December 18, 2017
    5 changes in 5 years in association management

    Will your association position itself as a trend setter?

    It used to be that the pace at which associations explored trends and their strategic options was always a beat or two behind the for-profit sector. While the governance structures of associations still allow for a more contemplative approach to some issues, today’s associations are growing more adaptive and responsive to change. 

    The business model for associations has been changing for some time, and will continue to evolve as we work to not only maintain our relevance, but exceed our members’ needs and expectations. Not all will keep pace. But those that do will be positioned as trend setters, not followers.

    That said, here are five things that I predict will be different in association management in five years:

    1. Associations will be more universally viewed as problem solvers by policymakers at every level of government. At a time when Americans feel more divided than ever and legislative solutions are too often disrupted by political rancor, associations continue to bring people together to find solutions to the world’s challenges. That role will be appreciated and needed more than ever in the years to come. 

    2. Associations will no longer be grasping at innovation straws, so to speak. Instead, associations will be using simple, repeatable processes to help them solve problems, explore opportunities and produce new and valuable programs, products and services for their members and other stakeholders. Many associations have already begun implementing the ASAE Focus Framework, which is designed to demystify innovation and improve business processes related to new product development.

    3. Association job postings will include the qualification, “CAE required,” instead of “CAE preferred.” Managing an association in today’s challenging environment requires skills that are honed and enhanced by going through the process of obtaining your CAE credential.  

    4. Associations will have mastered the practice of creating products and services to meet individual members’ needs without any tradeoffs in cost, delivery or quality. The reality of our everyday lives is that we are constantly connected and looking for content, often through our smart phone or tablet. That reality is going to be very important to the member experience moving forward.

    5. Diversity and inclusion strategies will be commonplace in association management. In five years, associations will be leading the workforce when it comes to fostering collaboration among people of diverse backgrounds and identities to solve problems and identify growth opportunities.  

    Now that I’ve said all this, the reality is that there will be other, new challenges that emerge that we haven’t anticipated. But the future of associations is very bright because we have the capability and strategic focus to adapt, and because no matter what the world looks like in five years, people will still have common interests and challenges to meet. They will still need and want to cultivate relationships, advance their own skill sets and advocate for better policies on behalf of the industries and professions they represent. Associations provide a home for all of that activity and more, and five years won’t change that fact. 

    Graham is CEO OF ASAE. Contact him at

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    Association TRENDS