Association Evolution: What Association Leaders are Thinking About for 2013 and Beyond


Well, it's 2013 and we're still here. The Mayans mixed things up, got tired of writing their calendar or maybe they just wanted to freak us out a bit.  Whatever the reason, I know that all you association leaders out there are constantly thinking about how to do things better and how to better serve your members in what in all likelyhood is a profession or industry that is going through a lot of change.

The association sector is changing in so many ways, I hardly know where to begin.  So, to kick off 2013 on the ARC blog, I thought I'd share four (just four!) of what I think will be some of the key challenges and trends associations will face over the next year...and more:
1. Membership Models: We will see more shifts here toward different types of membership. An increasing number of trade associations are shifting toward a revenue-based membership model where members with greater revenues pay bigger dues. A 'tiered' membership model is also something I'm seeing more of where membership varies based on the level of service a member selects (eg gold, silver, bronze). The trick here? Under their current models, it can be hard to really differentiate/identify the right balance of what to give who while still giving everybody a sense that they are getting adequate value.
 2. Associations as Curators:  One thing many associations are/aspire to be are experts in a specific area. The internet has is an unlimited source of information...if you have the time to find it, vet it and read it. Increasingly, associations are shifting towrad becoming 'librarians' of content within their areas of expertise and providing access to this library as a member benefit.
3. Advocacy and Stakeholder Relations: One thing many associations offer that members can't get on their own is the power of a collective voice to stakeholders (government, the media, the public, etc.). While this has traditionally been a strong focus for many associations, it has often been one of several roles they play. I think more associations will focus even more heavily in this area in the time to come...The challenge of course is a practical one - the free rider issue. A lot of associations lobby on behalf of their entire industry or profession. It benefits everyone connected, whether they are members or not - an added conundrum for the value proposition issue.
4. Recruitment and Retention: We all have been hearing about this for years - the baby boomers are leaving the workforce and there aren't enough people behind them to fill the gap. This issue is going to hit members of most associations really hard in the next several years. Associations will increasingly be looked to to play a role in promoting their profession/industry as a career of choice to prospective employees. This will also take increasing priority on the lobbying/GR side with associations expected to work with government and other stakeholders to promote the industry to 'non-traditional' groups (young graduates, visible minorities, foreign skilled labour etc.). While it is unfortunate that it stems from this, organizations everywhere will now be 'forced' into ensuring better diversity policies and procedures in their workplaces - the opportunity for associations is in providing resources and services that support this shift. 

This is just the tip of the iceberg. Associations that expect ongoing success need to be more agile, innovative and on top of change than ever before...what else would you add? What are your top strategic priorities for 2013 and beyond?