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?
|Resistance to Change||39%|
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?
|Changing Member Needs||50%|
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?
|Mission & Vision||43%||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?
|Other Board Members||69%||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?
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?
|Annual Operating Plan||42%||58%|
|Mission & Vision||39%||61%|
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?
|Achieving Mission & Vision||62%||38%|
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.
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