Association Trends to Watch in 2023

As the association sector continues to evolve, it is important for CEOs and Boards to stay abreast of the latest trends and understand how they can impact their organisation. Here are a few that are particularly relevant at the moment:

The rise of virtual events.

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact the way we do business, virtual events have become an increasingly popular alternative to in-person events. This trend is likely to continue into 2023 and beyond, with many associations opting to host their conferences, meetings, and other events online.

Increased focus on sustainability.

Sustainability has long been an important issue, but it is becoming increasingly critical as the impacts of climate change become more evident. In 2023, it is likely that associations will be under pressure to demonstrate their commitment to sustainability and to take steps to reduce their environmental impact.

The importance of digital transformation.

In the digital age, it is more important than ever for associations to have a strong online presence and to be able to communicate effectively with members through digital channels. In 2023, it is likely that associations that fail to embrace digital transformation will struggle to keep pace with their competitors.

The rise of artificial intelligence and automation.

Artificial intelligence and automation are changing the way we work and are likely to continue to do so in 2023. While these technologies have the potential to streamline processes and improve efficiency, they also have the potential to disrupt industries and displace jobs.

The need for diversity and inclusion.

In recent years, there has been an increased focus on diversity and inclusion within the association sector, and this trend is likely to continue in 2023. Associations that fail to prioritise diversity and inclusion may struggle to attract and retain members and may face reputational risks.

The role of data and analytics.

Data and analytics are becoming increasingly important in the association sector, as they can help organisations make informed decisions and better understand the needs and preferences of their members. In 2023, it is likely that associations that fail to effectively utilise data and analytics will struggle to keep pace with their competitors.

The need for flexibility and agility.

In a rapidly changing world, it is important for associations to be flexible and agile to respond to new challenges and opportunities. In 2023, it is likely that associations will need to be prepared to adapt quickly to changes in the market, technology, and regulatory environment.

As the association sector continues to evolve, it is important associations to stay up-to-date with the latest trends and be proactive in adapting to these changes to better position themselves for success in 2023 and beyond.

If you need a briefing on associations for your board or a facilitator to ensure the success of your next strategic planning process, please contact Belinda Moore.

JOURNAL: Associations Evolve: 2023 & Beyond Journal Released

We are excited to announce the release of Associations Evolve: 2023 & Beyond Journal, a compilation of articles from over 50 association thought leaders from around the globe.

This journal offers a unique perspective on the future of associations and the role they will play in shaping industries and communities. From innovative ideas for growth and sustainability to strategies for adapting to changing environments, the articles in this journal provide valuable insights and inspiration for association professionals.

As the association landscape continues to evolve, it is important for professionals to stay informed and stay ahead of the curve. The Associations Evolve: 2023 & Beyond Journal is a must-read for anyone looking to drive positive change and impact within their organisation. Get your copy today and join the conversation on the future of associations.

Post-COVID Association Trends

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.

What does the war in Ukraine mean for associations?

It is usually nations who are the main actors in the theatre of war. Corporations generally take on a supporting role – such as when Steinway & Sons dropped pianos to troops during World War 2

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 openly harnessing their power to create an powerful impact. Many of these are doing so by following the principles of the Environmental, Social, and Corporate Governance (ESG) approach. This movement is only getting stronger.

So what does this mean for associations?

There is an increasing expectation that associations expand their outlook beyond just “creating value for members”. 

This isn’t about conforming to a trend. It’s about survival. The younger generation are the future leaders, staff, and members of our associations. And, overwhelmingly, younger people want to align with organisations who embrace ESG principles.

If your association isn’t going to deliver, they will happily look to another who will. Or start their own.

Strategic planning needs to catch up – and quickly. Don’t start your strategic planning process by looking at the past. And not by looking at the present. Instead start by getting excited about the future. Explore the possibilities by asking “What powerfully positive impact could we create for our team, our members, our sector, and the world?“. 

And think big! Associations are well placed to harness the latent power of the large communities they nurture. The potential is enormous. Are you making the most of yours?

I will be attending the Association Leaders Exchanges in Melbourne and Sydney later this month where I look forward to robust conversations about this and a range of other issues affecting associations. I hope to see you there.

JOURNAL: Associations Evolve: 2022 & Beyond

Forty-six association experts from around the world have collaborated to produce a collection of articles showcasing contemporary thinking on governance, membership, revenue, events, and much more.

This is a great resource for those looking for inspiration and motivation to make 2022 your best year ever. It makes great holiday reading for those who are feeling particularly enthusiastic (tip: this publication pairs well with red wine and cheese).


Download “Associations Evolve: 2022 & Beyond”


This publication is part of our Associations Evolve project which looks for ways to help associations to thrive into the future. 

Thanks to Beau Cummin from Visual Traffic for his fabulous work designing this publication, Northern Territory Business Events for their great support of this project, and all our wonderful contributors.  

We hope you will find this collection of articles from experts in the association space as informative, inspiring, and motivating as we did. 

All the best for a fun and relaxing break over the festive period. I hope you arrive back at work refreshed and ready for an awesome 2022.

Warm regards,
Belinda 

WEBINAR: How to Create a Strategic Plan that Really Works

A great strategic plan conveys a compelling shared vision of the future of your association – as well as a clear pathway to get there. It is a fabulous tool for motivating your Board, staff, members, and other stakeholders. It also ensures your strategy creates a tangible and long-lasting positive impact. For more than 25 years, Belinda has been refining a process for association strategic planning. In this session, she will share her bespoke process and provide you with all the information you need to run the most successful strategic planning session ever. This session is great for those wanting the insights necessary to run their own plan, or those seeking to better understand modern strategic planning processes so they can better direct their facilitator.

