Over the course of the past 16 years of consulting, I’ve had the opportunity to work with hundreds of associations, ranging in size from zero staff (all volunteer) to over 700.
Clients and colleagues often ask me what the trends are in associations these days, especially as they relate to data management. Here are the trends I see across all sizes and types of associations.
- Fundraising – When I started consulting, the only associations I saw doing fundraising were those that relied heavily on it for operations (e.g., non-profit “charities”) or had a large enough staff that they could dedicate resources to it. These days, almost every one of my clients does some kind of fundraising, whether it’s simply taking donations during the join or renewal process, or taking stand-alone donations online. I suspect the reason more associations are doing this is because technology makes it infinitely easier to collect donations online than compared to the traditional (and very labor intensive) style of collecting donations via mail.
- Online learning/learning management systems – Members are demanding more information than ever before and they’re demanding that it be delivered when and where they want it. This means face-to-face meetings and a printed magazine can’t be the only medium associations use to disseminate information. As online learning has exploded in the past five years, and as the technology has become increasingly more affordable, almost all of my clients are offering at least webinars, and often on-demand online learning as an option for their members and customers. And many of these courses provide continuing education (CE) credits that members and customers need to apply to their certification programs. Which of course leads some of my clients to offer…
- Certification programs – While associations offering certification programs are still a minority of all my clients, their numbers continue to grow each year. More than half of my clients in the past several years either had an existing certification program or were actively exploring one. Again, better and more affordable technology makes managing a certification program much easier than it once was. And of course, certification programs are a great source of non-dues revenue.
- Improving communications and relevance – As noted in #2 above, members and customers are seeking more information, and more specialized information, than ever before. And associations are very well-positioned to provide this information. But the key to success for associations is ensuring that the information they are providing is relevant to the recipient. Associations are doing this in a couple of ways, both supported by technology. The first is providing “subscription centers” that allow members to opt-in and opt-out of electronic communications. These subscription centers allow the member to choose which communications she receives from the association without turning off ALL communications. Secondly, associations are using their data to measure implied interest. For example, when a member chooses to attend a webinar on medical devices, they know that member has an interest in medical devices, even though they haven’t told us explicitly. This is implied interest, and can help associations improve communication and relevance.
- Hybrid memberships – In “the good old days” an association’s membership was based either on the individual or the organization. Well the good old days are gone. I’ve seen many of my clients move to a hybrid membership, where both individuals and organizations can become members of the association. Sometimes this just takes the form of individuals’ professional membership and company sponsors or exhibitors. But increasingly I’m seeing professional societies offering both individual and organizational membership for the same membership type, especially in medical societies, where the employment trend is toward clinics rather than individual businesses.
A fun parlor game is arguing whether the available technology is driving these trends or if the trends are driving the technology (i.e., the technology is improving because associations are demanding it). In either case, the good news for associations is that today’s technology can support these needs. If you’re trying to implement one or more of these programs, make sure your technology can support it.
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