“What is the highest ambition we can pursue as an association before the end of this decade?”
Now that’s a question to reckon with. I wonder how many association boards have asked it. If Jeff De Cagna, FASAE, had his way (and he should), he’d suggest you start by imagining it’s December 31, 2029. Then, ask yourselves, “What did our association do throughout the rest of this decade to shape a different and better future for stakeholders and successors?”
As the executive advisor for Foresight First, Jeff encourages leaders to challenge “association orthodoxies” and adopt “a sense of both possibility and urgency for new thinking and action.” He says, “We are creating the future right now, and the window for taking the serious action required to shape a different and better future for our stakeholders and successors is closing. There is no time for delay.”
So, will you and/or your association accept his challenge? Imagine it’s December 31, 2029. What could your association do differently in the next 3000-plus days to create a different and better future? As you might expect, we have some ideas to fan the flame of your inspiration.
The only thing you can depend on in the next decade
Change is the only constant, always has been, but now it’s accelerated, and you can bet the rate of change will accelerate exponentially in the coming years. How does one thrive amidst change and disruption? You anticipate, experiment, adapt, shift direction, and keep on learning.
Have you noticed how we bring every topic back around to learning? It’s because lifelong learning is essential for every organization and individual. Organizations must learn and grow too, just like the individuals who comprise organizations must learn and grow.
Embed a culture of learning in your organization and industry
One of the most important things you can do as an organization and as an industry is to support and nourish a learning culture. If you want to shape a better future, you must create an industry of lifelong learners from entry-level to C-suite positions. Lifelong learners don’t stay stuck in safe mode; they master new skills and knowledge, so they can adapt to and thrive amidst change. They’re curious; they think beyond business as usual to see possibilities and opportunities.
Organizations with a learning culture are more willing to invest in their employees’ professional development. They’ll become more invested in your association’s programs if you seek their counsel or bring them together to provide guidance on the programs and credentialing needed to educate and elevate professionals in your industry.
Attract the best talent to your industry
What else would it take to elevate your industry or profession by 2029? Smart, curious people. Here again, a focus on learning will help organizations attract the best talent. Research says people prefer employers who offer opportunities for professional development and career growth.
People also seek employers who provide optimal and equitable working conditions. Ethical and socially responsible organizations will attract the cream of the crop because these organizations will have solved challenging issues such as inclusion and equity, pay disparity, and remote vs hybrid vs in-person.
How do these organizations get to this ideal state? Their people learned how to steer their organization and manage their employees. Of course, they learned these new skills from your association’s management training programs, especially designed to improve leadership and operations in your industry.
Become an indispensable part of your community’s life
Notice we didn’t say “members’ life.” We think membership will change in the coming years. Associations will no longer focus so intently upon their members; they will live up to their mission by focusing on the entire professional community.
Membership will still exist for those who wish to volunteer or serve as leaders. Everything else you offer will be on a subscription basis, so people can choose the activities that most interest them. For example:
• Learning subscriptions, including corporate training subscriptions
• Online community subscriptions
• Virtual meetup subscriptions
• Information subscriptions, although you could provide a good deal of information for free as a content marketing tactic
• Consulting or coaching subscriptions
• Peer advisory group subscriptions
You could package some of these together, for example, a learning and community package. You could have special subscriptions for different segments too:
• Young professionals
• Mid-career professionals entering the industry
• Professionals seeking jobs
• Small businesses
• Solo proprietors
Shape a better future for your industry by doubling down on your association’s learning business
By the end of this decade, industry professionals will rely upon your association for their daily fix of information, education, community, and/or networking. You become part of their life, like a good habit. Everyone feels like they belong, whether or not they’re members, because they’re an appreciated participant in your community.
The focus is no longer on recruiting members, but on attracting and serving the larger market of professionals by providing them the education and community they seek. You’ve doubled down on learning. Resources have shifted to adapt to this new business model. Former membership professionals are now working on networking, marketing, volunteer management, community, and education teams.
The goal is to create a community of learners, not customers. You’re seeking emotional connections, not transactional ones. But you won’t get there unless you ask challenging questions and offer provocative answers.