ASAE 2022 Takeaways


Takeaways from ASAE 2022

Exempla Partner Michiel Gen participated in the ASAE Annual Meeting in Nashville in August. Here are his main takeaways:

1. DEI was THE hot topic – every association should have a DEI strategy. However, I think a US-centric DEI approach will not necessarily translate well internationally where there will be a different cultural and societal context. Associations should adapt their DEI strategies to the local context.

2. Storytelling is an extremely effective way to sensitise audiences to DEI issues. The moving life story of Cindy Bullens Speaker/Songwriter/LGBTQ Advocate during the closing session showed that very clearly.

3. After carbon offsetting, there is now social offsetting. There was a lot of discussion about associations meeting in places that do not align with their values and/or those of (a portion of) their membership, especially in light of the recent Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health Organization SCOTUS ruling. The risk of part of the membership deciding not to attend a meeting because it is held in an unpalatable location is a clear danger to association events. A big problem is that associations book their meeting space many years ahead and you cannot just change this. Social offsetting allows associations and their members to compensate.

Pic ASAE Article 2
Pic ASAE Article 3

4. Membership-first business models are not necessarily the best way to enter new markets. The membership market may already be saturated by local associations. Consider going with a product-first approach.

5. Partnerships with other associations can amount to more than an empty statement if you start looking at partners as possible commercial channels for your products. Make sure your partner is properly incentivised.

6. Non-profit is not a business model – surprisingly many associations (and their boards) do not realise that associations do need to make a profit to ensure long-term viability of the organisation. Associations are not charities.

7. The decline of trust in experts in western societies presents a significant risk to associations and their role of curators of knowledge. I’ve added The Death of Expertise by Tom Nichols to my reading list.

8. Finally, there is no substitute for in-person interaction. Breaking bread together cements a relationship. It is difficult to express in words how happy I was to finally meet all those wonderful people I’ve interacted with online during the past years. Yet, we should not discard online meetings. They are great channels for content and learning. Provided they are well designed and the attendee mindset is there, they are still an effective and attainable way to establish and maintain contact in between physical meetings. They allow for engagement of (global) audiences that would not be able to travel. In this context, would argue that maintaining a portfolio of online events should be part of an association’s DEI strategy.

I’m already looking forward to #ASAE23 in Atlanta!


Michiel Gen

Partner, Stakeholder Management


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