And how does association management adapt? As the European Commission says, associations exist to “promote the trade or professional interests of their members”. But what does that mean in the modern landscape?
“Associations are highly valuable, hard-working, and selfless organisations that would move mountains for their members.”
If you Google “what is the role of an association”, one of the top results* will tell you, “Associations are highly valuable, hard-working, and selfless organisations that would move mountains for their members.” Our association management team keeps this sentiment at the heart of every decision they make. *(results might vary on your browser)
In this article, we will explore how demands have changed over time for associations, how associations can deliver value for their members, and what the job of a modern association truly is.
How have demands on associations changed over time?
Any association member nearing retirement today is likely to have a drastically different requirement for their membership now compared to when they were at the early stage of their career. The demands on associations and the expectations from their members have been significantly altered by socioeconomic factors, technological advances, and cultural changes.
Members have less ‘spare’ time
As technology has advanced, professionals have less ‘spare’ time in their working lives since they can instantly respond to emails and check in on work – even while out of the office or travelling. While this would, in theory, enable professionals to be more productive and have more time to spend on things other than work, these advancements have developed a culture of ‘always-on’ working that, in reality, makes people feel as though they have even less spare time than before.
Associations have had to respond by ensuring they have a strong enough proposition that professionals see the value in spending their already-limited time with the organisation. Many associations have also explored ways to deliver value through shorter time commitments (for example, through more transient online events and self-led learning materials).
Members expect 24/7 engagement
Technological advancements have also led to a greater level of digital connection through, e.g. community platforms, social media, websites, and emails. While historically, associations would have engaged with their members rather sporadically through in-person events and physical marketing materials, they are now expected to be accessible and engaged with their members all the time.
Read more: The importance of developing a community
Research is more accessible
The internet is one of the first places many professionals will turn to when looking to learn more about a topic or development. In-person seminars and lectures are no longer the only way for medical professionals to access the latest research. New research is shared daily online, meaning that associations that historically attracted members by hosting educational events have had to work harder to deliver educational value. There is more to it: today, independent online platforms compete with associations regarding CME credits through easily accessible online seminars.
Hyper-specialism in healthcare
Advancements in medicine and healthcare over the last 50 years have led to several specialised fields and roles that have never existed before. This hyper-specialism has led to increasing competition and overlap as new associations have been created or become more specialised. Those who have remained broad have had to explore ways to deliver value for those in more specialist fields.
Members can self-organise
As mentioned previously, the rise of technology and online platforms has made engagement more frequent and resources more accessible. In the ‘Future of Associations’ report from dPrism, they highlight how this has also given members greater access to each other, leading to an ability for them to self-organise. I.e. whereas in the past, associations were seen as the only way to connect with professionals and organise industry events, in the modern era, there is nothing that prevents professionals from managing their own knowledge-sharing events.
Similarly to the accessibility of research, associations have had to find additional ways to attract members and add value to the membership experience.
How can associations deliver value?
Earlier, we mentioned associations are “selfless” organisations that put their members first. So how can modern associations put that into practice?
Association members want:
- Networking opportunities
- Professional development & education
- Access to the latest industry research
- Exclusive discounts
- Online communities
- Personalised experiences
Read more: What do association members want?
Understand your members
To deliver the experiences that members want, associations need to understand precisely who their members are and what challenges they face.
Not all members of your association will have the same interests. Use the data you have (or conduct surveys and interviews to gather more, ask our association management team for support) to identify your existing members’ various interests and needs to ensure your association addresses all relevant areas as part of the membership package.
There are many ways you can gather this information, including:
- Focus groups
- 1-2-1 interviews with members
- Member surveys and polls
- Web and service use analytics
In a constantly changing world, associations need to change with it. This means embracing innovation as a core part of your organisation so that you can make changes for the benefit of your members rather than a reaction to declining membership.
Keeping in mind the changing demands from members, some of the best ways for associations to be innovative right now include:
– embracing new technology that can provide unique experiences
– delivering exclusive networking opportunities that members could not get themselves
– providing education around the most interesting, late-breaking, and specialised topics.
Read more: How associations can implement innovation
Yes, an association should look after its member’s interests before anything else. However, a modern association should be responsible for driving the whole industry forward for the benefit of its members. This distinction will help set associations apart from others and deliver growth that cannot come from the traditional association model.
Our association management teams work with several medical associations and help them become modern associations that thrive. Get in touch with our team to discuss your association’s future.
Congrex Switzerland is an internationally operating agency delivering customised solutions. Amongst our clients are international associations, governmental organisations, and corporations. Annually Congrex Switzerland organises approximately 45 events with over 73’000 delegates. This encompasses the overall organisation of conferences and meetings, including the management of hotel rooms and strategic consultancy.