Decisions Association Executives Will Have to Make in the Near Future – Association Hustle Podcast Episode 218



Are you an association executive of a small- to mid-sized organization? If so, give this episode a listen. There are several factors that will cause a change in your organization in the next couple of years. Make those adjustments now and reap the benefits.


On today’s episode I’d like to chat with you about forces of change and decisions that association executives are going to have to make over the next several years. In particular, I want to focus on associations that are around five million dollars or less. I think it’s going to be very tough to be a highly effective association in the way that many of your industry leaders expect. In this environment, you may have less resources than some of the other associations. You’re going to need to be differentiated and special in one particular area. Too many medium and small sized associations want to act big and cover the issues that larger organizations and what they end up doing is watering down what makes them special: the ability to navigate, move quickly, be specific, and be niche. Those forces are going to enable you to differentiate your organization.
Your members are likely going to have other organizations they can join as a primary member, a core member, or an industry supplier. They have a lot of places where they can get value from. Association executives need to focus on all of the change that’s happening in terms of industry disruption, mergers and acquisitions, pressure on medium and small businesses, and the bottom-line. We’re going to need to make these changes now because now things are going well. There’s going to be a winter, it’s going to come, and we need to be prepared and ready so that medium and small organization can survive the future.
Look for mergers or acquisitions to make in the association space. I go to a lot of board meetings, I was just speaking at one yesterday, and the board members always ask me, “Hey, are there other organizations we should merge with or we should acquire? Events that we should combine?” They always ask me that. However, I rarely get that feedback or that question from the association executive. I think maybe they like the Washington DC reception circuit too much. They collaborate and work in coalitions with other organizations. They don’t want to infringe upon them. Let me tell you what, the members of the organizations that are paying multiple memberships and different associations, they’re asking the question more than the steward of the association. That needs to shift.
We’ve got to face the talent competition and the forces of change that are facing the workforce. Here’s what I mean by that: I would really look at the willingness to outsource some key functions if I’m a medium to small sized association. Things that you may not have been willing to outsource before: accounting, membership, sales and marketing, meeting and event planning, and even possibly some regulatory or government affairs relationships and programs. Adopt telecommuting and other ways to get and keep the best people. You may not have the resources and the budget to pay top-of-the-line salary for many of your employees, however, they may be looking for more flexibility. They may not want to drive in from Manassas to K Street. You may not be able to compete on salary, big brand, and an office on K Street. Use this to your advantage and be nimbler and be willing to adjust your workforce program. Some of the very best folks that have incredible experience are willing to do that for you if you’re more flexible with their time and where they need to be on a daily basis.
Next, industry consolidation may force you to modernize your dues structure and membership categories. I was recently at a board meeting and the association is looking at new membership categories and new membership groups that may encroach on another association’s space. But they need to in order to be able to grow. They are also looking at new benefits such as association health plans and other bottom line things that can help small- to medium-sized enterprises. I’m watching very closely what the National Association of Manufacturers is doing in the association health plans space.
Forces of change are going to force you to modernize who joins, for what price, and what membership categories. We’re need to be able to serve them because we have to be able to sustain the business long term. The largest trade associations have the luxury of sitting on an 85% retention rate of their members. I don’t think the small and medium sized associations do. Every event, piece of communication, networking group, advocacy initiative, etc. should do two things for your organization: get the renewal check or get someone to join. If a program doesn’t do one of two of those things, I’m not sure you should keep doing it. We don’t have the time and the bandwidth to waste our time on things that don’t renew people or don’t get them to join. That’s a decision that great association executives in these medium to small sized associations are going to need to make.
Finally, I don’t care who needs to change jobs, get fired, or get hired, but I think you need to be very serious about business development in your organization. Do you have the sales and marketing operation to identify what your members and prospects need and actively go get their business? And, if you say you don’t have enough time, that to me is just an excuse. It makes you vulnerable to organizations that are willing to do that. It’s like the frogs sitting in the boiling pot of water. Somebody else is going to turn up the heat and you might be getting boiled and don’t even know it.
These are the forces of change. These are the decisions that association executives are going to need to make. In particular, heightened sense of awareness for those organizations that are in that medium-sized category.
Thank you for listening today. If you enjoy this content, leave a review. Go to, got a lot more stuff out there for you. See you soon, bye bye.


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