The Future of Associations



‘Technology can make life profoundly better for associations once they address the five most common reasons for resisting it,’ says Lloyd Grosse of Internet Vision Technologies (Association Online) who has worked with dozens of associations to transform their member services.

The top three resisters of modern cloud-based solutions are associations who feel their members are not technology savvy, staff or management who are technologically afraid and those who want to embrace technology but have no money. The second resisters are those who have already spent heavily on server-based legacy systems and are scared to scrap such a large investment and daunted by managing the change. The third are those with partly integrated technology across departments and are trying to make do.

Technology solutions are designed to reduce the administrative burden so that associations are not bound by it. The problem is that associations generally don’t like to fund administration. Integrated systems allow for an association to grow without the strain of an expediential administrative burden. Staff employed to do more events or recruit and retain members can find that the successes they achieve can result in them getting swamped by more and more administration. Paradoxically, wanting to avoid administration can create the very bureaucracy associations are looking to avoid. Technology can create structural efficiencies by moving everything online with an automated system that does all the thinking itself in line with an association’s needs, both as a best practice generalist solution and customised individual options where required.

Any fear around whether members are ready for technology or staff are capable of handling it can be mitigated by the knowledge that digital transformation is already here and growing. The simple truth is that associations will be left behind if they don’t embrace technology and change. However, caution is still required. Nothing beats due diligence, and getting real references from others who have used a system being recommended to you is critical. An even better way to mitigate risk is to engage with an established, trusted system that is already being used by other associations, who are similar to yours. If the technology has worked for so many others it means you can make yours work too. This creates a technology or software community in your sector, so that your organisation is not exposed alone.

Ultimately, most of the processes shared by associations are the same. After all, the process around membership acquisition is the same, even if membership benefits or prices are different. The process around event management is essentially the same, even if the topics, speakers, delegates or exhibitors are different. The same is true of education, payment systems, marketing, engagement, content management and every other aspect of professional association management. The message is you are not unique. No matter how different you think your association is, it isn’t. There is nothing that any association can say about their individual needs that couldn’t be translated into universal association best practice and solutions – which is why technology works so well in transforming organisations for the future.

Cost should not be a deal breaker either. The cost-benefit analysis is always about value, not price. Say that an entry level standard association system costs $20,000. Amortised over three years, this reduces to less than $7,000. Comparing this against the cost and time savings for existing staff productivity is one way to assess the return on investment. Another is to estimate the opportunity cost of the growth inhibited by the current system, and how the technology can be leveraged to increase income and member engagement.

However, technology still requires a leap of faith. Associations require a technology partner that understands them well enough and also has the modules to cover growth for the future. Test, test, test is the motto. And don’t push the go button until you are 100% confident, by seeing a live test site and fully testing it like an outsider.

There are no more valid reasons for any association not to embrace technology. The efficiencies technology provides in making life easier for associations far outweigh any possible resistance to it. In today’s hyper connected network economy, technology is no longer an option. It is a fundamental requirement for association best practice.

About the author:-
Omer Soker is an association futurist and strategist based in Sydney, who advises association leaders with strategies for effective and sustainable growth.

Omer Soker was a Program Speaker at the PCO Association conference 2016

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