Post-COVID Association Trends

Oct 30, 2023

Since COVID began, the pace of change in associations has accelerated. I’ve been documenting these shifts and here are the 11 major shifts I’ve noted so far …

1. The Pace Of Change Isn’t Slowing.

Associations had to make significant changes when COVID struck. Necessary shortcuts were taken. They are now working to ensure the foundations to support these changes are in place. A classic example of this are events … 

2. How We Run Events Has Changed.

When COVID hit, associations recreated their face-to-face events in online formats. While this was great as a stopgap, it became evident that online events are not a direct replacement for face-to-face. Online events are a different beast. Combining both formats creates an opportunity to deliver greater value to members. Associations are updating their event calendars to capitalise on this.

3. Focus on Fostering Engaged Communities.

The idea of building online communities is appealing, but the reality is often challenging to execute. Building sustained momentum within an online community takes considerable skill, resources, and focus. Associations are making significant investments in specialist staffing, training, and technology to ensure success.

4. Adaption to Changing Community Lifestyles, Habits, and Preferences.

COVID has caused people to reassess their lives. Work from home opportunities have enabled people to relocate outside capital cities. The crisis has precipitated significant shifts in habits, lifestyles, and engagement preferences. This affects how members engage with all touchpoints including events, training, conferences, publications, online communities, and communications. Associations are reviewing touchpoints to ensure they align with these changes.

5.    Competition Is More Intense.

Associations are experiencing the erosion of their value proposition. Competition is coming from for-profit companies, other associations, and informal groups. Competitors may compete with some or all products the association offers. Associations are overcoming this “death by 1000 cuts” by focusing where they can deliver the most powerful impact. They are also using collaboration and partnerships to gain (or maintain) a more secure position.

6.    Embracing Technology – Partnering In Development.

Great technology enables personalised member experience, easy-to-access interfaces, streamlined internal operations, and productive workplaces. The demand by associations for great technology has accelerated the pace of technological development and adoption. Association specialist technology providers are racing to keep up with the demand for more innovative solutions. Forward thinking associations are working closely with industry software developers to ensure the solutions are fit-for-purpose.

7.    Our People Are Change Fatigued.

 Association staff put in a herculean effort to adapt their organisations to the COVID landscape. They achieved amazing things in the face of relentless change and constant uncertainty. Most are now change fatigued. Mental health challenges and burnout are a real risk. More associations are adapting their planning and expectations to protect the mental health of their teams. As one client put it, “our main challenge this year is not to break our team.”

8.    Workplaces are Changing To Attract And Retain Quality Staff. 

People are leaving their roles in droves. There is huge competition to attract and retain the best quality staff. There is an active drive by associations to secure their organisation in a competitive labour market. Associations are creating more flexible, purpose-orientated workplaces. They are driving innovations to increase productivity and staff satisfaction.

9.    Younger People Are Driving Product Innovation.

Gen Z is now part of the workforce and Gen Y are already heading into leadership pathways. The drive to innovate to attract these people is more intense than ever. This urgency is driving innovations in value creation, service delivery, and leadership pathway development. Associations are getting better at balancing the need to engage younger generations while also continuing to serve the older generation. And often finding these innovations appeal to the older demographic as well.

10. Rise Of the Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) approach.

The war in Ukraine represents a significant shift. For the first time companies are acting on a large scale to influence an outcome. By collectively withdrawing their business from Russia they are dealing significant blow to the Russian economy – and the Russian war effort.  Companies are harnessing their power to create an powerful impact. This reflects the growing popularity of the Environmental, Social, and Corporate Governance (ESG) approach. The expectations of companies, their staff, and the public have changed. Progressive associations have recognised this trend and are expanding their outlook beyond only “creating value for members”. 

11. Better Alignment Of Operating Models To Purpose.

Many associations use very traditional business models that are not suited for the contemporary operating landscape. Associations are now better aligning their operating models to better achieve their purpose. Associations are reviewing membership models (not just fiddling with member categories), volunteering pathways, and component frameworks (special interest groups, branches, etc). As more of these long-term projects launch, we will see a transformation in the shape of associations around the globe.