A new certification program focusing on the business of planning meetings was among the new initiatives announced at the American Society of Association Executives’ annual meeting and exposition, August 14-17, 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," said Susan Sarfati, president and chief executive officer of the Center For Association Leadership, which is now part of ASAE as a result of a merger effected in June. The certification program will be targeted at senior 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 projects and programs that the Center is launching, visit www.centeronline.org.

This year’s annual meeting was themed "Better Together." It marked a new beginning, as it was the first ASAE event since ASAE, The Center, Greater Washington Society of Association Executives, and the ASAE Foundation were merged into two separate but interconnected organizations, ASAE and the Center. Sarfati said that the merger had "re-energized" ASAE.

"This has been a very successful meeting for us," agreed 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. The Albuquerque Convention and Visitors Bureau won "Best in Show" award for the best island booth display while Hargrove Inc. won the award for best in-line booth.

Among ASAE’s new initiatives is a new white paper called, "Changing Expectations for Non Profit Governance," which will be released in the fall. "It will be a roadmap for association governance," Graham said, and it will prepare association executives for any new regulations affecting nonprofits that are being considered in Congress and the IRS in light of financial scandals within both corporations and nonprofits in recent years.

Growing 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," noting that ASAE hadn’t done this for some time. To that end, ASAE plans to survey associations to find out why people are members, and why they are not. That research will help assess where the growth opportunities are, he said.

The new 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, its people, and the challenges and successes they’ve had. Participating members will be interviewed over the next year for a multi-media presentation and celebration at next year’s ASAE conference at the Gaylord Opryland in Nashville (August 13-16).

Kahan, a consultant that focuses on community building, was one of three general session speakers. The others were Bill Shore, founder of Share Our Strength, an organization created to fight hunger and poverty in America; and Jason Jennings, author and business consultant who spoke about the five keys to a successful organization. Comedian and Tonight Show host Jay Leno wrapped up the festivities with a performance on the final evening, August 17.

Finally, awards were presented to two industry leaders. 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 each year to members who have demonstrated exemplary support to the association community. For up-to-the-minute daily news and views, visit Capsules.