Filling Association Coffers, Virtually

In their never-ending search for non-dues revenues, more association execs are looking to virtual meetings, and finding handsome profits. "Up to 90 percent of associations offer some sort of virtual seminar," estimates Amy Smith, an electronic learning consultant in Falls Church, VA. "They're easy to do and generate revenue quickly."

The standard format for such conferences is a lecture delivered via telephone, followed by an interactive question-and-answer session; if a Web component is included, attendees can watch a PowerPoint presentation or view other documents. Most associations charge about $225 per event, says Smith, but multiple participants from a single member organization can access the event for that price as well. Sponsorships are rare, she adds, because of the sensitive issue of corporate sponsorship of education.

Rick Olson, CEO of KRM Information Services, an Eau Claire, WI, firm that produces 700 virtual seminars a year, mostly for associations, says that the keys to this format's profitability are convenience and urgency—meaning providing a live, one-time event. "Otherwise, attendees put it off," explains Olson. "Our company has archived programs on the Web, but almost nobody retrieves them, even if they're free."

Association planners say the format works for them. Alexandria, VA-based APICS, an association of operations managers, offers two virtual seminars per month, says Tammy Christensen, senior manager of product development: "This is one of APICS' first forays into the online environment and it's been very successful." Likewise, Audrey Baker, online education director for the Council for Advancement and Support of Education in Washington D.C., says that her members, who work in educational fundraising, find virtual events "a great way to train their whole staff, for one fee."