My Top Five Trends Impacting Associations of the Future

As part of the ASAE and the Center’s team participating in the Association of the Future program, I reviewed 62 trends and picked those that I felt were most likely to impact associations going forward.

Several of you have shared your feedback on the trends that you think are most significant as comments from my original post. Here are the trends that I picked from the 62.

1. Generation Next: digital, civic, and connected (Trend #1). This generation is the leading edge of the Millennial Generation starting in 1980. I picked this as an important trend not for empirical reasons, but for experiential reasons. This trend describes my kids and their friends. The trend highlights that this generation volunteers and wants to vote, has stronger ties with parents, and connects to friends through the web. I see these characteristics everyday. My son could not wait vote for the first time as a 17 year old in the Virginia Presidential primary. My daughter has friends in Poland, Singapore, and Canada through social media. These kids have a vision to change the world and they will self organize to do it if we do not engage them in our existing structures.

2. Social Networks become mainstream channel for marketing, communication, and engagement (#21). So much has been written and said about social media that I fear the hype may overstate the reality. Nevertheless, when I can sit down and using and create a new association or community in less than an hour, it is time to take notice. A major new wave is coming on shore and will impact associations in a way equal to the web. I will, however, put in a plug for the benefits of real face to face meetings and conferences. As I write this, I am flying back from a client conference where the networking was vital, the speakers were inspiring, and the information useful.

3. Rising US personal and federal indebtedness (#33). No one can say for sure whether or not the current economic challenges will be severe or mild. But I think it is safe to say that the vulnerability of some of our financial underpinnings has been exposed. In his book, The Zone of Insolvency, Ron Mattocks says “that as many as one-third of the nation’s 1.4 million nonprofits are operating at a level of financial distress, -which will force many to file for dissolution.” How will they be able to handle and even survive a major economic slowdown?

4. Increasing prevalence of ‘Freemium’ and other new business models (#44). I am looking at this concept with a couple of clients. Is there a way to engage a much larger share of the marketplace with something other than a paid membership? Don’t get me wrong, I think people will pay for value. But there may be a way to bring people into relationship with an organization on a non-financial basis first before asking for money. Here is an example, in one email campaign that we tested two possible entry points into the organization for a client; a hard “buy now” membership offer ran head to head against a “free” newsletter subscription offer. The free newsletter did 50 times better. Now the challenge to prove this model will be to see if we can convert these free subscribers to paid members or customers. As I have commented before, joining as a member is a process as much as it is an event.

5. Diminishing US influence internationally (#58). Clearly one of the pillars supporting associations based in the US is the perception that information, regulation, standards, knowledge, and resources in many fields flow from US universities, government entities, companies, and professionals. Diminishing influence could crack some of these pillars, but also open up ideas and involvement from many other parts of the world. Being a global association will be more than a desire, it will be a necessity.

Do you agree with me on any of these trends and the impact they may have? Please feel free to comment and add to these thoughts.


Scott Oser said...

I think that the most important trends impacting associations of the future revolve around changing demographics. Populations will be aging, people will be living longer, more and more diversity (age, race, language preference, sexual preference, etc) is going to exist in the US and throughout the world. How are associations going to deal with the fact that their somewhat historically predictable and like audience is now going to be very inconsistent and different? It is hard for associations to cost effectively talk to different types of members now, I can't imagine how hard it is going to be talk to different subsegments within your membership segments when they may have different languages, communication preferences and more. The demographic changes are also going to significantly impact the type of benefits that an organization offers to its members. If they don't they will miss out on many of the groups that are growing within the US and beyond.

I believe that technology is important and that new technologies are going to be important in the future. However, just because you create something doesn't mean someone will use it. All companies, not just associations, have to make sure the technology is appropriate for their audience. Trying to offer me something I don't find valuable is more of a turn off than it is a turn on. Even if it is really cool and has lots of neat bells and whistles.

Lindy Dreyer said...

Related to your #3, I just heard a report on All Things Considered about the failure of the International Association of Jazz Education. I found it worthwhile listening, especially considering that there are so many organizations under financial distress.

Tony Rossell said...

Scott -- Good comments. I picked technology over demographics because demographic changes are more predictable. You have time to prepare for an aging population. However, technology changes can be much more dramatic and disruptive. For example, the first commercially available cell phone became available in 1983 and now over 2.5 billion people are subscribers. That strikes me as amazing. Tony

Every Square Inch said...


I think you're right on. Although, I will say that most businesses while intrigued by Web 2.0 networks, blogs, wikis, etc... haven't quite figured out how to leverage them and measure their success

Tony Rossell said...

Good point. I see so many applications in the association and non-profit world, but I do not see to many businesses using it. Tony