A new certification program focusing on the business of planning meetings was among several new initiatives announced at the American Society of Association Executives' annual meeting and exposition, held August 14 to 17 at the Minneapolis Convention Center.

“We've heard loud and clear from many meeting planners that there's a lot of information for entry-level planners, but not much on the business of meetings,” noted Susan Sarfati, president and CEO of the Center for Association Leadership. (The Center is now part of ASAE as a result of a merger effected in June.) The certification program will target senior-level planners and will promote business management and leadership skills among planners so they can better contribute to an organization's bottom line, Sarfati explained. She anticipates a spring 2005 launch of the program. For more details on other new programs that the Center is launching, visit www.centeronline.org.

This year's annual meeting was themed “Better Together.” It marked a new beginning, since it was the first ASAE event since ASAE, the Center, the Greater Washington Society of Association Executives, and the ASAE Foundation were merged into two separate but interconnected organizations — ASAE and The Center for Association Leadership.

“This has been a very successful meeting for us,” said John Graham, president and CEO of ASAE. Attendance was about 5,000 — up about 800 over last year's meeting in Hawaii — and the trade show was sold out with more than 500 booths on the floor.

Among ASAE's new initiatives is a new white paper called, “Changing Expectations for Nonprofit Governance,” which will be released in the fall. “It will be a road map for association governance,” Graham said, and it will prepare association executives for any new regulations affecting nonprofits that Congress and the IRS are considering in light of recent financial scandals within both corporations and nonprofits.

Increasing the membership will be a major focus for new ASAE chairman Thomas Kuhn, president, Edison Electric Institute, Washington D.C. “I can't understand why every association professional wouldn't want to be part of [ASAE],” Kuhn said. He conceded that the association, however, needed to look at the growth of membership “in a strategic fashion.” To that end, ASAE plans to survey associations to find out why people are/are not members. That research will help assess where the growth opportunities are, he said.

The ASAE program, “The Power of Storytelling,” was introduced by general session speaker Seth Kahan. The program invites ASAE members to tell the tales of their associations, members, and the successes they've had. Participants will be interviewed over the next year for a presentation and celebration at next year's ASAE conference at the Gaylord Opryland in Nashville (August 13 to 16). The Center takes over planning for the educational program and overall meeting experience next year.

Kahan, a community building consultant, was one of three keynote speakers. The others were Bill Shore, founder of Share Our Strength, an organization created to fight hunger and poverty; and Jason Jennings, business consultant, who spoke about the five keys to a successful organization. “Tonight Show” host Jay Leno wrapped up the festivities with a performance on the last night.

Colin Rorrie, president and CEO of Meeting Professionals International, won the Key Award, ASAE's highest honor, given annually to a deserving association executive. George Aguel, senior vice president, Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, Lake Buena Vista, Fla., won the Academy of Leaders Award, given to members who have shown exemplary support to the association community.