by Jennifer Lee | August 01, 2017
In the 14 years since John Graham IV, CAE, assumed his role as president and CEO of the American Society of Association Executives, the organization has undergone a number of changes. Last month, while ASAE prepared for its upcoming annual meeting, to be held at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, Aug. 12-15, Graham spoke with M&C about the organization's priorities, the most pressing issues confronting association executives and the top trends in association events.

What is the state of the association industry, and has the Trump presidency been a factor?
The state of the association industry is strong, keeping in mind that there are always certain industries or professions that are going through difficult times. But if you look at the sector as a whole, it's in a very good place.

As for the Trump administration, the rollback of some regulations has been well received and welcomed. However, the proposed travel ban has created a perception of the U.S. being unwelcoming. It certainly has cast a cloud on certain ethnicities and populations coming to the U.S., and that has caused some people to not come here as a way of protesting the administration's stand.

How are membership levels at ASAE?
Membership is going very well. In February 2016, we introduced a hybrid membership model that allows for people to join as individuals at a lower price point than organizational membership. We've also created an opportunity for organizations to buy bundled memberships for their employees.

As a result of that, more than 1,500 organizations have bought such packages. Our membership has gone from roughly 21,000 to more than 37,000 since we launched the hybrid model.   

What are some of the biggest issues confronting association executives?
It depends on the industry or profession, but health-care policy, tax policy, regulation, security and travel are advocacy challenges facing associations.

Keeping up with evolving technology also continues to be a major challenge -- trying to stay ahead of it and using it to meet the needs of members. The whole issue of data security is another significant concern. To what degree are associations able to protect the data and transactions of their individual members?

What new tools are you working on that members should be aware of?
We just did a soft launch on ASAE Learning Online in April, and we'll be doing a hard launch at our annual meeting. It is a learning-management system for both individuals and organizations. This is going to be evolving over the next couple of years, but we already have 300 modules that individuals can take advantage of now. We're going to develop the organizational component, which will launch at our annual meeting in August.

We are looking at different iterations of this tool so that, ultimately, individuals will be able to manage their careers. They'll be able to take assessments on what they're proficient in and what they need to develop. When it's fully rolled out, it will help organizations manage their talent internally. Most associations -- 90 percent of them -- are not big enough to support an HR function that goes beyond maintaining payroll and managing benefits. We think this tool, which is seeded into the whole issue of talent management -- the recruitment, retention and development of talent -- will be a great online aid.

The first-ever Xperience Design Project, which replaced ASAE's longtime annual Springtime Expo, took place in May. What was the response?
It was very successful. It's the only event of its kind designed to bring together people who plan meetings, people who provide content for meetings, and people who market and provide technology for meetings. It certainly met our expectations, and I believe it exceeded the expectations of most who attended.

What were some highlights of the event?
One highlight was the earbuds we used. The earbuds were hooked up to an FM radio programmed to connect to the five zones at the conference -- experience, location, marketing, education and technology. People could sit in one of those five zones, put in the earbuds and tune into the zone where they're sitting or listen in on other zones they weren't sitting in. It made it possible to hold five meetings at the same time in one big room.