Click here to Watch the Webinar.

Click here to Download the Slides.

ARTICLE: COVID-19: A Catalyst for Positive Change

Associations are a critical element of a successful democratic process. They are a useful mechanism for people to act collectively to achieve shared goals. The specific goals vary from association to association but include outcomes such as:

  • Proactively influencing their legislative landscape.
  • Accessing services and support specific to the needs of the collective.
  • Enhancing the skill and education of people within the collective.
  • Connecting with the rest of the collective community for mutual benefit.
  • Advancing a positive impact on a cause shared by the collective.
  • Delivering or facilitating services on behalf of the collective.

For this reason, a strong association sector has a direct impact on the success of the economy as well as the livelihood and well-being of many Australians. It is important that associations themselves are strong so they can continue to nurture the professions, industries, and causes that will drive the recovery and help those affected.

Yet many of these organisations were already struggling prior to the advent of the COVID-19 crisis.

Over the past 15 years our society has been transforming in ways that have fundamentally altered the operating landscape of associations. The rapid evolution of technology, the fragmentation of communication, and major generational shifts to name just a few. 

Prior to the crisis there was already a desperate need for associations to innovate – not just to thrive but to survive.

Unfortunately, many associations have been hindered by internal inertia, legacy issues, and change-resistant organisational cultures. The fundamental changes required were stymied and many associations were already struggling to varying degrees. As associations started to lose sight of their core purpose – and how to fulfil this – competitors began moving in to fill the emerging gaps that associations were not nimble enough to fil. 

The COVID-19 crisis created a catalyst for change that could not be ignored.

For many associations, the crisis has provided an opportunity to rapidly overcome internal or perceived barriers and create fundamental positive change within their organisations that will enable them to create a much higher level of positive impact on their members into the future.

The idea that the long-term impact of this crisis will be positive for the association sector is backed up by new research.

A comprehensive report on the current and future impact of the COVID-19 crisis on the association sector found more than 50% of the 426 associations surveyed believed the impact would be positive over the medium to longer term.

Many respondents reported they were already seeing positive results due to the significant innovation required by associations to adapt.

COVID-19 has been an opportunity for associations to gain a clarity of purpose that has enabled many to quickly enhance their relevance to members.

While not all associations will survive this crisis, those who have taken the opportunity to adapt will emerge stronger and better positioned to create a positive impact on members than ever before. 

Other findings include:

  • There will be permanent changes in the way associations run their events with a significant shift to hybrid and online events, as well as changes to the way face-to-face events run.
  • Many reported their virtual and hybrid AGMs were more successful than their previous face-to-face meetings and they would now be looking to retain that format into the future.
  • A skilled leadership and staff team, supported by a nimble organisational culture, were the three most powerful contributing factors to an associations’ ability to navigate the crisis effectively.
  • There is a permanent shift to remote working models with only 10% of respondents intending to revert to how things operated previously. The vast majority indicated they would be more amendable to working from home arrangements in future. 4% of those surveyed said the shift to working from home would be permanent and they would not be returning to the office.
  • Associations operating in industries and professionals badly affected by the crisis are expecting a negative impact on member retention this year.
  • Despite most associations having reserves sufficient for at least 3 months, Jobkeeper was an important factor in the ability of associations to adapt during the crisis. Many respondents are concerned about the impact of the removal of Jobkeeper on their members, the economy, and their associations.

You can download a full copy of this free research report at http://associationsbeyondcovid.com/

RESEARCH: COVID-19 and Beyond: Lessons for Associations from the COVID-19 Crisis

426 associations participated in this comprehensive research project that provides insight into the current and future impact of the COVID-19 crisis on associations. Learn what associations did, what they learned, and what insights we need to integrate into our future planning processes. The report includes a “what did we learn” section to enable you to gain a quick overview of what you need to know when planning for the future.

Download your PDF copy at COVID-19 and Beyond: Lessons for Associations from the COVID-19 Crisis Report.

Click here to Watch the Webinar Here.

Click here to Download the Slides to go with the webinar.

WHITEPAPER – Rise! Empowering Australian workers through the collective spirit and collaborative energy of unions.

This pandemic crisis will gravely impact the health and livelihoods of many. However, it also creates the need to build union capacities even more pressing. This paper, written by Belinda Moore and Chris Walton, explores the current landscape for unions in Australia and outlines innovative pathways forward for unions to more effectively empower Australian workers.

Download the whitepaper

Watch the presentation

Online Community for Association Professionals

A new community for association professionals has launched at www.answers.net.au.

With an interface similar to Facebook, this site is a collaborative effort by the association community to develop a piece of software that will enable associations to build better online member communities.

By creating a site that meets the needs of association professionals, we are also creating a piece of software that will suit the needs of their members.

This site already has a number of innovative features. For example, any site participant can connect to the payment gateway (in about 1 minute) and generate income through the site (eg: by running their own events, selling resources, selling products).

Soft launched in late April 2020, there has been strong feedback and engagement from the over 400 association professionals already on the platform. As a result, after you log-in, you will see a lot of new features and functionality going live each week.

We recommend heading across to www.answers.net.au and taking a look for yourself 🙂