How should associations be preparing for the future?

Let’s recap this series:  First, I explored how the purpose of an association is to bring together contributions from members to accomplish something for those same individuals that would be more difficult to do on their own.  Second, I explored how a number of trends are changing the external environment in which associations operate.  Finally, here are a few practical suggestions for how your association can embrace these trends and avoid becoming obsolete:

  • Get familiar with the external trends that may make your current association value proposition irrelevant.

    I’ve outlined four megatrends in a previous post.  There are likely more that are specific to the industry or profession your association serves.  A good place to start is the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Industry at a Glance and Occupational Outlook.  For state associations, check with your state government on economic trends and statistics in your area.  ASAE, the professional association for the association community (and, in the interest of full disclosure, my employer) also produces a wide range of research and trend reports.

  • Review your portfolio to assess which of your offerings help potential members do things easier. 

    Better yet, have someone outside your membership conduct this review and determine if your solution is enough to convince her or him to join. If an offering doesn’t pass muster, either re-engineer it or seriously consider dropping it.

  • Closely consider the needs of your target market to determine the greatest challenges that you can help them overcome. 

    What can the collective resources of your association do for members that individual members cannot do for themselves?

 ·   How can you help employees and employers in the changing employment environment (job tenure decreasing, job mobility increasing, and dual-earner households increasing)?

·   How can you help members’ organizations better compete in the new global marketplace?

·   How can you help members manage time, their most irreplaceable commodity?          

  • Make it easy for members to get immediate quality answers and assistance. 

    The Ritz-Carlton famously instructed employees to anticipate guest needs such that the Ritz-Carlton experience “fulfills even unexpressed wishes and needs of our guests.”  Your association must do the same – meet the needs which members tell you about, and lead your members by preparing them to solve challenges proactively before they become PROBLEMS.

  • Prepare for the future. 

    Explore the business and societal trends changing the external environment in which your members operate.  Begin to develop capacities in new areas to redirect and serve future needs.  (An area I plan to blog about in the near future.  Would love your ideas on this too!)

  • Keep members informed of the value you provided to them. 

    We live in an information-laden world with ferocious competition for attention and resources.  We are each near constantly sold to by advertising, social media and other feedback messages.  Retailers feature packages touting increases in product sizes, sales, health benefits, product ratings, and at the checkout, a summary of how much you have saved.   Conduct a Google search and you will receive statistics on the number of results and the time it took to compile those results.   "Why should I become a U.S. citizen" returns 13,500 results on Google in .36 seconds.  .  Search for “spatula” on and you’ll not only learn which spatula is the best seller, but you can also sort the results by price and average customer rating.   Associations not only need to ensure that we are providing value to our members, we also need to ensure that they are communicating the value we provide everyday to our members to make their lives easier or more fulfilling — a tall order indeed!

In closing, I think the future for associations is bright.  Individuals pressed for time can benefit greatly from association assistance.  Associations can help companies understand new market opportunities and help them be successful in these extended areas.  Associations can help companies and individuals alike to adapt faster in a world in which job and career changes are increasingly common. But associations cannot rely on old programs, products, and services based on the needs of the past.  We must prepare ourselves and our members for the new realities of the external environment in which we operate and to boldly move into the future.  What advice would YOU add to help our shared association community prepare ourselves and our members for these new challenges? 


  1. AnonymousJune 03, 2013

    The analogies in this post make all the difference. Great insight! Thanks!

  2. Thanks Sarah - I love analogies! And I very much appreciate you stopping by and leaving a comment too.