The 2011 ASAE Annual Meeting & Exposition is under way at the America’s Center Convention Complex here, drawing approximately 5,000 attendees from 20 countries and delivering a message of the importance of association advocacy and community service.

The Opening General Session, which featured a keynote by Daily Beast Editor-in-Chief Tina Brown, was punctuated by individual association officers who stood on pedestals in the audience and spoke about the advocacy and community service successes of their organizations.

In his opening address, ASAE President & CEO John Graham emphasized the need for associations to prepare for the future by recognizing key demographic shifts and adapt to present economic woes and greater government scrutiny of the not-for-profit association sector.

 

“First, our demographics are changing radically,” Graham said. “Two examples: Today about 6 percent of the members of most professional societies are 65 or older.

All things being equal, in 10 years…nearly two-fifths of association members will be past traditional retirement age unless we focus on a younger demographic,” he continued. “Hispanics–who now represent one in seven Americans–will represent closer to one in three by 2050. The United States already has the second-largest Hispanic population in the world after Mexico. This has significant implications for membership, volunteers and staff.

Graham also noted that associations have been quick to embrace social networking, but also need to prepare for an environment in which attendees increasingly prefer to access information via mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets.

Graham ended his speech by addressing the challenging economic environment that threatens many associations with increasing government scrutiny.

“Cash-starved governments, local, state and federal are looking everywhere for revenue,” he said. “There is no question that they will continue to eye the not-for-profit community, a $3 trillion sector. We must remain vigilant on the advocacy front if we hope to maintain our tax exempt status in the same fashion we enjoy today. Associations improve the quality of life we enjoy in this country, and we need to be continually demonstrating that value to the public, policy makers and the administration.”

 

In a press conference the following day, Graham had much stronger words regarding the impact the debt ceiling debate and U.S. credit downgrade may have on the meetings industry.

“Trade show revenue is [currently] not taxed,” he said. “And if [political squabbling] should cause us to go into a second recession, that would be devastating not only to associations but also the entire meetings industry.”

 

In other ASAE news, the association’s Board of Directors unanimously approved a new code of standards for all segments of its membership, including partners and consultants.

More information about the new ethics code can be found at http://bit.ly/osd0TW.