Associations: Navigating an AI-Powered World

Apr 24, 2024By Belinda Moore
Belinda Moore

(Authors: Belinda and Julian Moore. Article originally published in BoardRoom)

The emergence of AI poses an exciting opportunity and a potential existential threat to associations globally. Associations who successfully embrace emerging AI tools to advance their purpose will emerge more powerful than ever before. Those who don’t will be replaced by other entities that are better positioned to capitalise on the opportunities. However, adaptation is easier said than done. In practice, what does it look like?

Individual Adaptation

Associations are about people and AI adaptation requires change. Our challenge is that people – whether they are staff, volunteers, or members – don’t change easily. So, the first step is to demystify AI for your staff by providing them with practical AI training to give them the skills to apply AI to immediately increase their productivity. Many associations are already well advanced in this respect. Association staff are already using AI to better: 

Personalise Written Communication. Associations are using AI to create highly personalised communications in moments. For example, uploading a database of prospective members to ChatGPT and ask ChatGPT to look up their websites and draft an email inviting them to join that is personalised to the individual and the company they work for. (We’ve been doing when approaching prospects for high-value partnerships for meetings and it’s been exceptionally effective.) 

 Make complex research accessible. Associations are translating complex research and reports into more consumable formats. For example, upload a research document into ChatGPT and ask it to convert the information into a short article, a longer blog, a YouTube video, a LinkedIn Post, a TikTok video, an infographic or even a poem. ChatGPT can even produce those items for specific market segments. For example, upload the Federal Budget and get it to create a TikTok on how it will affect students. 

Create a List of New Members or Sponsors in Seconds. Associations are using services such as Lusha to find the contact details for prospective members or sponsors in moments. Online searchable databases enable you to quickly create an email or phone database specific to your needs (e.g.: a list of CEOs from businesses in a specific sector). 

Personalise Video Messages. Associations are creating promotional videos personalised to individual members in moments. Invideo lets users create – and send – customised videos that can address recipients by name, reference their specific interests, and provide information relevant to their potential involvement with the association. Even better – there is no need for video editing as the AI does it all.

Create Targeted Newsletters and Blogs. Associations are quickly and easily creating newsletters tailored for different member segments or even individual members. Using ChatGPT, they are creating primary version of a newsletter and then create several versions targeted at different market segments. 

Communicate More Effectively with the TikTok Generation. Associations are targeting hard-to-reach younger members by using Invideo to convert text newsletters into Videos or TikToks that automatically summarise the content and put it into a sharable format. 

Submit Grant Applications More Quickly and With Increased Success. Associations are saving a huge amount of time – and increasing success – by getting AI to fill out grant applications. The grant application process can be daunting due to its complexity and the precision required. Upload the grant application to custom ChatGPT and ask it to autofill the applications based on pre-existing data, analysing grant requirements, and ensuring that all submissions are compliant with the stipulated guidelines. This provides a first draft that can then be reviewed and refined. 

Create Better Board Reports, More Quickly. Associations are automating the production of Board reports to save considerable time and effort. ChatGPT can automate the analysis of data, generate visually appealing reports, and present information in a specific tone of voice and writing style. Some associations are even exploring appointing a non-voting AI board member to help their board to make better informed choices.

Find the Perfect Event Formula. Associations are using ChatGPT to sift through past event data, understanding what topics, formats, and speakers resonate most with their audience. 

Generate AI-Driven Social Media Content. Associations are creating engaging and targeted social media posts using AI. AI tools can also analyse trends and suggest content types that your audience is more likely to engage with, ensuring your social media strategy is on point.

The above are just a few of the many ways associations are already using AI tools. Once staff are empowered with these tools, they are coming up new and creative ways to use AI to streamline their daily work, deliver a better member experience, and create a more powerful impact. 

