Successfully Pivoting to Virtual: Connecting Members with Content and Each Other Like Never Before

The eruption and rapid spread of COVID-19 in early 2020 was a drastic shock that disrupted the entire globe. Real estate was no exception, and ULI was not immune to the impact. However, thanks to the hard work of ULI members and staff, the Institute was able to successfully pivot and create new ways for members to connect and share knowledge.

With in-person meetings and events indefinitely suspended, ULI as an organization embraced new technologies and formats to make these connections possible, including enhancing our webinar series offerings. On March 27—just days after lockdown—over 1,300 registrants attended the first ULI Leadership Series webinar, “Leading through Disruption,” where ULI Global Chairman Owen Thomas moderated a discussion among global real estate leaders on the near- and long-term impacts of the uncertainty and change related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Since then, the Institute has hosted over 50 global and regional webinars as well as hundreds of online meetings at the district and national council levels, addressing the critical issues of the day. UrbanPlan and Advisory Services—two programs that rely on in-person consultations and contact—successfully pivoted to a virtual format. UrbanPlan hosted the first-ever national competition, an all-day event spanning five time zones from D.C. to Hawaii, and Advisory Services created a new program, the virtual ASP, to continue to assist communities with land use challenges.

The first big test of the Institute’s digital programming pivot was the 2020 Spring Meeting Webinar Series. Originally planned to be held in Toronto, Ontario, ULI staff worked feverishly to create an entirely new form of Spring Meeting in just a little under three months. Over six weeks’ time, ULI conducted 15 webinars based on programming that had been planned for the in-person Spring Meeting, including sessions on Waterfront Toronto, smart buildings, and climate-savvy real estate investment. The series was free for Full Members, with programming available to nonmembers for a fee. The series proved to be exceptionally popular, attracting more than 3,300 unique registrants and garnering over 5,300 on-demand views on Knowledge Finder. Despite the virtual nature of the format, participants enjoyed the engagement with the moderators and with each other.

Thanks to investments made throughout fiscal year 2020, ULI continued to make great strides in delivering new and upgraded technologies to improve the overall member experience. These investments proved especially important and timely, since they allowed the Institute to pivot from mostly in-person offerings to completely virtual at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic. In FY20, more than 28,000 people attended nearly 350 webinars around the globe. Furthermore, nearly 15 percent of members attended at least one webinar in FY20. Through successfully pivoting to virtual, ULI was able to convene and connect more members from a wider geographic area and from more diverse backgrounds than ever before.


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