Adaptation is the Key to Association Survival

Like everything and every individual in today’s society, we are seeing significant changes within Associations.  The key mindset for all involved is adaptation.  If Association Leadership cannot adapt to today’s societal changes, they may find themselves without a job and without an association in a very short period of time.  The standard Trade or Individual Membership Association of the 60’s or 70’s just aren’t sustainable in today’s environment and Executive Leadership must take the bull by the horns and direct their Board of Directors to a place that may not have been conceivable just a few years ago.

As I maintain my Executive Search I have contemplated what I should say about taking an association to the next step.  After all, when you are being interviewed for a new position, the deciders would like to know what you would do to improve their organization.  Obviously I have been spending a great deal of time organizing my thoughts on how to answer that inevitable question and as you can see by my earlier dissertation, association life just isn’t what it used to be when I started in this exciting community in 1978.

With easy accessibility to data bases through such search engines as Google and numerous for- pay sources, the need to belong to an association for information resources is not as demanding as it once was.  Association Leaders for years have constantly marketed their groups as a networking mecca for the industry and if you were to be a successful part of the industry you obviously needed to be a part of the association.  Unfortunately with such social media sources as LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter as well as specialized business vehicles, one must ask themselves why they should have to pay for networking with their industry cohorts.  And of course these social media vehicles will continue to expand as many of our association members are independently participating in communicating on-line at adnauseam.  Our members need not leave the comfort of their offices to network any longer – we best accommodate their new approach or be left in the dust.

What are we to do if we are to continue to maintain the viability of associations, especially since some of us would like to continue to make a living for and from these institutions?  I would advise considering membership as customers and marketing to them as such.  I would advise considering organizing as a for-profit rather than a 501 C entity.  I would also advocate consideration of a pay-per-play mindset of free entry but an ala carte approach to services.  I believe it is also vital to attract sponsors and advertising partners because it is in their best interests to be a significant part of the association’s industry or community.  These are just a few thoughts on a very weighty topic but if our community is going to survive and provide me a job for the future, we best pull our heads out of the sand and start thinking about where our association community is going to be in another decade (if not sooner).


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