In this blog post, AMR outlines the strategic planning process his company used to uncover trends that associations need to tackle now.
Recently we published the first of a three-part series on emerging trends within the association community. As previously outlined, AMR’s research was based on the outcomes of several strategic planning sessions conducted by our firm over a twelve-month period. Our sampling included data from facilitated sessions involving a diverse set of clients. Some were self-managed while others were AMC-managed and they represented an array of industries and organizational types including federations, healthcare societies and professional member societies.
In this post we’ll look at two of the four dominant trends found within all six of the organizations and explore what these trends mean to the greater association community.
The beauty of our discovery is that while these organizations were so incredibly different, their focus, goals, concerns and vision for the future indicated very similar concerns. Collectively the concerns (themes) that emerged fell into six overarching concepts that began to suggest a pattern within the nonprofit space. While goals and strategies that formed these trends were never exactly alike, and while some interpretive freedom was used in generating this cross-section analysis, the essence of each theme was definitely present.
The most prominent and perhaps the most interesting of the six themes includes the concept of a connected culture and the notion of revisiting the purpose of the organization.
Connected Culture – There is no disputing that we are all very much a part of a connected culture. In fact, if associations are created to support, if not reflect, social, political and economic movements then the arrival of the Sharing Economy Association Singapore certainly supports the fact that this is more than a movement; it’s now a part of the way we work. However, because associations have been knee deep in working through other challenges (outdated infrastructures, disappearing sponsorships, a decline in membership, social networks, etc.) they’ve been slow to incorporate consecutiveness into their culture. This is counter to the way individuals and now organizations conduct business and is causing major engagement issues for nonprofits Fortunately, this appears to be changing.
Five of the six organizations we worked with listed a variation of connectivity, collaboration and the impact on its culture as a top priority over the next 12 to 24 months. Included in their discussions, goals and strategies were several supporting drivers including inclusiveness, collaboration and partnerships, an emphasis on a more proactive approach to a diversified membership (affiliates included), cross-industry representation, a connected membership and inter-discipline engagement. Examples of supporting goal statements can be found below.
Purpose - Another theme that emerged across several organizations was an inquiry into what we’ll refer to as “organizational purpose” or a general interest and feeling of working toward a renewed sense of purpose. In our ever-changing, technologically driven and fast-paced world, individuals and organizations alike are constantly seeking, defining and redefining purpose. In “From Purpose to Impact,” Nick Craig and Scott Snook wrote: “Academics argue persuasively that an executive’s most important role is to be a steward of the organization’s purpose. Business experts make the case that purpose is a key to exceptional performance, while psychologists describe it as the pathway to greater well-being.”ii If we accept this to be true then it’s easy to see why our leaders are invested in identifying and solidifying their organization’s core purpose (which may or may not have changed as a result of market changes.) As leaders, it is safe to assume they want to make sure there is clarity around purpose.
More recently, the Harvard Business Review published an interesting article on the Mark Zuckerberg’s commitment to purpose iii and how that commitment transforms Facebook; while another in Association’s Now describes how the American Association for Cardiovascular and Pulmonary Rehabilitation used focus to drive membership.iv
Some statements used by these organizations included:
- As one of its three goals one organization simply wrote – “To clarify the purpose of our organization.” It’s supporting strategies included a focus on gaining a better understanding of what the organization meant to all of its stakeholders, properly contextualizing the history of the organization and redefining its mission to ensure that it aligned with its new (and contemporary) goals.
- Clarity: To clearly define our purpose and role within inter-professional healthcare.
- To identify, build and clearly communicate the (purpose and) value of our brand to our community.
As the pace of change continues to grow exponentially, every type of organization will be forced to adjust in order to keep up. Nonprofits will be forced to continually adapt and, in many cases, redefine their organizational structures, member offerings, business systems and even purpose. Nonprofits are now perhaps more susceptible to market shifts than ever and require support, strategy and guidance through our ever-changing environment.
i The Sharing Economy Association (Singapore) is a business association for companies and organisations involved in the sharing economy, which refers to an emerging economic model of sharing of physical and non-physical resources that is empowered by technology, peer-to-peer and social networks. Sharing also covers renting, swapping, lending and gifting.
ii “From Purpose to Impact,” Nick Craig and Scott Snook.
iv How a Sharpened Focus on Mission Upped Revenue, Membership