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Membership strategies: adapting to the TIDES of change

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As association managers we have to analyse our operating environment on an ongoing basis, and thereby adapt to a constantly changing world.

Experience and observation tells us that the major winners and losers of a recession actually emerge only in the aftermath of the downturn. We therefore need to prepare associations for a decade of turbulence as we live with the after-shocks of the global financial crisis.

The five forces

I see five disruptive forces shaping the new world of associations. Through understanding these forces, you can gain a competitive advantage.

The most successful associations in the next few years will be those that find ways to be strategically responsive to their members’ needs. To do this, it is important that everyone – at every level of the association – has an understanding of the forces that will be shaping the next decade.

Not-for-profit managers can develop these insights through regular analysis of the environment, strategic conversations with all of staff, stakeholders and members.
This understanding of the strategic landscape is essential for the identification of opportunities and threats in the association.

Tides of change

The five forces that will disrupt membership retention and growth in the next decade are:

  • Technology
  • Institutional restructuring
  • Changing Demographics
  • The Environment
  • Shifting Societal values.

These are what I call the T.I.D.E.S. of change. Let me briefly explain each and how they can affect your association.

Technology – this involves an enormous paradigm shift in how we view members. There will be 1 trillion networks by 2012 and 7 trillion by 2017, and these are all competitors. We need to understand that technology – current and potential – will impact our membership base.

Institutional restructuring – unless associations move to review their aims, objectives and constitutions they will be left behind as other institutional forces around them change to meet the demands of the new environment.

Demographics – all the associations I have consulted have one major issue – a greying membership base that is not being replenished by new and younger members. What is your association doing about it? Our members are retiring so we need to review our strategies.

Environment – associations are no different to the commercial sector – we need to adapt to the changing regulatory environment by keeping up to date with compliance and legislative issues that impact on our members.

Societal values – of course here I am talking about Gen X and Y and the Baby-Boomers. Which category do your members fall into and which sector are you trying to attract?

Without a well-defined membership strategy any recruitment is a mere ‘shot-gun’ approach.

In summary, if your association adopts the T.I.D.E.S. change approach it will be well on its way to having a meaningful strategy to retain current, and attract potential, members.

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