Operational Adaptation: 

Shifting to operational adaptation is all about expanding the role of AI from enhancing individual productivity to transforming the very workings of the association. This stage involves integrating AI into the heart of what the association does – such as events, education, and policy. It’s a transition from the personal benefit of “AI makes my work easier” to the collective advantage of “AI elevates our association to new heights.”

This shift requires a vision to identify how AI (and technology more broadly) can play a crucial role across different functions, and rallying everyone around the exciting changes ahead. When we talk about operational adaptation, we’re talking about leveraging AI to allow game-changing outcomes. It’s an opportunity for creativity, teamwork, and the bravery to explore AI’s potential in ways that truly transform our operations. Technology projects associations are currently working on include:

Creating Dynamic Educational Content. Using Course.AI to tailor reimagine their educational programs to deliver individualised programming aligns to each members learning styles, interests, and engagement levels, making learning more effective and engaging.

Converting Data to Insights that Usefully Inform Decision Making. Using AI to connect internal and external data to allow for comprehensive analysis across all levels of the association – turning raw data into actionable insights. This enables informed decision-making from the ground up, ensuring that strategies and initiatives are backed by solid evidence.

Enhancing Member Engagement with AI Calling. Using AI-powered calling systems such as Deepgram Aura to automate and personalise communication with members. These systems can be used to conduct surveys, provide updates, and gather feedback by engaging in natural conversations. This approach not only scales the association’s outreach efforts but also brings a personal touch to member interactions, ensuring that communication is both efficient and warmly received.

Improving Community Engagement. Employing AI tools to predict individual member needs and community trends before they fully emerge. By analysing engagement patterns and feedback, AI can forecast future interests, enabling the association to be ahead of the curve in providing compelling community engagement initiatives.

Intelligent Matchmaking. Creating an AI-driven platform that matches members with mentors, peers, and professional development opportunities based on their skills, interests, and career goals. This personalised approach to professional growth can foster stronger community ties and member satisfaction.

Deep Learning for Behavioural Analytics. Utilise deep learning algorithms to analyse member behaviour on a granular level. This can uncover insights into member engagement, predict churn, and help tailor highly personalised experiences, ensuring that members receive content and opportunities that resonate deeply with their needs and interests.

Autonomous Drones for Live Event Coverage. Use autonomous drones like Mini -Hover Air X to provide live coverage of association events, capturing aerial footage and streaming it to members who cannot attend in person. This innovative use of technology can increase the reach and impact of association events.

Hosting Member Meetings in Virtual Reality (VR) Settings. Host member meetings and conferences in virtual reality environments like Meta’s Quest 2. This transformative approach can turn standard meetings into immersive experiences, allowing members to interact in a virtual space that simulates real-world interactions, enhancing engagement and participation.

Using Augmented Reality (AR) for Enhanced Learning and Networking. Incorporating AR to provide members with interactive learning experiences and networking opportunities. For example, AR can bring a new dimension to educational materials, making complex concepts easier to understand, or it can enhance networking events by providing real-time information about attendees. (My favourites are the very cool RayBan Meta Wayfarer Glasses).

Diving into operational adaptation, shouldn’t just be about tweaking what we do. It’s about reimaging how we could deliver a bigger positive impact on our purpose. It’s about dreaming big and then bringing those dreams to life.

Strategic Adaptation:

When associations pivot towards strategic adaptation in an AI-powered world, they’re essentially charting a course for the future that’s both bold and visionary. It’s about lifting the gaze from the day-to-day and asking, “Where can AI take us next?” This phase is about embracing AI not just as a tool for improvement but as a catalyst for transformation, influencing not just how we operate but who we are as associations.

Strategic adaptation means weaving AI into the very DNA of our purpose, vision, and values. It’s about foreseeing the potential shifts in our industry and society at large, driven by AI, and preparing to not just navigate but lead these changes. We start by asking deeper questions: How can AI redefine our relationships with members? Can AI help us tackle the grand challenges our members and their sectors face? How do we ensure that our use of AI aligns with our ethical standards and amplifies our commitment to inclusivity and diversity?

