Staying Ahead of the Curve

In my role within an Association Management Company (AMC), I have had the opportunity to serve as Executive Director for both trade and professional organizations. Although there are some differences between them, they also face common challenges.

With changing technological, environmental, and social trends, there does not appear to be a ‘one size fits all’ solution to common challenges. Each organization has its own resources, structure, and interpersonal relationships. As change continues to accelerate it becomes more challenging for organizations to stay ahead of the competition.

The shifting business landscape can impact how an association does business today and tomorrow.. How we deal with these changes can affect both our organization’s brand and the value we provide to our members.

The following are some common emerging issues:

  • Determining member value and engagement drivers
  • Finding, keeping and motivating volunteers
  • Dealing with time poverty and preventing volunteer burnout
  • Creating face-to-face and online content that draws strong participation
  • Engaging members and potential members on social media.
  • Growing and creating new resources
  • Increasing brand awareness and loyalty
  • Achieving and maintaining financial sustainability
  • Ensuring responsible strategic governance

Similar to for-profit corporations creating a business plan, associations usually produce a strategic plan with short and long-term goals and objectives. It is becoming more difficult to execute tactical plans without being open to new developments. To better adapt to today’s business landscape, boards and staff are becoming more inclusive and transparent in developing the strategic plan and conducting business activities.

It is beneficial to engage your members in a membership needs assessment. This information can help you identify the emerging trends within your membership and allow your association to adapt and to get ahead of the competition. With the information gathered through the membership survey, the board can also undertake a regular environmental scan to truly understand the landscape your association operates in. The data you collect will be instrumental in determining the direction your association must take to achieve stakeholder support, financial stability and to provide a high-performance environment for the members.

The information gathered through surveys and environmental scans may also identify individuals or organizations that your association might want to collaborate with in order to achieve particular goals. Collaboration, when it is the right fit, can also increase your association’s value to current and potential members.

Association executives have the responsibility to combine traditional association management principles with change management skills to help our organizations adapt and stay ahead of the curve. Building a strong foundation with updated bylaws, guidelines and policies to support initiatives, coupled with strong strategic management, an association can successfully operate in a transparent and inclusive manner.

Association executives and boards need to:

  • Regularly monitor the environment surrounding the organization and the membership
  • Be more inclusive
  • Be open to both positive and negative feedback
  • Appreciate the strengths of individuals and other organizations
  • Understand emerging trends and how they may affect your members
  • Involve committees and the board when reviewing tactical plans
  • Learn to adapt to changes

Association management is not an exact science. We can work together to learn from one another, share information, and continue to build new resources. Adapting to continual changes, while remainng transparent and inclusive, can help organizations stay ahead of the competition!

Serge S. Micheli, CAE, CEM is the President of Association and Events Management and a past president of CSAE Trillium.