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 ning.com 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.

You Gotta Have Growth!

Last week, I had the privilege of  speaking to a group of small non-profits on the topic of  Marketing Principles to Grow Your Organization.  Growth is a real challenge for these groups.  

But I believe that whether the economy is strong or weak, you cannot save, manage or retain your way to success and health as an organization.  I came across this quote while flying across the country the other day in the March 31 edition of Business Week that underlines this concept

"Managing your size is not the solution to competitive pressure.  Growth is.  It is the magic elixir that cures almost every business ill.  No other kind of 'fix' delivers its transformative power"  (Jack and Suzy Welch, When Growth is the Only Solution).  

Is this wishful thinking in today's economy or do you agree with this?  

62 Trends that Impact the Future of Associations

Over the past few weeks, I have enjoyed participating in the ASAE & The Center for Association Leadership program called Association of the Future.

The process started with evaluating 149 trends and issues that could have a significant impact on the association community. Through a ranking process that we did, these trends were narrowed down to 62. Yesterday, I joined a team of association executives and consultants to explore the potential implications for associations from these trends.

I just asked for and received permission to share a copy of these 62 trends here on the blog. It is an extensive document, but thought provoking and well worth your time.

Let me know what you think are the five biggest trends that will impact associations. I will share the five trends that I think could have the biggest impact on the future for associations in an upcoming post. In the meantime, use this link to access the document.

Some Thoughts on an Excellent Post from Association Inc.


One of the blogs that I link to on Membership Marketing as a “Blog of Value” is Association Inc. The last post entitled “Random Thoughts on New Rules for Association Growth”, is well worth reading. The post speaks to market focus, ownership, dues revenue, data and testing. You’ll find some great ideas to keep the sun from setting on your ship.

Association Inc reminds us to focus on our market not a product. Success comes when we know our marketplace inside out. This intimate knowledge allows us to anticipate needs and create products that meet those needs.

Ownership of whatever product we create for our members is also critical. “Grants, sponsorships, “affinity programs” – these all have a role to play, but in and of themselves will not lead to sustainable, exponential growth because they depend on the whims of others.”[1]

As I have commented on this blog in Exploring Alternative Membership Models, the actual concept of membership has been appropriated by many for profit companies. Many of these companies provide membership for free or at a low dues price, which allows the member to take advantage of discounts and special services.

An example that you may be aware of is Sermo ™ – a free membership site with 60,000 physicians and growing,

Because of this, diversification of income streams is wise. As an ancient proverb reads: “Give a portion to seven, or even to eight, for you know not what disaster may happen on earth.”[2]

Using data effectively is another key point. I have used the quote before from the renowned marketing professor Philip Kotler, he says, “Successful companies [or associations] are learning companies. They collect feedback from the marketplace, audit and evaluate results, and take corrections designed to improve their performance. Good marketing works by constantly monitoring its position in relation to its destination.”[3]

Finally, Association Inc. recommends rapid prototyping and testing of new initiatives. This culture of innovation is foundational for success. “Most companies [or non-profits] would be better off if they made fewer billion-dollar bets and a whole lot more $10,000 or $20,000 bets – some of which will, in time, justify more substantial commitments. They should steer clear of grand, imperial strategies and devote themselves instead to launching a swarm of low-risk experiments.”[4]

Are there any other insights that you would add to these?

[1] Association Inc.
[2] Ecclesiastes 11:2
[3] Kotler on Marketing, Free Press, 1999
[4] Gary Hamel and Lisa Valikangas, “The Quest for Resilience”, Harvard Business Review

Are Radio and TV in Your Membership Development Future?


In the Five Phases of the Membership Life Cycle, I highlighted how awareness is the first step in the membership relationship. If a prospective member is not aware of whom you are and what value your organization brings, then you are a long way off from closing a sale.

Making a sale involves a series of little steps moving a prospect from A to Z.

That’s why as a membership marketer, I have enjoyed watching the use of radio and television to build awareness and membership by two groups, the American Association of Family Physicians (AAFP) to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM).

Here is the publicly available information on these programs that I have come across on the web.

AAFP has launched a major awareness program with sponsorship of my favorite radio program Marketplace on NPR and with 30 to 60 second ads on 71 XM Radio stations. SHRM has also been a sponsor of the regular feature on Marketplace. They sponsor the segment with interviews of top corporate CEO’s in a feature called Conversations from the Corner Office.

In addition, according to Digital News Direct, SHRM has run TV ads during CNN Election Coverage and FOX Business Jumpstart. If you watched the candidate debates you may have seen the ad. Here is a link to the ad.

Both of these groups are well respected organizations and it appears that their awareness advertising has been well thought out and done in a responsible and effective manner.

But as you read this you may ask are radio and TV something that all association marketers should jump on board and do? Will it help your association blossom?

