Is the Future of Associations in Jeopardy?
Anyone in the association management or not for profit management sector is painfully aware that financial sustainability and securing long-term growth has been particularly challenging since the big economic decline of 2008. Some in the sector wonder if our organizations can survive. The current state of benchmark statistics is troubling.
It is easy to fall into the belief that current challenges are temporary or to adopt an attitude that this storm can be weathered. However, associations that succumb to denial or complacency around these changes will not survive.
What has arisen in these challenging times is a strategic gap. That is – a gap between the way that most associations are operating and the economic, demographic and technology reality of the modern world.
To put this in context, associations arose to meet certain needs of affiliations and communities. These needs are changing:
- Our needs for affiliation are changing;
- How we define community is changing;
- Government and private sector funding is increasingly difficult to secure.
Therefore, the role of associations in providing social cohesion must respond to meet a rapidly evolving environment. We cannot assume that the way forward is the same as the past. We cannot assume that our mission statements will always be relevant and meet current needs of our members and stakeholders.
We are at a crossroads, a fork in the road – especially in terms of how we are defining community – and there are significant demographic trends that all associations must grapple with:
- The planning horizon has reduced from 5 years to one year. Meaning that we can’t predict what life will be like over the next 12 months let alone half-decade.
- More data – pieces of information – has been produced in the last 3 years than in the previous 5,000.
- The commercialized internet as the 5th major technological revolution in human history has dramatically changed how we behave; similarly to impact of the printing press, wired communication, radio and television
- The West is undergoing a tremendous demographic shift as the baby boomers are retiring and their children (the echo boom/Generation Y) are entering the work force.
Here are some things that associations should keep in mind while navigating this chaotic current climate:
- A strategic approach is needed. This requires an honest assessment of your association and its likely trajectory if you are to remain on the same path. Then you must develop a realistic strategic plan that charts a new course. These plans need to be on shorter life cycles than before – about 1 to 3 years given the rate of change in tools, technology and sector requisites needs.
- Associations must be very clear about which of their membership’s needs are they meeting and where they might be falling short.
- Associations must actively engage new generations in their current work and future initiatives.
To quote Albert Einstein:
“…problems cannot be solved at the same level of awareness that created them.”
Organizations feeling the financial pinch of this strategic gap and demographic shift will need to have strong volunteer leadership to set afloat a sinking ship. The holes will only get bigger unless there is a different mindset and perspective. The environment that we are now operating in is demanding that we look at things in a new way. How new may be determined more by what is going on around us rather than being internally generated.
Christina Becker is a principal in Becker Associates and has 30 years of experience in not for profit and association management. Becker Associates is offering a 1 hour free consultation to help you explore how these changes are effecting your organization. If you would like to hear about how Christina and Becker Associates can help you to move from being a good to a great association, contact them at 416-538-1650.