When everything is changing, look to future leaders to help guide the way

14 June 2021

Association leaders often find themselves balancing difficult decisions. Add to that unforeseen or changing circumstance—such as emerging technologies, an evolving workforce, or even a global pandemic—and critical decisions can become more reactive than proactive. Using ASAE ForesightWorks, the systematic approach to forecasting the changes and challenges that may affect organizations, association leaders can help prepare their organizations for the changes ahead. This preparation starts with engaging younger demographics that will one day be at the helm of their respective associations.

ASAE ForesightWorks Driver of Change: Demographics and Membership
Many association industry professionals ask, “How do associations stay relevant to younger generations who think they don’t need an association and its body of knowledge?”

One possible solution: engaging younger demographics sooner. In the article, “Tapping into the Next Gen,” from Forum Magazine, the Illinois CPA Society (ICPAS) started to engage and recruit student members through campus outreach programs, offering free membership to students and providing educational resources on campus visits. After students graduate, they are offered a complimentary one-year membership. This tactic introduces student members to the organization early on and lowers the barrier to membership, allowing them to experience membership benefits and convert to paying, and hopefully longtime, members in the future. Education is a cornerstone for associations and a key membership marketing and retention tool.

ASAE ForesightWorks Driver of Change: Workforce and Workplace
The incoming younger generation of volunteers, members, and association employees are looking for ways to change the status quo with new and fresh ideas for generating non-dues revenue and membership growth. However, for long-established associations with senior boards that are comfortable with how things are done, this new energy can be met with strife.

Both parties may find themselves in a struggle as to where to lead an association to its successful future. How can associations bring both older and younger generations together to help lead the association?

Association leadership can alleviate some of the tension by giving younger members a seat (or seats) at the board room table. This olive branch approach allows each side of the table to engage in dialogue about important decisions affecting the association and provides a forum for younger members to have their ideas heard by people who can affect meaningful change.

Another way to bring members together across generations is via a mentorship program that pairs a more experienced member with a new, less-experienced member. Mentorship programs may be for members to grow their career, advance their skills, or focus on leadership within the organization, serving as a succession-planning tool that helps groom younger members for future leadership positions. No matter how an association utilizes a mentorship program, it’s an opportunity to get both old and new to work together, learn from each other’s experiences, improve relationships, and nurture new ideas into something viable for an association.

ASAE ForesightWorks Driver of Change: Data and Technology
With members coming together across generations to implement new ideas, technology is often highlighted as an area to be addressed. To engage younger audiences, associations are increasingly leveraging more sophisticated technology to meet members where they are. Event mailings have given way to social ads, customer service calls are often assisted by artificial intelligent bots, and data collection is central to providing personalized messaging in emails to members.

As associations increasingly rely on technology—either for convenience or because members and prospects demand it—leaders today cannot overlook the need for cybersecurity and information security.

The cyberattack on Colonial Pipeline is a wake-up call for any organization lacking digital protections. As members and others engage in personal and financial transactions with associations, there is an expectation that associations are taking the necessary steps to protect their information. Now is the time for associations to evaluate their cyber security and make the necessary improvements and upgrades to their systems.

Get Ready to Engage
Using ASAE ForesightWorks, association leaders can better anticipate the difficulties of recruiting the next generation of members. Understanding that younger generations value education and networking—and want to be able to sample the benefits before committing long-term—can help associations more successfully market to their future members. In addition, because these generations want to be heard and affect change, association leaders must be prepared to take serious steps to involve younger generations in leadership and organization-wide decision making. Finally, as the demand for more technologically savvy associations increases, associations must anticipate the potential risks ahead of them and invest in protecting them and their members. With this foresight, associations can work to ensure the continued growth of their organizations.

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