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Results of the TRENDS Fall Association Leadership Update, a continuation of the biannual PULSE report, reveal mixed sentiments from association executives. On the one hand, the share of respondents hopeful about their organizations’ short-term prospects grew by 10 percent. This is a significant margin considering the timing of the survey – one month before Election Day, when political forecasts were uncertain – and for the fact that it places these executives in a firm majority of 65 percent.
But further analysis shows cheerfulness to be the exception. Executives’ prospects for the U.S. economy waned by 7 percent, while pessimism grew by the same margin. Other results indicate expectations of inertia rather than growth. 67 percent of respondents predict their members’ income to remain stagnant in the next six months – up from 59 percent last spring – while 63.5 percent are projecting the same for these members’ employment levels.
A small but notable portion of the data is strikingly similar this time around. Three percent of respondents – a slim number within the margin of error – are still very pessimistic about either their association, their association’s industry, or the U.S. economy. Now, 24 percent expect employment to rise for their members; this was previously 24.7 percent. Finally, the number of respondents who are pessimistic about their members’ industry/profession remained a solid 16 percent.
The most conspicuous pattern is found in assessments about the immediate past rather than prospects for the near future. Last spring, 45.4 percent of respondents indicated virtually no change in ad revenue since the previous fall. That number has since inched up a meager three-tenths of a percentage point. Executives are also demonstrating less flux with respect to industry sales, professional employment numbers, and salaries for their associations’ members. While drops in these areas have leveled, so has growth: 62 percent of the sample indicates no change in member employment, an increase of 15 percent. Also, large pluralities are in-between growth and decline on everything from association revenue to meeting attendance. Altogether, a majority of respondents have seen no changes in business for their organization.
The largest majorities in the survey are the 77 percent who are very confident they’ll remain at their organization in six months, and the 72.3 percent whose staff numbers haven’t fluctuated since spring. Combined with the smallest minority – .3 percent who are very pessimistic about their association’s prospects – these numbers indicate a sense of security in association executives, at least for the present. Though few respondents are very optimistic for the future, much fewer are equally pessimistic (see chart below). And while much of the data point to lackluster projections, the majority of respondents expect bigger paychecks within next six months.
For associations, the future is neither grim nor bright, but steady. At least this is sentiment expressed by those in charge.