What will your association workforce and membership look like in 2020? Stevens & Stevens is seeing some important trends we believe will shape your association environment between now and the year 2020. We have identified these trends based on working with approximately 100 associations each year on their marketing, communications and website/database programming. The types of projects we see provide insight into the future, as do the conversations with the associations' staff and volunteers.
First, let me offer a disclaimer: macro events such as a recession can foil even the best predictions. But if 20/20 vision refers to “normal," not necessarily “perfect,” vision, I feel comfortable making a few predictions about association staffs and their memberships between now and 2020:
- Everyone will stop worrying about Millennials. There has been much worry and angst about the attitudes and abilities of Millennials, those born between 1981 and 1998. Four years from now, no one will remember what they were worried about. There are two reasons for this: 1) the Millennials will be more experienced, and wiser, as happens with everyone as they age; and 2) the Millennials will be in key leadership positions both in our associations and in member companies, so they will be setting the standards for what is “correct.”
- Turnover will be rapid, and not always positive. Association retirements will have increased rapidly as the Baby Boomers see sustained growth in their retirement accounts, and turnover in top association positions will be rapid. Part of this will be due to the retirements, and part will be due to the failure of those moving into those positions, e.g. some will fail. It’s difficult to be a great membership manager. It’s even more difficult to be a great executive director. With turnover occurring rapidly, some people will be moved into positions before they are truly ready. Training will be paramount to success, so let your board know you need to start training now to make for successful transitions later.
- Membership benefits will be fewer but more relevant. One recent study suggests those early in their career want "job opportunities," while those later in their career want "industry information." The differences in this study were small enough that they might not be statistically valid, but the principle is worth exploring. We have often found that members join and renew for just one or two reasons, but those reasons do change significantly during the course of their careers.
- Members will want 24/7 access to you, but not vice versa. As connected, mobile professionals, we are seemingly available all day, even on vacation. But there will be a pushback as people become overwhelmed. This won’t be a two-way street, however: Members will want to access services 24 hours per day, but they won’t want you to interrupt them. That is a real problem because your staff will also be pushing back—they will want to have personal lives, too. The solution: your association will require more automation and artificial intelligence (AI). We’ve barely scratched the surface on AI, but if our programming and database projects are any indication, it’s a great opportunity to make your association more useful while requiring less work by your staff.
- Information, no. Exclusive information, yes. Associations are great at churning out lots of meetings, webinars and articles. But as ex-CEO Eric Schmidt of Google remarked, "Between the birth of the world and 2003, there were five exabytes of information created. We [now] create five exabytes every two days.” By 2020, members won’t want your association to add to their information overload. However, they will truly value information they absolutely cannot find anywhere else. This is no small hurdle for associations, as it puts you in the information creation business. Plan your future meetings with this in mind: If your member can instantaneously find information that is reasonably similar to your meeting topic, why should they travel to your event?
Will all of these predictions come true? Certainly, 20/20 isn’t “perfect” vision, but I think these predictions will be close. If nothing else, this is an important set of topics to run past your board, keeping them focused on the future of your association.