14 Conversations Dominating Association Strategic Planning in 2024

Belinda Moore
Mar 01, 2024By Belinda Moore

An "association" happens when a group of people come together to collectively advance a common purpose. We have expectations around associations in their present form because that's the world we've grown up in.

But what we see now is just one chapter in a long story of collective endeavour. Over thousands of years, the face of associations has continually evolved, adapting to the ever-changing landscape in which we operate. 

We can’t reshape society to fit the traditional associations norms we are comfortable with. Instead, associations must ride the waves of change, while advancing their collective purpose.  

Change is about evolution - building on the best of the past to make a better future. And there are so many fantastic ways we can shape our trajectory and better navigate our organisations into the future. To help focus your discussions, here is a list of the 14 conversations dominating association strategic planning over the past year ...

How Do We ... Advance our Purpose (Not Just Member Numbers)

Your purpose is the North Star guiding your association ship into the future. It’s not about cramming in more passengers; it’s about the meaningful impact of the voyage itself. And it's about ensuring the right people are on the ship. Steer every initiative back to how it aligns with your purpose as it forms the “why” behind every “what” and “how.” By rallying members around a sense of shared purpose, you can create an impact that resonates.

How Do We ... Adapt to Rapid Technological Change & AI Acceleration

The digital and AI revolution train is accelerating fast, whistling towards unprecedented change. Associations must gear up to spearhead this shift, not just keep up. Associations must embrace technologies to boost your own operations, as well as position your association as the definitive guide helping members to navigate digital transformation. Be the lighthouse helping members through the fog.

How Do We ... Navigate Generational Shifts  

Engaging different generations is like planning a huge family reunion meal - you need options for all tastes. Understand diverse needs across your different demographics and tailor your engagement accordingly. Create a mosaic of engagement pathways tailored to the different ways different generations want to engage. Use AI to leverage content into many different forms - from emails to LinkedIn Articles to TikTok videos. Building bridges across generations will strengthen your association community and provides a solid foundation for the future.

How Do We ... Manage Increasing Competition and Collaboration 

Associations face an increasing number of formal and informal competitors vying for different aspects of their traditional value proposition. Combatting this "death by a thousand cuts" scenario requires a clear focus on your purpose and the specific impact you want to make. Don't try to be all things to all people. Identify where to focus your energy to deliver distinctive member value - remaining true to what makes your association irreplaceable. To secure their competitive position, many associations are exploring collaborations with others to expand resources, increase value, and advance purpose.

How Do We ... Deliver Personalised, Relevant, and Compelling Value

The era of personalisation calls for tailored value propositions that resonate with members’ diverse needs and interests. Curate compelling value offerings tailored to specific market segments such as targeted content streams, personalised learning paths, and segmented networking opportunities. Make each member feel personally valued, understood, and supported throughout their journey with your association.

How Do We ... Foster Thriving Online and In-Person Communities

Blend digital engagement with in-person interactions to foster a deep sense of belonging and connection amongst your commuity. Create online engagement opportunities that encourage meaningful, purpose-driven participation while also hosting in-person events that enable genuine human connections. Form spaces where members can come together to collaborate, share their stories, and support one another in pursuing shared and individual goals.

How Do We ... Communicate with Impact

Great communication inspires action and engagement. Cut through the digital clutter with compelling and creative storytelling that more effectively inspires action amongst your audience. Truly understand your members' preferred communication styles and needs in order to connect with them in more relevant and meaningful ways. Share your purpose and message with authenticity in the channels and formats that will best resonate with each member segment.

How Do We ... Nurture a Productive and Purposeful Team Culture

If associations are bridges connecting people, then your staff team is the foundation making those connections strong. A vibrant team culture is the fertile soil in which innovation, resilience, and collective success can blossom amongst your staff and volunteers. Prioritise professional development, open communication, and taking time to celebrate achievements together, no matter how small. Empower your team with a sense of ownership and purpose, enabling them to thrive by working cooperatively towards the greater vision and goals of your association.

How Do We ... Generate Strong and Sustainable Revenue Streams

Strong and diverse revenue streams  enable your association to continue advancing its purpose over the long-term. When seeking to maximise revenue, start by maximising your current revenue channels. Then look for new opportunities to generate sustainable revenue in ways that both align with your values. Once you've got something compelling to sell, don't fall into the trap of limiting your revenue due to a dislike of “sales”.  If you truly believe people are better off as members, then selling is just good customer service. Embrace as many of the vast number of sales channels - from marketing automation to one-on-one sales - as possible to enhance your revenue generation performance.

How Do We ... Evolve to a more Contemporary Membership Model

Traditional membership models are evolving into more flexible, inclusive, and engaging frameworks that are better suited to today's society. Take a step back to holistically rethink what membership could look like through your association's unique lens. Explore how you can amplify accessibility, community, and the delivery of value in new ways while advancing your underlying purpose.

How Do We ... Use Data to Inform Decision Making

Transform the wealth of data at your disposal into actionable intelligence and insights to more effectively guide planning and purpose-driven decisions at all levels. Gain a deeper understanding of your members' needs, industry trends, growth opportunities, and how to maximise your impact. Then let these data-driven insights shine a light on the optimal pathways forward at the strategic, operational, and tactic levels within your association.

How Do We ... Champion Social Responsibility and Sustainability

Set an example of positive change from the inside out by deeply embedding these values across your associations' operations, culture, and community initiatives. Become a respected voice advocating for social causes and environmentally friendly practices that are aligned to your purpose. Inspire your members to take action by giving them opportunities to contribute through your association.

How Do We ... Demonstrate Visionary Leadership and Effective Governance

Effective boards have a shared vision of the future. This shared vision is complemented by a clearly defined roadmap (the strategy) to its desired destination. A strong working relationship among the Board members and with the CEO, is crucial. It’s this collaborative dynamic that fosters robust debate, informed decision-making, and ultimately, the successful governance of the organisation. Decisions grounded in data and evidence are the benchmarks of such boards, transcending personal opinions to deliver accountability, transparency, and a clear trajectory for the association.

How Do We ... Undertake Effective Strategic Planning

Strategic planning has evolved significantly in recent years. Plans are now more succinct, purpose-driven and focused on the lasting impact an association intends to create. Great plans melds vision with action, tackling current challenges and setting up future success. The key is unifying stakeholders around a common purpose and charting a clear and compelling path to reach it. Planning is a collaborative process which draws on the insights and knowledge of a broad range of stakeholders - amplifying the voices of those the associations serves to determine the best pathway forward to achieve its purpose. 

If you’re looking for a presentation on the above article or a facilitator who knows the association world inside and out, and can add just the right amount of energy to your strategic planning process, drop an email to [email protected].