Reinventing Association Business Models

COVID-19 blew up the traditional association business model that relied heavily on revenue from in-person events and sponsorships to fund the mission.
Reinventing Association Business Models

Guest Post: Mark Athitakis, Associations Now


Just about every association took the necessary step of shutting down in-person meetings when COVID-19 flared up last spring and then hustled to convert those events to virtual formats. Moreover, many associations offered access to their virtual meetings for free or at a deep discount. It was important to preserve member goodwill, the thinking went, until things got back to normal.

The National Society for Histotechnology, however, had already been preparing for an all-digital future based on a different way of thinking about the association’s value. NSH Executive Director Sharon H. Kneebone, CAE, says the organization came to recognize that its business model needed to connect with a larger proportion of members—and that meant framing a digital conference as an improvement, not a concession.

“The key trend that was driving our decisions is the fact that most of our members will never have the opportunity to go to an in-person meeting,” she says. “In terms of strategy, we had decided we need to be looking at our digital footprint and how we are going to deliver education and value that way.”

To that end, NSH cut exhibitor fees for its 2020 conference but did not discount fees for attendee registration, preparing its members for a hybrid conference in 2021. The backlash many associations feared if they held the line on price didn’t emerge.

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