Forces of Change Facing Associations



Association executives have a lot of changes coming their way. Disruption, mergers and acquisitions in the industry, and small and medium sized enterprises that are trying to figure out 1) how their business is doing and 2) if you’re valuable to them. Association executives in particular, this is focused for those groups around five million dollars or below, have a lot of decisions to make. Here are some of them.
One: acquisition by, or merger with, another association. I was in a board meeting two days ago and the board members always seem to ask me about mergers and acquisitions. Should they look to join up with another group either as an association or their events or whatever it is. Rarely do I have the association executives ask me about that. Maybe they’re comfortable with the Washington DC reception circuit, the coalitions, and groups that they’re part of? They don’t want to seem competitive with their association colleagues. Let me tell you, the association members are asking me about it. I think it’s something that the executives should also consider.
The other big force of change is the talent game. Can you, as a medium-sized association, compete for the right people and the best people in the space? You’re not going to have a K Street address, you may not be able to offer the salaries that some of the largest associations have to offer, you may not have the brand. Here’s where you do have the advantage: flexibility, telecommuting, and offering flex time for the best executives. May be have them work for you part of the time, rather than full-time. You can also hire consultants and advisors to fill in the gaps. That’s how the medium-sized associations are going to compete. I can guarantee you there are really good people out there with a lot of experience and they may be willing to sacrifice a few dollars for the for the lifestyle and the workforce atmosphere that they want.
The third thing that I see is the association will need to make a decision around membership categories and membership dues modernization to sustain the business. We’ve got a lot of pressure on our dues models and I think the other associations are also looking at what kind of members they want to bring into the organization. Again, at the board meeting yesterday, we talked about getting a different type of member into the organization and it’s going to end up poaching from another association. They’re going to be more competitive. Are you going to be proactive and move that way or are you going to let somebody else encroach into your space and take your members away from you?
Fourth item: large associations have the luxury of being able to retain people at about 85%. They’re large enough, they can sustain that. I think the medium-size associations are really going to have to pursue their members and prospects. And align their communications to make sure that every single program, whether it’s advocacy or events, goes through this filter of solving two things 1) get people to renew their membership or 2) get them to join if they’re not. If that activity does not do one of those two things you should really reconsider it because I’m not sure if it’s worth doing. You don’t have the time, the bandwidth, or the resources as a small- and medium-sized association to do things that don’t deliver.
Finally, get really serious about sales and marketing. Somebody needs to change their role, needs to be hired, or needs to be fired if you don’t have people developing business for your association. What I’m seeing is that some medium-sized associations and large ones are getting really serious about developing new business relationships. They’re out there learning from members about what’s valuable and delivering it to them and developing a deeper business relationship. This means more resources to the association to achieve its mission. If you don’t have the bandwidth and the people don’t use time as an excuse. Because that’s all it is, an excuse. You’re choosing to do something else, like busy work. You’ve got to get the staff and the team. If not then outsource resources to be able to develop business within your industry.
Those are some of the decisions I think we as association executives have to make in the upcoming months, years, weeks, and may be today. Thank you.


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