Survey Highlights

The Associations Research Survey was conducted specifically for the publication of The Future of Associations to gain direct feedback from association professionals about the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats facing the sector.

The full methodology, questionnaire and responses are highlighted in the Appendix of the book, and a short summary of the questions, insights and trends identified by the survey is provided below. Solutions to these challenges are discussed in each of the six chapters in this book.

To highlight key trends, the data has been grouped together with the heading ‘Poor’ including responses of none, poor and mediocre, and ‘Good’ including good and excellent.

Associations Research Survey

Q. What are the biggest threats to your association in the future?

Insufficient Resources77%
Board Capability41%
Traditional Mindsets40%
Resistance to Change39%
Member Expectations39%
Conflicting Priorities37%
Governance Structure26%
Staff Capability24%
Unclear Objectives21%
Bureaucratic Processes20%
Commercial Difficulties18%

The survey identified the challenges holding associations back from peak performance. Unsurprisingly, Insufficient Resources ranked highest but the next three challenges were all controllable factors around skillsets, capacity and culture: Board Capability, Traditional Mindsets and Resistance to Change. This suggests that associations need to look inward for solutions to their biggest challenges.

Board Capability is the second biggest problem, and yet there is immense pressure on boards to develop the skillsets and decision making capability to navigate into the future. Adding to this challenge, a quarter of associations have raised Governance Structure as an issue. Traditional mindsets are also entrenched in many associations, which can inhibit progress towards the future. Member Expectations are changing fast, in line with market changes, and yet resistance to change is still embedded strongly.

Q. What are the biggest challenges in running your association?

Government Funding/Policy 56%
Changing Member Needs50%
Increasing Competition36%
Systemic Change22%
Market Consolidation21%
Digital Disruption19%
Sector Specialisation18%

Government Funding/Policy and Changing Member Needs ranked as the two biggest future threats, followed closely by Increasing Competition with virtually all associations affected by one of these.

The uncertainty of future Government Funding/Policy may reflect long-term policy being undermined by short-term politics. Changing Member Needs is a constant reminder that associations must continually change and evolve if they are to remain relevant. Increasing Competition raises important questions – such as who are the new competitors undermining traditional membership offerings, and what needs to be done to compete effectively with them on quality, speed and price.

Systemic Change reflects that the fundamental way markets and members operate has changed. Market Consolidation is self-explanatory, and this trend is accompanied by increasing Sector Segmentation as new emerging segments fight for relevance and market share. Digital Disruption may be an overused term, but the change that occurs when new digital business models accelerate transparency, competition and choice cannot be underestimated.  It necessarily affects the value proposition of existing association services.

Q. How much change or disruption is your association facing within your sector?


Associations unanimously agree that change is here. None disagree and 48% reported the extent of disruption they faced as High or Extreme, with another 42% reporting Moderate Disruption.

The question is what to do about it? This is the core premise answered by this book.

Q. How well does your association perform in the following areas?

Commercial Growth81%19%
Managing Change64%36%
Member Needs51%49%
Market/Sector Needs52%48%
Future Focus52%48%
Mission & Vision43%57%

Commercial Growth, Innovation and Managing Change ranked as the three worst aspects of association performance. Chapter 4 of this book on External Strategy focuses on how associations can compete more commercially, innovate for growth and better engage members.

Q. How capable are your association’s employees in the following areas?


Association employees ranked highest on Passion and Teamwork, but lowest on Innovation, Adaptability, Engagement, Transparency and Accountability. One of the challenges for associations is how to convert all the employee passion and activity into accountability and measurable outcomes. Another is how to foster innovation and adaptability to change amongst staff. Chapter 5 on Internal Alignment looks at these in detail.

Q. How capable is your board in the following areas?

Vice President49%51%
Nonprofit Governance56%44%
Strategic Management66%34%
Risk Management67%33%
Other Board Members69%31%

Association Chairs ranked highest on Capability, with 55% rated Excellent or Good, but Board Capability on Strategic Leadership and Risk Management was low, with 66% and 67% of boards respectively rated as either Poor or Mediocre. Chapter 3 on Good Governance highlights how associations can optimise board structure and build board capacity.

