(Photo by Alexander Redl on Unsplash)

The event environment is evolving by the minute in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. More than 50 million people have been impacted by event cancellations and postponements. While many events are or will be shuttered outright, many others will pivot to virtual offerings. However, not all virtual events are created equal. Amidst a newly saturated digital landscape, virtual events must be distinctive, engaging, and interactive. They must meet attendees where they’re at, while also offering something new.

While checking my LinkedIn feed recently, and seeing a number of virtual conferences, webinars, and other digital offerings being promoted, one virtual event stood out. It was the Water Quality Research Foundation (WQRF) Virtual 5K. I connected with WQRF’s Foundation Relations and Research Manager, Kim Redden, MPH to share the event origins, how it’s being implemented, and how the WQRF is being impacted by COVID-19.

What is the Water Quality Research Foundation Virtual 5K and what needs is it serving the WQRF community?

The Water Quality Research Foundation was formed to serve on behalf of the Water Quality (WQA) as a universally recognized, independent research organization. WQRF’s mission is to advance the knowledge and science of high quality, sustainable water. 

The 5K Run/Walk for Research is WQRF’s fundraising event at the WQA Convention & Expo. WQRF’s other fundraising events are at WQA’s Leadership Conference in the fall. The funds raised from the event through participation of the runners and sponsorship help fund WQRF’s research agenda, grant program, and operations. 

This year was supposed to be the fourth year we’ve hosted the 5K run, but unfortunately, the WQA Convention was cancelled due to COVID-19. We benchmarked with other 5K runs and noticed a trend of them going virtual – honor system self-timing your 5K and posting it electronically. Most areas are still allowing, and often encouraging, their communities to go outside for exercise, so WQRF wanted to encourage that healthy behavior and still have a successful fundraiser. Now more than ever, staying hydrated and healthy is absolutely key. 

How are the WQRF and Water Quality Association (WQA) aligned and how is COVID-19 impacting both?

The foundation and association are two separate organizations, two separate boards but thoughtfully, very closely aligned in leadership. We have the same Executive Director, are in the same building as the association, and work together as a team in “all hands on deck” situations such as the cancellation of the WQA Convention & Expo. 

The association will be hosting other virtual events in the coming weeks. The WQA Annual Meeting that occurs during the Opening General Session of the WQA Convention & Expo is where the association members vote to approve the slate of directors and officers. Since this is very important to the function of the association, the Annual Meeting is being held virtually and is open to all members, whether they previously registered to attend the convention or not. 

As part two of WQA’s virtual meeting, the association is launching a virtual education program to deliver the content attendees would have received onsite. Most sessions being pre-recorded in the coming weeks and made available late April on our virtual program platform. Live sessions in a webinar format will also anchor each day of the virtual education week. Participants will have the added benefit of accessing all education sessions and the convenience of watching them at their own pace. They will also having the opportunity to receive more continuing education credits because there are no simultaneous sessions, like the onsite program would have required.

How has the WQRF been communicating with members about the Virtual 5K and other virtual events, and what has the response been?

The WQRF communicates directly with our sponsors and runners, and the virtual run will mainly be touted through fun social media posts on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. 

The WQA communicates their virtual events through their convention website, digital newsletter and social media, along with special communication and outreach to sponsors and those registered for the cancelled onsite convention. The virtual education program will be offered to convention registrants and is continuing to accept new registrations. 

What advice do you have for other associations looking to develop unique, engaging virtual events?

This is actually both organization’s second time we’ve had a cancellation of an in-person event.  Our Leadership Conference was cancelled in 2018 due to Hurricane Florence. It’s definitely an all hands on deck situation that calls for innovation, fast decisions, and flexibility, but we highly recommend it. It provides so much value to the participants and can actually engage more participants since anyone who couldn’t travel to the in-person can participate in the virtual. There are a lot of opportunities.

Amy Thomasson is a strategist, content creator, and storyteller with extensive experience in marketing and communications, membership development, and volunteer management.

She has worked in a variety of business environments ranging from the Fortune 500 to professional associations. Amy currently serves as the marketing director for the Congress of Neurological Surgeons.

Amy is incredibly passionate about volunteerism within the association and nonprofit management community, and currently serves as co-chair of Association Forum’s Content Working Group, as well as a mentor to Forum’s Emerging Leaders. She is also a highly-rated speaker and article author, who has partnered with ASAE, Association Forum, AssociationSuccess.org, and standalone associations to deliver engaging content. Amy is a 2018 recipient of Association Forum and USAE’s Forty Under 40® Award.

She has a BA in Communication from the University of Missouri-Columbia, an Executive Leadership certificate from Cornell University, and a Professional Fundraising certificate from Boston University.

Amy Thomasson is a strategist, content creator, and storyteller with extensive experience in marketing and communications, membership development, and volunteer management. She has worked in a variety of business environments ranging from the Fortune 500 to professional associations. Amy currently serves as the marketing director for the Congress of Neurological Surgeons. Amy is incredibly passionate about volunteerism within the association and nonprofit management community, and currently serves as co-chair of Association Forum’s Content Working Group, as well as a mentor to Forum’s Emerging Leaders. She is also a highly-rated speaker and article author, who has partnered with ASAE, Association Forum, AssociationSuccess.org, and standalone associations to deliver engaging content. Amy is a 2018 recipient of Association Forum and USAE’s Forty Under 40® Award. She has a BA in Communication from the University of Missouri-Columbia, an Executive Leadership certificate from Cornell University, and a Professional Fundraising certificate from Boston University.

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