Associations do not exist in a vacuum. To effectively deliver to their community or customers, associations must be accurate about the reality people face, and meet them where they are.

Reggie Henry, Chief Information and Engagement Officer at ASAE recently spoke to the Adage team about identifying association trends and proactively modifying their business to meet the changing world.

About Reggie Henry and ASAE

Henry’s role is to implement exemplary systems at ASAE that can serve as a model to the rest of the association community and to “ratchet-up” the use and understanding of technology among ASAE members.

Commonly referred to as “the association of associations”, ASAE is a membership organization of over 50,000 association executives, representing 7,400 organizations. 2020 marks their 100th year in business.

Logo for ASAE American: The Society of Association Executives

Henry says “relevant right now” education is one of the association’s biggest value-adds to its members, with ASAE holding 60 to 80 educational events during the year. To that end, the ASAE Research Foundation worked with a research team from Signature i and Foresight Alliance to create Drivers of Change, a document outlining the 50 most significant trends that will impact associations. This research seeks to help association leaders tackle changes affecting life and work.

Drivers of Change

“Three years ago, ASAE pulled together some futurists – both from inside the association community, and outside of the association community – and said, ‘Let’s look at what’s going on in society, let’s look at what’s going on in other industries, and figure out what we think are going to be the major drivers of change for the association community for the foreseeable future,’” explains Henry. The initial result was a list of 400 “drivers of change”, which were whittled down to the list of 50.

The final list includes things like:

  • Aging World
  • American Inequality
  • Big Data Segmentation
  • Empowered Women
  • Ethical Edge of Innovation
  • Fraying Cybersecurity
  • Human-Machine Cooperation
  • Personalized Artificial Intelligence
  • Re-Working Career Pathways
  • Taming Big Tech Dependency

In their PDF, each “change driver” is defined, then given context like how societal trends support it. A forecast section outlines the timing of when the driver is expected to fully surface, potential alternative futures, and strategic insights on action that can be taken to meet the change driver. Each driver gets a four-page brief.

Henry and ASAE think this context is critical in organizational decision-making. “It gives the associations [a view of] what’s going on in society about this particular driver of change, not just in the association community, that they should take into account when they’re preparing the organization’s future,” he says. “The idea for these drivers is for them to be taken back to the boards, taken back to the senior teams and eventually work all the way down their staffs to have them fully aware of how this driver should be affecting the association at all different levels.”

As the document reads: “Even though we know change is coming, how often are we able to establish routines of scanning for changes that will affect our lives and our work? How can we identify and prioritize the changes we need to respond to now and in the future?”

As Henry points out, “The effects of COVID-19 forced us all to be different organizations, forced us all to learn how to work remotely, forced us all to do things virtually.” In short, no one is a stranger to change right now, and Drivers of Change aims to proactively prepare ASAE’s members for our changing world.

So what are some of the most interesting trends ASAE has their eye on? Here are four realities that could reshape political, financial and social priorities for associations.

Video call with two people

1. Working Remotely

“I think we finally get that work is not a place. And we should’ve gotten that a long time ago,” says Henry. “We can’t go back to the way we used to do things. I think remote work is here to stay.” He notes that most associations have a revamped work from home policy, but it doesn’t stop there. Associations are rethinking their real estate holdings, holding virtual board meetings and even virtual conferences. Organizations must have a strategy for a world increasingly relying on hybrid (live and virtual) options.

2. Shift from AMS-centric to API-centric

Fueled by the SaaS product model, Henry says most associations have at least 25 to 30 percent of their tech stacks in some SaaS model. “I don’t even call it infrastructure anymore, I call it outfrastructure because most of it is not on premise,” he jokes. The largest benefits with API-centric products are flexibility. Associations can add modules without disrupting the entire system, they can manage things like events in a system built exactly for that, and peripheral systems engage members where they are. Expect to see more “best-in-breed” amalgamations taking on a variety of tasks, leaving the AMS to manage just people/organization records.

Digital Strategies for Associations

3. Increase Data Democratization

As more associations adopt data analytics, they will need to increase access to that data for their organization. Henry says data empowers employees at all levels to make better decisions. “The change in decision-making, and the speed at which decisions are made, and the thoroughness of those decisions has gone up at least 25 to 30 percent in the last year,” he says, noting associations must shift away from “data hoarding”. Sharing data – or rather democratizing it – protects organizations from becoming top-down entities. Self-serve analytics allow all employees to make easier, more informed decisions.

4. More Easily Consumable Content

“Associations at their core are content organizations,” says Henry, “… if we don’t get it in our heads that the content that we produce for our members has to be differentiated enough that our members see value in it, then we are going to fail.” Drivers of Change recognizes that professionals will need to continually learn, but want bite-sized, specific bursts of information tied to immediate job demands, available at a time of their choosing. Associations need to create content to fit this “microlearning” style, which may be hard as Henry notes “I think we’re competing against our legacies right now in a way most associations haven’t accepted yet.”

Learn More about Drivers of Change

To view ASAE’s entire list of change drivers (and brief summaries of each) check out the Drivers of Change: Summaries and Forecasts. For those looking for the detailed version, organizations can purchase the entire set of 50 or buy the four-page summaries a la carte. Henry says they’ve been priced so that any association can afford to look through the list of drivers, and purchase the four or five highest priority drivers for their organization.

Stay in-the-know by subscribing to Adage communications.

We’ll share industry insights, events, how-tos and more.