Q. Why do individuals volunteer their time on nonprofit boards?

Personal Gain35%

Most individuals are motivated by a sense of Contribution and Community/Belonging to join volunteer association boards. However, the motivations of almost half are perceived as driven by Prestige/Status and a third by Personal Gain. As motivations can underpin performance, effective boards will do well to attract the most talented individual directors joining for the right reasons – to help the association, not themselves. Chapter 3 also elaborates on the board’s skills matrix.

Q. How measurable, specific or defined are your association objectives?

Board Performance78%22%
Your Performance50%50%
Staff Performance47%53%
Annual Operating Plan42%58%
Mission & Vision39%61%
Strategic Goals36%64%

Individual accountability lags behind organisational accountability in associations, with boards having the least measurable objectives. Chapter 2 on Mission & Vision highlights the critical nature of clearly defined objectives, while Chapter 5 on Internal Alignment addresses the importance of accountability across employees, managers and directors in driving performance.

Q. How confident are you in the future of your association in the following areas?

Commercial Growth82%18%
Financial Sustainability77%23%
Overcoming Threats71%29%
Handling Disruption70%30%
Maintaining Relevance62%38%
Achieving Mission & Vision62%38%
Outperforming Competitors57%43%

Associations are most worried about Commercial Growth, Financial Sustainability and Overcoming Threats which are all critical areas that dictate future relevance. This is the core premise of The Future of Associations – that there is a crisis facing associations, underpinning a need for a roadmap to progress, change and influence.


Chapter 1

¹ Riesterer, E. P. (2011). Conversations That Win The Complex Sale. USA: Mc-Graw Hill.

² Aston, H. (2015, November 8). The ‘institute’ with no members embarrasses Senate committee. Retrieved from Sydney Morning Herald: http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/the-institute-with-no-members-embarrasses-senate-committee-20151029-gkm71n.html

Chapter 3

¹ McKinsey & Company. (2016, February). Toward a value-creating board. Retrieved August 23, 2016, from McKinsey & Company: http://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/strategy-and-corporate-finance/our-insights/toward-a-value-creating-board

² Australian Institute of Company Directors. (2013). Ten principles that promote good governance. Retrieved September 15, 2016, from Australian Institute of Company Directors: http://www.companydirectors.com.au/~/media/b42bd5b5ca1445f582bb96adac752325.ashx

Chapter 4

¹ ABC. (2016, January 18). Masters: The rise and fall of Woolworths’ entry into home improvement. Retrieved from ABC News: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-01-18/timeline-the-rise-and-fall-of-masters-hardware/7095438

² Mitchell, P. H. (2016, January 18). Wesfarmers takes Bunnings to the UK. Retrieved from The Sydney Morning Herald: http://www.smh.com.au/business/retail/wesfarmers-buys-homebase-for-705-million-20160117-gm7xgv.html

³ Knight, E. (2016, June 26). Woolworths v Coles – the report card is in. Retrieved from The Sydney Morning Herald: http://www.smh.com.au/business/comment-and-analysis/woolworths-report-card–plenty-of-room-for-improvement-20150625-ghxo9q.html

¹¹ Estrin, J. (2015, August 14). In 1975, this Kodak employee invented the digital camera. His bosses made him hide it. Retrieved June 16, 2016, from Financial Review: http://www.afr.com/technology/in-1975-this-kodak-employee-invented-the-digital-camera-his-bosses-made-him-hide-it-20150813-k9zo8

Chapter 5

¹ Deloitte. (2014, October 24). Rules eat up $250 billion a year in profit and productivity. Retrieved September 7, 2016, from Deloitte: http://www2.deloitte.com/au/en/pages/media-releases/articles/rules-eat-up-250-billion-a-year-271014.html

² Anastasia. (2015, June 24). Understanding the Kubler-Ross Change Curve. Retrieved September 12, 2016, from Cleverism 2016: https://www.cleverism.com/understanding-kubler-ross-change-curve/

³ Janssen, C. (n.d.). Four Rooms of Change Theory. Retrieved September 12, 2016, from Four Rooms of Change: http://www.fourroomsofchange.com.au/index-business.php