Will our Associations survive?

What if your professional association were vaporized today? Yes, absolutely atomized and ceased to exist. Would you miss it?

A lot of professional associations are like towns that grew large in the age of the railroads only to be bypassed when the interstates were laid out. Many of these associations’ city grids were built to service the Baby Boomers. Drawn by the interstate on the edge of town, however, Generation X and Y’s no longer have to go downtown. The largest generational shift in our country’s history is occurring now. Every eight seconds a baby boomer will turn 65.

This younger generation has higher expectations and more clearly defined values. Believe it or not, for most, joining an association is not one of their top things to do.  As a result, proud professional associations will have to adapt or become a downtown that no longer has a pulse.

I am sure associations are asking now where and how should they invest in digital infrastructure that generates real value for members and not just extraneous Facebook or LinkedIn icons at the end of every brochure. How can associations compete when billions of people are for the first time connected and communicating wirelessly in real time?

Firstly, associations should articulate what the return on investment will be for their members. When I first started my career, there was not a professional association I was not a member of. At one point I was a member of ASCE, AWWA, WEF, Rotary, and ARWA. Family, travel, and finances squeezed my professional membership roster until I dropped all of them except AWWA. Why did I stay with AWWA?  I saw the most value in keeping this membership. Period.

In Sarah Sladek’s fantastic book The End of Membership As We Know It: Building the Fortune-Flipping, Must-Have Association of the Next Century she states that associations must

address the wants and needs of the under-45 crowd because these people could not care less about your association’s history, insurance discounts, and annual conference.”

Ouch. So true. If your association is to survive the next ten years, I guarantee it will look totally different than our associations of today.

“When your finished changing, you’re finished.”  —Benjamin Franklin