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TRENDS asked the ASAE 2013 Fellows to comment on this statement: “John Graham, as the TRENDS 2013 Association Executive of the Year, has identified a few issues that are of concern to the association community. Among them are changing demographics that will affect membership and staffing; the scrutiny of lobbying on Capitol Hill; and how technology is changing the way members communicate and want to receive their information. Please address one or two of these points with your own opinion, or discuss another area that you believe is or will be a challenge to the association community in the near future.”
Patricia A. Blake, FASAE, CAE, CEO, American Society of Gastrointestinal Endoscopy: One of the most significant issues confronting the association community is the rapid rate of change and the challenges that creates for the traditional governance structures of many nonprofits. Most association governance structures are built for stability and conservatism, not for the rapid decision-making, efficiency and flexibility needed in this rapidly changing environment.
It is a well-recognized fact that the rate of change in the 21st century is driven largely by quickly evolving technology. The Internet has opened vast new potential markets around the world, but at the same time, information, once reserved for association members, is readily accessible to all. Technology has leveled the playing field between nonprofits and for-profits. In addition, for-profits are now competing in nonprofit areas of strength, but without the cumbersome governance structure. This rapidly evolving environment requires swift decisions, bold actions, systematic innovation, risk taking and the willingness to invest and fail. These are traditionally for-profit areas of strength.
This rate of change is also accelerated by radically changing demographics. Baby boomer retirements, multiple generations in the work force and the rapid increase of the nonwhite population are creating new markets, new expectations and new challenges. Responsive systems, creative benefits and innovative programs will be needed to maintain relevance with younger members. Servicing the nonwhite, sometimes non-English speaking members will require dramatic shifts in programs and services. Attracting and retaining this diverse member population, while developing representative volunteer leadership and staff, will be of critical importance to the modern association.
Danielle Foisy, FASAE, CASE, MC & IT sales development director, Canadian Tourism Commission: I believe that technology as a whole is a major force shaping the association community. The various new avenues to access information and knowledge are changing what membership means and what the value proposition is for associations. Mobile and electronic communication and mobile technologies are clearly shaping the future. From member mobile applications to electronic and mobile-integrated marketing strategies, all aspects of the association experience has gone from tangible to living and thriving on “the cloud.” Associations need to develop a strong social strategy to protect their brand, reputation and information dissemination and ensure that their strategy is relevant and adds value particularly when targeting the next generation of members.
Matthew Gertzog, FASAE, CAE, deputy executive director, American Society of Hematology: I believe that a significant force challenging the association community is our pursuit of relevance. Associations now operate in an environment where our members/customers have ever-increasing expectations, but where their allegiance is no longer based on loyalty or tradition –rather on a mentality of “what have you done for me lately.” Furthermore, our position as “information brokers” and “conveners of community” has become more precarious because the Internet has made information more readily available and social media has redefined the meaning of community. As a result, there is a call for action…we must develop new competitive strategies, customize the member/customer experience, embrace a global marketplace, and spur innovation.
Christie A. Tarantino, FASAE, CAE, CEO, Association Forum of Chicagoland: The changing member demographic continues to be a regular topic of conversation among my peers and our members at various events. There are obvious concerns about whether the younger generation will continue to see the value in joining associations, but there will also be changes to the ethnic diversity of our population that will require a shift in how we approach membership moving forward. I believe that our basic membership model is in question and will have to evolve. Young professionals and those entering the work force may not readily see the need to pay membership dues to develop a professional network. They will already be accustomed to developing a network through various social media platforms.
Associations will have to shift our thinking from members to customers. We must be able to develop products, services and networks that are unique and compelling, but above all, we have to create an experience that is compelling. And, what is compelling to our current or traditional membership will most likely not be compelling to this younger, more diverse membership of the future. We definitely have challenges ahead, but in my opinion, they are exciting opportunities for us to redefine and strengthen our roles as association executives.