From my perspective the answer is before these channels are considered, you need to have your bases covered with more traditional association marketing techniques. True with the increasingly defined market segmentation that HD and satellite radio and cable TV provide, it is now becoming a possibility to at least explore these mediums. But rarely do consumer demographics match up with the qualifiers that would make someone eligible for membership. You may have 50 year old woman as members, but they also need to be in your profession in order to be interested in membership.

Here is another major caution that I have to using broadcast or consumer advertising channels. There is a very big potential to spend a lot of money in a very inefficient manner. You need to ask the question, what proportion of those who see these ads are potential members or people that you want to influence and to compare this to the effectiveness of a tightly targeted promotion.

Some associations and non-profits are not effectively picking the low hanging fruit for new members already, so this should be the first use of resources before investments are made in the consumer realm.

What are your thoughts on the use of broadcast and consumer media to build awareness about your organization and get more members?

Watch the Alligators: Association Marketing Legal Reminders

It is very easy for me to forget that good marketing includes a sound understanding of legal issues in addition to strategy, creative, and analysis.

Here are some of the legal items to keep in mind when developing marketing campaigns.



UBIT: In the April Associations Now piece titled “Lessons from new CAE’s”, Mary Moon Allison, CAE, from the American Nurses Credentialing Center shared that she learned when marketing her affinity programs (like list rentals, credit cards, etc.) that “If we do not actively market it, the income is considered passive and is not subject to UBIT, but if we’re involved in the marketing of it, the IRS considers it unrelated business income (p. 16).” This is why associations that hope to earn substantial revenue from these programs use outside providers to manage the program.

Nonmember Pricing: In the same Associations Now piece, Lakisha Campbell, CAE, National Association of Home Builders noted that “the difference in member to nonmember product or program pricing could not be greater than the price of membership (p.16).”

Invoices or Renewals: Some associations make a common mistake is incorrectly using the term “Invoice” on membership renewal notices. Remember, a member does not have a legal obligation to pay a renewal notice. Therefore, it is not an invoice. Using an invoice is appropriate if a member has requested to be billed through some type of bill-me solicitation.

FAX Solicitations: Fax marketing is also an area where there can be some confusion and liability. The Direct Marketing Association provides a good alert on rules governing the use of faxes in marketing. “The Junk Fax Prevention Act of 2005 allows marketers to send commercial faxes to those with whom they have an established business relationship (EBR), but imposes some new requirements. These requirements include providing an opt-out notice on the first page of faxes and establishing a system to accept opt-outs at any time of the day.” I just met with a group that was unknowingly in violation of these rules. Violations can get very expensive.

Email and SPAM: Fortunately, I do find that most associations are very aware of the laws governing email solicitations and follow the four major provisions of the act including: false or misleading information, deceptive subject lines, opt outs, and physical mailing address.

It is good to keep these in mind because violations can be expensive. The Federal Trade Commission FTC says that “Each violation of the [can spam] provisions is subject to fines of up to $11,000. Deceptive commercial email also is subject to laws banning false or misleading advertising.”

Telemarketing: Another area of legal concern in marketing is telemarketing and the Do Not Call Registry. If you are a non-profit, you are not impacted by the do not call rules. According to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), The Do Not Call Registry “does not cover the following: calls from organizations with which you have established a business relationship; calls for which you have given prior written permission; calls which are not commercial or do not include unsolicited advertisements; calls by or on behalf of tax-exempt non-profit organizations.”

Direct Mail: Finally, there is also a non-legal, but strongly recommend ethical practice that you should consider with your direct mail marketing. It is to suppress prospective members and customers from your mailings using the DMA Mail Preference Service (Do Not Mail File). This is a file of people who have asked not to receive direct mail solicitations.

Am I missing any other legal issues here that you can think of mentioning? Feel free to let me know.

New Blog on Financial Risks and Solutions for Non-Profits


A long time association professional, Ron Mattocks, has just launched a blog to accompany his new book, the Zone Of Insolvency: How Nonprofits Avoid Hidden Liabilities and Build Financial Strength.

The book just came out today, so I have not read it yet. However, here is how Ron describes the issues he is addressing.

“The term ‘Zone of Insolvency’ was first used by the courts in 1992. It describes a period of financial distress where insolvency is at least a foreseeable possibility by reasonable business people. The court said that a board governing a corporation in the Zone of Insolvency has expanded legal responsibilities and liabilities. I chose to focus on nonprofit corporations in the Zone of Insolvency because a greater percentage of nonprofits operate in perpetual financial distress than what we see on the for-profit side. New nonprofits have incorporated at twice the rate of for-profits every year for the past twenty years. But on the back end, fewer nonprofits file for dissolution. As a result, we have this escalating glut of nonprofit organization living perpetually in the Zone of Insolvency.”

His blog covers items ranging from financially stressed organizations to the liabilities of board members to non-profits and theft. As we seem to be facing increased turbulence in the economy, this may be something you want to learn more about related to your organization.