Informing Your Association Strategy



How should what's happening in members' professional and business environments influence association strategy?

How might association business models evolve to address member issues?

These questions were central to a study recently conducted by Association Laboratory. The Looking Forward Study acts as an environmental scan of the association strategy environment. It provides us a window into what 400+ association leaders are thinking and allows us to check their perceptions and strategies against our own. The study is broken up into three parts: Impact, Solutions, and DEI. This week's blog focuses on key points from the Impact segment - we'll tackle Solutions and DEI in subsequent posts. If this information resonates with you, I encourage you to check out the full study at Association Laboratory. (You'll find discussion guides and a customizable dashboard tool there as well!) 

Big Issues Association Members are Facing

Despite being surveyed on 60 factors, association leaders identified ten as the most significant issues association members face. How does the list below measure up against your own perceptions about what your members are dealing with right now?

  1. Identifying, recruiting, or retaining qualified staff (80%)
  2. Ensuring the privacy and security of data (63%)
  3. Regulatory oversight, compliance costs, or requirements (56%)
  4. Identifying or developing a more diverse workforce (53%)
  5. Investing in new technology or technology applications (50%)
  6. Creating an attractive career path (49%)
  7. Adoption of virtual office, service, or production models (48%)
  8. Employee costs (salary or non-salary) (46%)
  9. Increased focus on mental health and well-being (46%)
  10. Long-term cost of adapting to COVID-19 (45%)

For professional societies, changing social, economic, or demographic characteristics of the people members serve (47%) and artificial intelligence to examine large datasets to inform decisions (46%) were identified as particular issues.

Disruption of traditional supply chains (46%) and artificial intelligence for predictive monitoring, performance modeling, etc. (43%) were tagged as pertinent issues unique to trade association members. 

Looking Over Their Shoulder: Competition 

Like the associations that serve them, members operate in highly competitive environments. Looking Forward uses Porter's Five Forces as a means of assessing relevant competitive threats for members. Of the following forces, which one do you think will have the greatest competitive impact on your members in the next three years?

  • Existing competitors
  • The threat of new entrants
  • The threat of substitutions
  • Increasing buyer power
  • Increasing supplier power

Respondents from both professional societies and trade associations identified existing competitors as the most significant source of competition for their members over the next three years. (For professional societies, it was described as similar professionals in the market(48%), and for trade associations, it was described as existing organizations within the market (41%).) Is this consistent with your perceptions about where competition for your members will come from in the coming years? 

So What?

After identifying forces at work in our members' environments, the next step is to consider what impact those forces should have on strategy. Next week's blog will focus on the Solutions aspect of the Looking Forward Study. In the interim, you may want to talk with your members and teammates about their reaction to the research and what they see happening in the member environments.