Like most member-based organizations, the Construction Financial Management Association (CFMA) unites its audience face-to-face at one big gathering each year. But Brian Summers, CAE, CFMA’s vice president of content management and education, said that the association faces the same challenge as many of its peers: The majority of its members can’t attend the Annual Conference.
“Approximately 10 percent of our membership comes to the conference,” Summers said. About five years ago, CFMA started doing online versions of its programming, he said, “to try to deliver education to everyone,” and in 2017 it stepped up those digital efforts to offer 12 to 14 webinars, 10 to 12 intensive online courses, and an online Connection Café where the association’s 8,000-plus members can discuss trends and issues. Each of CFMA’s 95 chapters across the U.S. and Canada is a separate entity with its own board of directors, and Summers and his team have leveraged the chapter network to maximize the value of the content captured at the Annual Conference.
Their engagement strategy includes:
1 Turning attendees into content curators The Annual Conference program offers around 60 educational sessions across six tracks, and Summers makes sure that the 7,200 members who aren’t there have opportunities to gain some of that on-site knowledge. Rather than having a staff member review all the material after the conference ends, CFMA assigns a liaison to each speaker to offer tips on tailoring the presentation to the audience. Once the presentation day arrives, the liaisons continue their work, attending sessions to determine how the content should be repurposed. “The liaisons are part of a task force, and we trust them to be an extension of our team,” Summers said. “They rate the session on a number of factors, and they recommend what to do with the recorded content after the conference is over.”
Some sessions might turn into CFMA magazine articles. Others might make good inspiration for webinars. “It all depends on the interest of the topic,” Summers said, “and what the liaison thinks will serve membership best.”
2 Uniting discussion groups around digital recordings While CFMA members can access webinars and online courses from their own screens, the association recently launched a new blended-learning program through which 15 to 40 local attendees gather for a group experience. If a chapter wants to present a recording to its own audience and secure a local expert to answer questions, CFMA HQ helps coordinate the plans. CFMA has hosted three blended programs so far. “Attendees like the ability to have a lively conversation,” Summers said. “The program might be 90 minutes, and the speaker will stop the recorded session at times to answer questions and encourage discussion.”
3 Bucking the trend While Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and a range of other well-established digital players have tools for live streaming, Summers said that the CFMA audience isn’t there yet. “We did three years of live streaming various sessions from our Annual Conference, but we just couldn’t get the volume to justify the expense,” he said. “Our members don’t seem to demand the live access.” So for now, he’s focusing on leveraging CFMA’s chapters. “We have a speaker-recommendation program where we pick five to seven of the top-rated conference speakers and promote them to the chapter network,” Summers said. “We’re trying to find a way to help our chapters do more of their own webinars, too.”