Rising to the challenge: Associations must change

Reach the summit
Mike
J. Michael Reitelbach, CAE RCE IOM
President, Organization Management Group Inc.

Is your association facing any of these challenges?

  • Increased competition for members
  • Shrinking revenues
  • Rapid changes in technology
  • Higher expectations and more demands from members

In their book “Road to Relevance,” authors Harrison Coerver and Mary Byers identify these challenges and more. They pose questions that can guide an evaluation of your organization. They share some strategies on how to move forward. The book is published by ASAE: The Center for Association Leadership.

Be assured that things will not be going back to “normal.” Your association is likely facing all of these challenges because the world and our members are changing. If your association does not transform itself with them, the association will surely die. As volunteer leaders or as staff, you have accepted the responsibility to grapple with these issues. Be forewarned that the pace is picking up.

The reasons include mounting time pressures, increasing value expectations, rapid changes in our members’ business, widening generational differences, rising competition and a rush of new technologies. Plenty of other entities are trying to figure out how to make money off your members. Your members want to be more successful and productive. They want to be a part of something but do not care about “joining” so much anymore. They may not want your opinion; they want to express theirs. They want to make a difference.

Your members want to be more successful and productive. They want to be a part of something but do not care about “joining” so much anymore. They may not want your opinion; they want to express theirs. They want to make a difference.”

If your association does not satisfy them, it’s easy to find organizations or even loose networks that do. Members want a choice. They may pick one service from you and yet another service from some other provider.

What can you do? Where can you start? The answers naturally exceed the space available here. However, Coerver and Byers propose five broad strategies.

Assess and overhaul your governance model. Build the leadership team for performance. Recruit the competencies that you need. Spend your time on strategic positioning. Govern; don’t manage.

Empower the CEO and enhance staff expertise. Hire critical expertise. Get fast. Get efficient. Turn them loose and let them execute your strategy. Make sure there are capacity, scalability, flexibility and accountability. A lean association aligns its people and processes.

Rigorously define your members’ market. Analyze the world that your members inhabit and make sure that the association reflects it. Be sure that the association fits. Identify, assess and then build on the association’s strengths.

Rationalize your programs and services. Your association can no longer be everything to everybody. Focus your resources on the really valuable programs and services. Eliminate the rest. (Expect resistance.)

Bridge the technology gap. It’s not cheap, but capitalizing on technology is essential. Members want everything personalized. They want it fast, and it must be easy.

These are exciting times for association leaders. There is so much that can and must be done. You have been put in your position because you are the right person at the right time.

Embrace the challenges, and make a difference.

J. Michael Reitelbach has 35 years of association management experience and holds the Certified Association Executive, REALTOR® Certified Executive and Institute of Organization Management professional designations. He holds a bachelor’s degree in commerce from the University of Virginia and an M.B.A. from Old Dominion University. He is a graduate of the Institute for Organization Management, sponsored by the University of Delaware, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the American Society of Association Executives.