention during the period.

Your retention rate gives you a good, big-picture idea of how well your association is doing growing or maintaining its membership. Another key metric—and probably the one that should garner the most near-term marketing attention—is renewal rate.

Calculating your renewal rate is simple: divide the number of renewals by the number of eligible renewals in a given time period. For example, if you had 100 members come up for renewal over the period of one year, and 95 of them renewed, your renewal rate would be 95/100 = 0.95, or 95%. That’s pretty good!

No matter how high that renewal percentage is, unless it’s perfect, it points to an obvious outreach opportunity. Members already are familiar with your organization and what it offers. Targeting them via lapsed-member campaigns should be a low-hanging fruit in your membership campaign push.

Of course, members usually don’t lapse for no reason. Digging into the data you have on lapsed members will give you insights on what is going on—and perhaps some clear goals. Perhaps your organization caters to professionals who tend to leave their field at retirement, and your lapsed members are mostly retirees? That could help you target your marketing in other areas. It also could be fodder for expanding your association’s offerings to grow its appeal—and its membership base!

Retention rates vary based on many factors. In general, however, if you are keeping 80% of your members—meaning 8 out of 10 eligible to renew are doing so—you are in pretty good shape. If not, don’t worry. We’ve touched on membership-retention strategies before, including back in 2018, when we shared nine tips for boosting renewals. You can read the entire article here (https://grassrootcommunication.com/9-high-value-membership-benefits-to-improve-retention/), but we will re-up four of our favorite tips:

1. Feed the Community

Your audience is people who are united by a common interest. Implementing simple ways for people to connect – an official Facebook page or a moderated forum section on your website will have your members talking almost immediately. You should also connect personally with your members to help boost their feeling of belonging and connectedness!

2. Go Beyond ‘Belonging’. 

Your members want to a part of something, but they are hungry for information too. Conferences and seminars—even simple, online webinars—provide for a hands-on learning experience. It serves as both a getaway and a constructive opportunity.

3. Provide Exclusive Products

A sense of exclusivity creates demand—so provide something exclusive. The product itself doesn’t need to be something you perceive as particularly “exclusive.” As long as it’s a strain or version of a product that is unique to your organization, go ahead and label it as exclusive. If it’s limited to a particular group, it’s exclusive. If it’s white-labeled, it’s exclusive. If it’s difficult to find elsewhere, it’s exclusive.

4. Early Renewal Discount

This is time-tested, but it works. Start your member-renewal drive early, and provide people with the option of a longer payment plan or an up-front discount (or both). The discount can be as little as 5% off the annual membership fee, but as long as people feel that they’re receiving the benefit of their membership from day one, your organization puts itself in a much better position to retain its members.

What Else Can Your Data Tell You?

Benchmarking and setting goals are beneficial activities that should be embedded in a membership organization’s processes. Are you taking advantage of what your data is telling you?

One of the areas we’ve been helping clients with is using their existing data to glean trends and actionable insight—a benchmarking jump-start, if you will. We call the new service MemberTrends, and it’s making a difference for our clients.

In one case, after cleaning and appending an association client’s in-house prospect list, we were able to determine the most viable prospects to target with a recruitment campaign. We also guided the client to do A/B testing so it could start gathering real marketing data to use for future campaigns. We helped the client figure out the best way to spend its recruitment dollars and designed a campaign using variable data and segmentation.

We did something similar for another client. The one wrinkle: before we sent out the direct-mail campaign, we tested offers through email marketing. The offer that got the highest response was then sent out the mailing.
In each case, existing data in the client’s possession helped us craft a targeted, cost-effective campaign. The results spoke for themselves.

Your Data—Your Future

No two organizations are the same, and neither are their membership profiles. Understanding how your audience thinks and what is motivating the decisions they make—both joining the association and disengaging from it–can help you develop more effective, efficient campaigns. We’re happy to help!

Looking to get more insight from your data? We can help!

Contact us at susan@grassrootcommunication.com and let’s get started. 

Why Direct Mail? Because It WORKS!

Direct mail as a marketing tactic boasted a 43% increase in customer response rates in 2016, according to the Data & Marketing Association.

How can this happen in a world where digital is dominating? One way is better targeting. By combining your digital intelligence on your customers and prospects with targeted direct-mail messages, you combine the power of data analytics with the enduring allure of print.

Direct Mail

GRC’s Grassroot targeting helps you blend your data with persuasive direct-mail messages that will resonate with your prospects. What does this mean for nonprofit communications directors? It means that your next campaign will maximize dollars spent and provide both online and offline messaging to better persuade your audience.

For your organization’s next outreach campaign, think targeted, data-driven direct mail. Think Grassroot Communication!

Direct Mail Fundraising, Membership and Advocacy Campaigns | 2020 Postal Rates

Grass Root Communication specializes in designing and executing highly targeted data-driven direct mail Fundraising, Membership and Advocacy campaigns. We handle the entire campaign build from the data analytics to the appeal letter writing, to production, mailing and tracking of campaigns- all under one roof.
Grassroot Communication 2020 Postal Rates
• Acquisition packages (for attracting new Donors/members/constituents)
• Fundraising Appeals (to raise revenue from both small and medium-sized donors/supporters)
• On-Boarding packages (for welcoming and engaging brand new donors/members/constituents)
• Win Back campaigns (for getting back lapsed donors/members/constituents)
• Social/Political Advocacy campaigns (designed to turn voter sentiment towards social issues.).
• Educational/Informational Campaigns (to help your members and constituents keep up with professional and industry-wide trends)