Moving to Virtual Blog

How To Gain Leadership Buy-In For Virtual Events

February 16, 2016 | Posted in Concepts of Unified Learning, Conferences, eLearning Best Practices by icohere

If you have limited resources and staff, how do you get leadership on board with virtual events and conferences?

Gaining leadership buy-in for big organizational change, such as with launching or expanding virtual events, is often referred to as the ‘politics of improvement.’ For change to be successful, leadership buy-in has to come first. What’s more, they also need to be leading the change. So how do we approach this challenge and achieve success?

How to Get Leadership Buy-In

Begin by creating a clear and compelling case for the change, by answering a few questions to support your case.

1. What are the top priorities for leadership?

When seeking to persuade any audience, begin with a list of what is important to them. Identify what matters to the audience and tie the change or new initiative to these priorities. For associations and nonprofits, often the top priorities are revenue development, outcome improvements, or membership development. How will virtual events and conferences directly affect these priorities and moreover support them long term?

Your organization’s mission may or may not include explicit mention of digital strategies or online outreach. A few years ago this would have been a stretch. But I can tell you – just from the number of proposals that we create specifically for nonprofit Boards and government agencies – deploying online professional development programs is now a core piece of many organization’s mission. Maybe even yours.

For more on the Return on Investment with virtual events read: How do you measure the ROI of a virtual conference?

2. What similar organizations have used this strategy?

Seeing is believing and nothing proves a point better or faster than seeing how someone else has benefited from the action. Virtual events are not new. There are thousands of organizations achieving goals and success using virtual events as a component of their eLearning strategy.  Search for the organizations with stories that will resonate with your leadership and highlight the successes.

I can’t tell you how many times this has been helpful – A LOT! Nearly every time we produce a hybrid or virtual conference I ask the sponsor if I can invite a few of our prospects, folks who are kicking the tires – to attend as a guest. The answer is almost always “Sure!” and the return is tremendous.

Build a case study that features the organizations, their leadership, a synopsis of how the program was created and the results. A strong leader wants to learn from their team, but also from their industry peers.

For an example of other organizations using virtual events read: How a virtual conference adds value for association members and sponsors

3. What are the organizational risks for not changing?

Second to demonstrating how others are succeeding with an initiative is to show the risk of not moving forward with an initiative. It’s also often considered the value lost from a missed opportunity. In the case of virtual events, there is a risk of not giving members the opportunities they need for growth and success. There is a risk of falling behind the competition and losing members to other comparable associations or organizations. And there is the risk of staying with the status quo, which will drive prospective new members to other more relevant sources.

The latter is especially important with tomorrow’s eLearners. Incoming learners will drive the change. Younger learners especially will leave if organizations are not active in their preferred method of learning.

4. What services do your members want and need?

Associations are built around their members. If your association doesn’t meet the needs of the members, they will go to another association that does. Conduct a survey or focus group of members to stay on top of their needs. Are your members asking for professional development opportunities or networking opportunities? Your eLearning program should be directly tied to meeting the needs of your members. Your members have needs, and who better to fulfill them than your organization? They want/need to…

  • Reduce their expenses
  • Reduce time-from-office
  • Keep innovating
  • Network with colleagues
  • Reduce personal CO impact
  • Attend in a way that their disabilities allow
  • Complete required training
  • Sharpen their professional edge

5. Is there an opportunity for funding or revenue generation?

Often money is the driving factor for improvement.  How do we pay for this change?  Every eLearning program is an expense for the organization. It requires the use of staff time and expertise, equipment, marketing and promotions, program design, management, and evaluation. All of these functions require money and staff time.

To support your case, research opportunities to offset these expenses by identifying funding sources. This might include securing sponsorships for virtual events and offering advertising, grants to support the project, or partnerships with other organizations.  At iCohere, we offer a multi-year revenue sharing partnership for clients who are just beginning with their online learning programs. Thanks to this partnership model, organizations where constrained budgets would otherwise not enable them to sponsor online programs are able to jump in and serve their members and constituents.

If your eLearning program will generate revenue, this is a strong selling point for leadership. Revenue from programs like this can be earmarked as green money – where it is not tied to a specific project as with donations or grant funds- and can be used to enhance and expand your association.  As part of your proposal, include information you find about your competitors and the amount of revenue their programs are generating.

Next Step:

Finally and most important: don’t go it alone. Use your network to solicit ideas and information. The iCohere Academy is a great place to grow your network. The academy is over 900 members strong and connects you to a wealth of experience and information. Start a discussion with your synopsis and ask others how they have faced this challenge and succeeded!

 Lance Simon is VP Client and Government Solutions for iCohere, the Unified Learning System. iCohere is celebrating its 15-year anniversary of successfully serving organizations, nonprofits and government clients. A version of this post was first published on LinkedIn.

Written with Jo Lynn Deal.

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Limitations on resources and staff seem to frame many association leader decisions. Yet these limitations also offer powerful opportunities for current and future professional learning, as Moving 2 Virtual asserts, virtual events and conferences. Sometimes leaders fear that virtual will cannibalize in-person programs and services. Those with virtual and in-person experience know this is not the case. In fact, with well-planned, aligned in-person and virtual events, there is a cross-fertilization of participation and extended engagement with the organization. Virtual really is a non-negotiable for organizations to be sustained. Millennials are the now the largest segment in the work force (see… Read more »

Thank you for your thoughtful reply Dr. Batson and for your contribution to iCohere. We actually just published a blog post about Millennials and what we can learn from them when developing eLearning. Your comment is a nice addition. You’ll find the article on the blog here. Thanks for stopping in!