If the mention of ‘virtual’ causes you to disengage while the word ‘digital’ captures your attention, you are not alone. Understanding the reasons behind that perception shift is crucial to growing your association. 

“’Virtual’ gets associated closely with bad experiences that people had during the pandemic when events moved online so quickly,” says Michelle Brien, Vice President of Marketing for Matchbox, an experience design platform for digital products. “Whereas ‘digital’ has a really positive connotation because associations know that adopting technologies and having a digital strategy is essential for them to stay relevant and be future ready.”

The distinction between virtual and digital may seem like a matter of semantics, but shifting from the former to the latter has the potential to catapult your association from relevant to indispensable. While a virtual event is usually a standalone offering that is planned in isolation, a digital initiative has the power to impact an association’s operational, strategic or financial goals – and sometimes all at once.

Consider the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) who partnered with Matchbox to design their vendor showcase. In this digital initiative, technology solution providers demonstrate their products for interested consumers. It isn’t an event adapted from an existing in-person format, but rather designed specifically for the online audience. It allows partners and members to engage in a mutually beneficial format, thus meeting operational and strategic goals, while also generating non-dues revenue.

While this is one example of how technology can enable both revenue generation and operational and strategic objectives simultaneously, Brien says digital initiatives begin by identifying the desired outcomes for all stakeholders, and designing the digital experience around these to enhance engagement and meaningful participation, providing value for all.


We think PAR’s association partners do some pretty great work! In our “PARtners at Work” series, we highlight the different ways they are impacting our association communities. Matchbox is your go-to partner for launching new digital initiatives. Matchbox provides curated resources, proven templates, and strategies for revenue generation with the tools to easily craft and deliver successful digital initiatives that advance the missions of associations .

Do you have an idea for a new digital initiative? Here are five steps to help you get started.

1. Be Curious. When contemplating the launch of a new digital initiative, Brien recommends first asking critical questions. What is the primary objective and what do you want to achieve? Whether the answer is revenue generation or enhanced engagement, it’s important to be clear on your goals. Next, identify the stakeholders and envision the digital experience from their perspective. This will help you in the design process and lay the groundwork for a successful initiative.

2. Design For an Online Audience. Instead of replicating in-person events online, design your digital initiative with unique aspects of the digital experience in mind. This is where a partner like Matchbox can be invaluable.

“We’ve worked with hundreds of associations to create new digital initiatives, “Brien says. ”We’ve started to recognize the patterns of what makes an initiative successful and we share that knowledge and the experiences we’ve had from working with other organizations that will be helpful to our clients.”

3. Pilot the Program. The most successful associations thrive on intentional experimentation and Brien notes that the organizations that demonstrated resilience during the pandemic were those with an open-minded culture and willing to pilot new initiatives.

“Rather than thinking, ‘Okay, this is our new initiative and we are going to implement it and if it didn’t go as well as we thought then it’s a failure and we are never going to do it again,’ think about it as a pilot,” Brien says.

That mindset shift allows your association to view each new digital initiative as a learning opportunity.  Reviewing the pilot and the data it provides regarding what your audience does – or doesn’t – find valuable, allows your organization to determine what parts of the initiative to iterate the next time to improve the outcomes.

4. Determine the Right Data to Review. Speaking of data, it is a powerful ally in shaping the success of your digital initiative. Brien says in the case of ASAE’s vendor showcase, an examination of the data for the first events showed attendees were leaving the sessions at the 30-minute mark. As a result, Matchbox advised that the 45-minute sessions instead became 30-minute sessions composed of 20-minute demos and 10-minute Q&As. This successful initiative now continues to grow, with ASAE offering 10 themed vendor showcases per year, creating a new revenue channel.

While some data clearly shows the immediate return on investment, other engagement data can have a delayed financial impact. Take the example of a member onboarding digital initiative. A well-designed program could mean new members will get more out of their membership and engage more easily. As a result, they will be more likely to renew their membership leading to a future financial gain for the association.

5. Identify and Adapt. Just as technology continues to evolve, so too do the needs of online audiences. Adaptability is key to staying relevant and effective in the digital realm. Whether it's refining session formats or introducing new elements based on audience feedback, Brien says continuous iteration ensures the ongoing success of your digital initiatives.

Developing, piloting, implementing and adapting your association’s next digital initiative will take time and commitment, and Brien says finding the right association partner can help you stay the course.

“Helping the association achieve their mission and their objectives is at the heart of what we do. It’s really about working in partnership, sharing knowledge, experience and trusting each other to make it successful.”



Matchbox recently did some research on the use of virtual by associations. The results have prompted the Matchbox team to ask “How can we support our clients in delivering elevated digital experiences - at a significant reduction of time and cost?” Visit matchbox-digital-initiatives.com to find out the answer!”