So, Your Association Event Was a Flop — What Next?

So, Your Association Event Was a Flop — What Next?

Did your association recently hold an event that didn’t live up to your expectations? Was it a flop according to members who attended, or did it leave you in the red? Let’s look at why association and nonprofit events commonly fail and how you can pivot to learn from the experience or even salvage revenue from a disappointing conference.

Determine If and How Your Event Failed

If you’ve decided your association’s event was a failure, what metric did you use? You might have been counting on a conference to bring in funds for your organization, and low attendance made that impossible. But it’s possible the event was a success in other ways for those who did attend. Maybe you set a new record for enrolling new members or got fantastic social media coverage. It’s okay if you check off success in one column and failure in another.

Some common reasons why association events are considered general failures include:

  • Low member attendance
  • Low net revenue (gross revenue minus cost of event)
  • Insufficient conversion of non-members to members
  • Poor vendor participation (another source of revenue)
  • Issues with the venue (food, lodging, audio-visual, etc.)
  • Bad post-event reviews from attendees


What Can You Learn from Your Failure for Next Time?

Let’s say you decide that based on your association’s goals, your event was indeed a failure. Did you figure out why? If attendance was not what you were expecting, was there a reason, such as:

  • Conflict with competing events
  • Date too close to holiday
  • Cost considered too high
  • Venue not appealing
  • Agenda not compelling enough
  • Event not marketed sufficiently
  • Unexpected weather or transportation problems
  • People wanted more hybrid or virtual options
  • Poor experiences at prior events


It’s important to survey both attendees and people who did not participate to find out what happened. With organizations that have a “but this is how we’ve always done it” mentality, perhaps there is a need for updating events to make them competitive with those offered by more modern associations. Or maybe you need a more attractive venue (including outside options), groundbreaking keynote speakers, or state-of-the-art technology.

It’s possible that one large event no longer serves the needs of all members, and you want to consider multiple regional events. Are you trying to entice members to Orlando in August or Minneapolis in January? It could be you need to switch seasons for your annual conference or pay more for a venue during its high season. Your investigation will determine what you need to do next to avoid a repeat of your failure.

Can You Still Monetize Your Event?

In many cases, just because your event failed in real time doesn’t mean you can’t turn it into revenue after the fact. Especially if low attendance was your biggest problem, you can still turn things around to bring in money for your association.

Did you video your conference sessions? Hopefully, yes! You can share videos at a discount price online to allow people who couldn’t attend to benefit from the event. You could also transcribe sessions and incorporate them into downloadable ebooks or curriculum. Make this part of your website’s gated content, where people either have to pay a fee, join as members, or give contact information (aka a lead magnet) to access it.

If you package it well, you’re almost sure to get some takers. Think about selling the entire conference at one rate and individual sessions as à la carte choices to hit various budget points. You could also have a special code for people who attended who want to share the event with coworkers or associates. If you’re in a major city, add a social get together locally for people who want to discuss conference material in more detail over coffee or cocktails. Your ability to monetize the event is only limited by your creativity.

Other possibilities to keep the event front and center include:

  • Sending a “sorry we missed you” postcard to members who didn’t attend
  • Creating an event highlights page on your website
  • Having board members follow up personally with absent members
  • Offering a discount to a future event to attendees or video purchasers


To prevent your next meeting from being a flop, partner with Jaffe Management. We offer meeting and event services, including overseeing and marketing events to boost attendance and help them reach the potential you’ve envisioned for your association. Reach out online or call us at 212-496-3155 to tell us about your next event.