What’s Holding Your Association Back?




Over the last few months, I’ve been participating in meetings with clients and their staff plotting out plans for the future. And I’ve got to be honest with you – I really believe association members have a real good idea about what they want. There may be some differing opinions based on segment, company size, and whether they’re a core member or associate. But there isn’t a lot of nuance or lack of clarity in terms of what they expect the value proposition from the organization to be.
In some cases, there’s a bellwether that members want their organization to be much more member-centric and less legacy based. However, I’ve seen in some cases what’s holding associations back are the staff members who want to hold on to the past. And frankly protect their landscape portfolio and jobs.
The actual challenge I see for associations is letting go of the legacy mentality. It’s time to drop what’s quickly becoming obsolete and less productive for the association.
And, this is where a great association CEO comes into play who will implement those forward-thinking changes. More than 20 years ago, I had a real bias toward association people becoming association CEOs. Now, don’t take this the wrong way, but when I was working for an association, I took offense for our industry when a member of Congress or someone outside of the association space got the job.
But, over the last several months, I’ve had the pleasure of working with a new breed of CEO. Sometimes in their first CEO job, who either came from a different industry association or were a former member of the Association or a former leader in the industry.
And let me tell you, they’re coming at this game with a hell of a lot of energy and are much more member-centric – perhaps more so then the rank and file association chief executive.
I’m not entirely sure why this is happening. I believe in some of these cases, it comes down to the members engaging in the search process. They are looking to hire a former member or someone within the industry because they want to take the damn thing back again from those perceived as career association bureaucrats.
It’s something to think about.
So, I’ve changed my mind and I’ve evolved on the topic. The best Association CEO is the person who engages with members in an authentic way. They get on a plane and talk with the members about why they joined, what they participate in, and whether based on their experience if they would continue to be involved and participate.
Today’s CEOs have their ear to the ground in a very big way. In some cases, it takes a change in leadership – someone willing to pivot and move the ball forward to better serve the needs of the membership.


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