This journey requires us to innovate boldly, to experiment with AI-driven initiatives that may redefine our value proposition. Imagine leveraging AI to facilitate global collaborations among members that tackle pressing industry issues, or using AI to predict and shape future trends rather than just respond to them. It’s about deploying AI to not only predict member needs but to anticipate the future challenges of the industries we serve, positioning our association as a leader in the AI transformation journey.

Strategic adaptation is also about resilience and readiness. As AI evolves, so too will the challenges and opportunities it presents. This means staying agile, continuously learning, and being prepared to pivot strategies as new AI technologies emerge. It’s about building an association that doesn’t just use AI but is ready for whatever AI brings next.

In essence, strategic adaptation is our commitment to future-proofing our association. It’s a bold reimagining of what our association can be in an AI-driven future, ensuring we remain indispensable to our members and continue to thrive in a rapidly changing world. Here, AI is not just a tool but a transformative force that propels us towards a future where our association is more relevant, impactful, and innovative than ever before.

Sectoral Adaptation

While the individual, operational, and strategic adaption are about how the association adapts, sector adaptation is about how the association helps its members adapt.

The AI wave crashes differently on each shore, with some sectors basking in new efficiencies while others navigate the challenges of disruption. The impact will be quite different between industry and professional associations. Consider the following example:

An AI can read an Xray around 400% more effectively than a human. As a result, radiology manufacturers are embedding AI into their machines. This is great news for hospitals – they will achieve enhanced accuracy, better health outcomes for patients, and lower workforce costs as they will need fewer radiologists. The health industry will benefit. Yet the impact on the radiology profession could be dire.  

To effectively support the sectors they serve, associations must act on four fronts:

Understand Potential impact: Clarify the potential impact of AI and other variables on their sector.

Address Immediate Challenges: Identify ways to immediately support their sector. The most common action is working to enhance the AI skills and understanding of members.

Proactively Impact the Future: Identify the upcoming challenges and proactively address these. This could include action to drive appropriate regulation of AI.

Demonstrate Leadership: Harness your sector and lead the way in advancing compelling, collaborate, evidence-based solutions. 

“AI is an Everything, Everywhere, All at Once scenario.” Emad Mostaque, Stable Diffusion Founder and one of the founders of AI.

Together, Associations are Stronger.

Emad Mostaque makes it clear that the transition to an AI-driven world is a shared journey for associations globally. The challenges and opportunities of AI are not unique to any single association or sector. This journey is being shared by associations across the globe. This fact underscores the imperative for associations to act collectively. By sharing insights, resources, and strategies, associations can amplify their impact, crafting a future where technology serves humanity’s broadest goals.

In this world, the role of associations is more critical than ever. We’re not merely passengers on this journey; we are the navigators, charting the course for our members and the sectors we represent. The path forward is rich with potential, offering unprecedented opportunities for growth, innovation, and collaboration. Yet, it requires us to embrace change, to learn, adapt, and innovate.

The call to action for all associations is clear.

Start by familiarizing yourself and your teams with AI’s capabilities. Engage in practical AI training, explore new tools, and imagine the possibilities they unlock. But don’t stop at exploration. Implement these technologies with purpose, align them with your strategic objectives, and measure their impact.

Collaboration is our most potent tool. Share your successes and lessons learned with other associations. By pooling our knowledge and resources, we amplify our collective impact, navigating the challenges and seizing the opportunities AI presents together.

The future is not a distant horizon; it’s the next step we take, the next decision we make. Let’s move forward with intention, leveraging AI to not just meet our members’ needs but to anticipate them, to not just solve today’s challenges but to reimagine tomorrow.

Join us in embracing this AI revolution, not as a challenge to overcome, but as an opportunity to lead, innovate, and thrive. Together, we can ensure that our associations remain indispensable, now and in the future. Let’s embark on this transformative journey, not just to survive an AI-driven world, but to shape it, guide it, and lead by example.