5 challenges facing leaders of Associations today.
Arcus surveyed 45 Executive Directors and CEOs of professional and trade associations earlier this month to learn about their top challenges this year. Like most private and public sector organizations, they face common internal and external challenges- employee retention, culture change, growth strategies and stakeholder satisfaction. There appear to be five top challenges that Executive Directors and CEOs of associations identified in the survey.
1. From Annual Dues to User Fees
The concept of member funded organizations hasn’t evolved for over 100 years. The fundamental elements have remained the same- focus on knowledge, value added services and certification. The focus on these elements has shaped the culture and operational work processes of these organizations. With the transition of the membership base from boomers to Gen-X and Millennial members, a significant shift in the definition of value of membership is occurring. These generations are more likely to adopt different membership models.
One of the shifts is from annual dues to a user based model. Free social media and other collaboration platforms have shaped the thinking of this generation. For example, the world’s largest membership based association is Facebook. It has over a billion members and anyone can join and start their own group for free. Younger members are more likely to question the value of annual dues. They will no longer be willing to pay to belong. They expect specific services that they would be willing to pay for.
2. Education is no longer a Core Value Proposition
What is certain is that professional certification continues to be the glue that keeps members with Associations. Professional Associations are likely to be vulnerable to a mass exodus without it. Engaged advocacy is one direction many forward looking Associations are heading in. There is a sense of urgency associated with a strong sense of purpose and direction in collective behaviour of a group. Engaged advocacy is the direct opposite of what associations do today.
Members in the past expected associations to manage their advocacy for them. Today, younger members want to be part of the process of giving voice to issues that resonate with them. Whether it is done by increasing awareness about these issues on social media or taking a personal interest in learning more about specific issues, products, events, or initiatives. And then participating in a collective direction to further a specific goal. Suddenly, the stakes are higher with such an approach because it requires associations to proactively manage expectations and desired outcomes. Larger groups are not particularly conducive to being disciplined with regard to cohesive goals. This will require tremendous leadership and an entirely new set of leadership skills at Associations.
3. Members want to hear more viewpoints
Today, most associations have not spent enough time in understanding their membership base. They do have a cursory understanding of some demographic data but there is a significant understanding to look at attitudinal research- the motivation behind certain expectations from Association leadership. A better understanding of these expectations will allow Associations to develop better value propositions for members and also focus on the issues that matter most to members. A more agile approach to responding to shifting priorities will ensure Associations appear to be listening and acting on needs and expectations of members. For example, what are the top three needs that members have across 4-5 intervals of age groups and geographies? What are the sub-issues that emanate from these top needs? How do they align with the strategic plan of the Association?
Today, Associations need Executive Directors and CEOs with much more than experience in leadership positions at similar organizations. They need change agents who are bold and visionary in their outlook. Too many associations are weighted down by legacy systems and cultures. Where staff resist change and are keen to keep the status quo going.
5. Disruption of members’ business
Members are going through a challenging time in the economy, along with everyone else. Whether they are operating in a sector experiencing growth or contraction, Darwinian forces are at work sorting out the successful from the mediocre. Major waves caused by the government such as the Affordable Health Care Act, sequestration, gun control, and the coming congressional elections are passing through the American economy with real impact for professionals. Savvy association leaders are looking around the curve, putting the puzzle together for members. This means going beyond providing information and data. Instead it means compiling, analyzing, distilling and communicating useful knowledge that impacts members’ lives. It is not uncommon to see associations beefing up their subject matter experts these days because members need it in a disruptive economy.
6. Driving uptake in a competitive world
It was once the case that each association owned a small monopoly, providing the single best resource to everyone in their field. No more. With the advent of 24/7 interconnectivity, anyone can set up shop and begin serving your members.
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Sample projects in the public sector:
- Fanshawe College
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- Electricity Sector Council
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- Government of Jamaica
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- Telefilm Canada
- Textiles Human Resources Council