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The past year
The association community continued its anemic recovery throughout 2011, which has not stopped the continued consolidation of staff, programs and services with an eye toward decreasing expenses and increasing revenue and capacity.
Disturbingly, many associations were at break even or were borrowing from reserves more so than in previous years. Even though companies and professions appeared to stabilize, this did not translate into much relief for associations. Importantly, a significant number of trade associations are in the position of watching industry mergers and consolidations without the ability of collecting more dues from merged entities as a result of larger companies refusing to raise caps on dues as well as funding for foundations.
Unfortunately, businesses and professions still have not learned completely that associations can assist them in moving forward. Consequently, many associations, as reflective of their industries, continue to be in stabilization and cost-cutting mode, and are losing dues and nondues revenue, reflective of the marketplaces they represent. This has placed much more emphasis on the quantified value equation and the ability of the association to articulate it (over and over) to their core constituencies.
Finally, as pointed out in last year’s column, strategic planning is back in the spotlight again as the No. 1 trend among all associations. Board and staff realize that there indeed is a “new normal” that needs to be planned for – quickly.
To stay ahead of the curve, check the future trends below to ensure your association is at least addressing those that touch your association.
Association key trends and issues for 2012
• Association management companies stand to gain and will enjoy a good recruiting year, as smaller- and medium-sized associations look to gain efficiencies found by sharing resources. Boards that have been in red ink for a couple of years seek to consolidate and save by looking for good fits with AMCs.
• Dues caps will further hinder trade associations as more industry mergers and consolidations occur during 2012. Large companies, especially those with new players that do not understand the value of the association, will not want to pay double or a higher percentage of dues in support of the association. They have not learned that it is the role of the larger company to pay the freight and the role of the smaller company to jump on the train to provide a united front legislatively and with regulators. Larger companies sometimes mistakenly believe that they can get more bang for the buck by opening their own advocacy shops. CEOs of trade associations will be constantly on the road shoring up support from larger players. (See article on dues structures www.ammr. com/PayingTheirDues.pdf.)
• Along those lines, retention will continue to require more capacity this year as keeping what you have will be a priority and require more effort than in the past.
• Advocacy will heat up over the next year as associations spend more time and effort trying to influence congressional and regulatory agendas. With rules and regulations in flux for many industries and associations under a financial pinch, developing a smaller, meaningful and more focused legislative agenda will be a top priority. Other more macro agendas such as “going green” and sustainability may take a back seat as industries are focused on key bread-and-butter issues.
• The association value equation will play a key role in retention efforts as more and more members are concerned with their pocketbooks. Being able to articulate a quantified value equation will assist in keeping current and recruiting new members.
• Strategic planning, the No. 1 trend among associations, is now front and center and on the minds of boards, which have put off planning in the hopes that the economy will improve. They now realize that they need to plan for the “new reality” and refresh their missions and key goals and objectives given new economic templates and continued loss of revenue and capacity. Next year look for more research to be required by the planning team in the form of detailed environmental scans, web-based data collection instruments, quantitative member value needs assessments and good old fashioned in-depth interviews and focus groups.
• Peer communication and networking among younger members is becoming a major concern among older members, who recognize the value of face-to-face interactions. Many younger members think they can get most of what they need through social media channels and online resources. These members need to be taught the value of face-to face networking in building contacts and sharing information. Social media and other channels of communications are supplemental and not meant to replace in-person activity. The ramifications of this trend do not bode well as associations re-examine their core purposes and missions going forward.
• Social media continues to grow among associations. Associations are creating networks on Facebook, Linkedin and other channels, and some are experimenting with Twitter for real time communications at meetings, it is not yet apparent how effective these channels and others are as a part of the overall value equation.
• Boards are more concerned with governance structures and underlying bylaws. Associations are taking time to review and assess their structures in looking for the right formula of structural and procedural representation and the ability to react to fast-paced change, as well as being more inclusive of younger members.
• Finally, it appears as if the staff-to-revenue ratio is slowly rising, indicating more work to be done and less capacity. The change in this ratio from $195,000 per full-time employee to $215,000 per FTE over the past several years indicates that associations are trying to stretch their workloads with current FTE allocations. We have begun to see some extreme loads over the past year as well ($265-280,000 per FTE). All this is to say that associations need to be careful in coming years not to overload their staffs, which in some instances can lead to toxic stress and premature burnout of at higher rates than normal.
Association Management + Marketing Resources is an association management consulting and research firm in Bethesda, Md. See information on AMMR’s new 2012 Strategic Planning, Marketing Research and Nonprofit Trends and Issues Workbook at www.ammr.com. Contact Carey at 301-530-9066 or firstname.lastname@example.org.