Greater Gatherings: Joint Association meetings

By Don Klein

More than 500 RealtorsŪ from six San Francisco area associations are expected to attend the RealtorŪ Technology Faire this spring in Dublin, Calif. with 20 education seminars and dozens of vendors, it’s just what members want, Faire organizers say. But none of the sponsoring associations would have had the resources to go it alone.

Three years ago, the Alameda Association of RealtorsŪ put on a small technology faire, but after a year it had saturated its market and needed more attendees in order to attract more vendors and pay for more speakers. Turning to its neighboring associations, Alameda gained partners in the event, enabling greater resources, new ideas, and a wider market of members.

“By coming together, we’re able to provide a larger event so the members are happy, the exhibitors are happy, and the sponsors are happy,” says Toni Wilson, marketing and communications director for the Bay East Association of RealtorsŪ, a partner in the Technology Faire. But working in a team atmosphere can present challenges as well as rewards.

Decision-making and trust were the largest hurdles during the initial stages of planning the joint Faire, Wilson says. “There was a concern of ‘control’ with the Tech Faire, and it wasn’t clear at first who was ultimately responsible for making sure things happened,” she says. But the best plan turned out to be letting the originators of the idea keep final decision-making authority, with partner associations bringing new staff, expertise, and funding resources to the venture to help it grow. Wilson says it is critical to constantly keep in mind what is best for the majority of the members and to delegate tasks so everyone has a job.

As the Tech Faire developed, the staff of the partner associations took on more of a supervisory role and left the decision-making to a joint planning committee made up of association members. The planning committee tries to ensure that no one association is overburdened. Each year, a different association contributes manpower—the biggest drain on resources—to staff the event. “It’s important that every association involved brings something to the table and agrees on a plan to share the responsibility and workload,” says Wilson.

Clear planning and communication are critical parts of the formula for holding successful joint meetings.

Joint state conventions

Joint meetings are becoming popular throughout the country as associations begin to see the benefits of pooled resources. One of the largest joint RealtorŪ meetings is the
TriplePlay joint state convention for New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania. More than 8,000 RealtorsŪ attended the third annual conference in early December 2002, despite a blinding snowstorm.

TriplePlay’s producer, Maureen Murphy, used to stage New Jersey’s state convention. She says members like the joint event much better because it is both bigger and less expensive to attend. “Because of our size, we can negotiate lower hotel prices and registration fees,” says Murphy.

Part of the glue that holds this tri-state convention together is the fact that many members do business in all three states. “Our closing session, which featured attorneys from all three state associations, was a huge hit because the attorneys talked about the hot issues in their respective states that impact every RealtorŪ doing business there.”

Another joint state convention, this one in New England, is planned to debut in the fall 2003. Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Vermont have agreed to merge their state conventions.

Joint leadership conferences

In addition to joint member meetings, associations are partnering to host joint leadership conferences. Such conferences not only allow associations to pool resources to hire top-notch speakers and educators, but also provide a priceless opportunity for association leaders to network and learn from each other.

RealtorŪ associations in Lexington, Louisville, and Northern Kentucky pooled resources to host their first “triple” leadership retreat this past fall. “The leadership team members loved the opportunity to network and see how other associations are run,” says Elaine M. Hangis, rce, EVP of the Lexington-Bluegrass Association of RealtorsŪ.

RealtorŪ associations in the Northwest are also hoping to groom a new generation of association leaders next year through a training program called the Leadership Northwest Institute. This cooperative venture between the Washington and Oregon associations will train six members from each state in association leadership. The training takes place over the course of a year and consists of three intensive, college-level seminars that run for three to four days each.

Many states have also merged their association executive conferences. One such regional AE meeting is in the southeast, with AEs from Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia gathering to learn from each other. Georgia AE Bob Hamilton cites significant cost savings as a key factor in the development of the Regional AE Conference and the biggest success has been increased attendance.

The South Metro Denver Association also participates in joint leadership training for several Denver area associations and the Colorado Association of RealtorsŪ’ leadership. “This was our first attempt in a cooperative effort to get many of our associations together for a joint leadership training session. Everyone thought it was very worthwhile and definitely worth doing again,” says Carol Vieira, CEO of the South Metro Denver RealtorŪ Association.

Profiting from shared costs

Joint meetings are not just a cost saver for associations. They can actually be a revenue source as well.

The seven cooperating associations in the metro Denver area that sponsor the
RealtorŪ Rally, a day of education, exhibits, and speakers for nearly 3,000 members, earn nondues revenue from the annual event. In fact, more members attend the Rally than attend the state convention. “Our members love this one day,” says Denver’s Vieira. “It’s an inexpensive event for them [$20 registration] and the boards split the profit based on a percentage of how many members from each association attend.” Costs are offset by more than 20 sponsors, including title and mortgage companies.

Likewise, each association sponsoring the Northern California Technology Faire made about $700 last year. Classes during the three-day event cost $75 each, and technology companies, lenders, and other service providers paid to exhibit.

The TriplePlay convention, which costs nearly $700,000 to produce, makes money for all three partner associations. The revenue is divided according to the number of members attending from each state.

Joint solutions to issues

Economies of scale and funding aren’t the only reasons to collaborate. Associations are increasingly partnering to address common issues and industry problems.

For instance, in Northern California, an area beset by the affordability crisis, a multiboard summit will explore creative ways to develop housing opportunities when it meets in May 2003. The Bay East Association has invited 22 other area associations to sponsor, promote, and participate in the regional education and networking effort called the Affordable Housing Summit.

The summit will host association leadership, representatives from housing advocacy groups, city planners, and regional elected officials. “All attendees will take part in finding solutions for affordable housing and creating a workable blueprint that can be used throughout the state, and even the nation,” says Judy Zielelis, public relations and communications director for the Santa Clara County Association of RealtorsŪ, Calif. “This will be a great example of associations working together to create something that benefits not only organized real estate but also the community as a whole.”

As associations large and small, urban and rural come together to solve problems and streamline operations, they open doors to new paradigms. And that opens the door to more efficiency and more profitability. Clearly, there’s untapped value in incorporating more ideas and thinking into joint meetings where we can address the issues we all face within our RealtorŪ family

Don Klein is the EVP of the Greater Nashville Association of RealtorsŪ, Tenn. He can be reached at

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