How Thriving Associations Are Embracing Innovation and Blazing a New Trail to Relevance

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After two years since the start of the pandemic, it was  tempting to want to “get back to normal.” But going back to pre-Covid ways of working would be a huge mistake for association leaders. Associations that are thriving today have one thing in common: they are not going back to “normal”.

How did they do it? We asked Mary Byers and Harrison Coerver, authors of Race for Relevance: 5 Radical Changes For Associations, to share their perspective on the radical shifts needed to build stronger organizations in 2022 and beyond. Here are the highlights: 

How do we attract the next generation of association members?

In this clip, Harrison Coerver explains that being intentional about this strategy and learning how to effectively engage them is the important key to attracting younger members. 

He said: “Well it goes back a little bit to what we were talking about of being intentional about how that board is composed, and so that when you look at it, you can say that what are the characteristics or the traits or the experience or expertise that we need, and it very may well be how do we get different generations represented on our board and how do we rethink kind of the traditional pathways that people have taken to get on the board? Because that's the problem, I mean you have to go through all the hoops and by the time you've gone through the hoops, you're getting up there in the years. So the thing that I think is surprising is that ... When you look at the entrepreneurship that we're getting out of 20 somethings that are running billion dollar businesses and yet we can't seem to figure out how to engage them on our boards, there's a little bit of a contradiction there.”

How can associations remain innovative? 

A big challenge in the association space has been keeping ideas fresh & staying innovative and we all know this tactic is essential for bringing in new business. Here’s what Mary said:

“The rub is that innovation requires experiments. It requires pilots. It requires continuously figuring out what is possible next and then prioritizing where those experiments are going to be and we're not comfortable with any of that in the association space. We'd like to come up with an idea, -we develop the idea, we launch the idea, and then we move on to the next one, and that's just not how innovation works. If you look at it in for-profit America, it's messy, it's uncertain, and so we need to be doing things differently. Here's how I'm seeing some associations do this. One, I'm seeing the title of vice president of strategy and innovation more often. Two, I'm seeing associations that are setting aside money for experimentation and innovation, whether it is a line item in the budget or a fund, a separate fund that is developed or money earmarked from reserves. Three, I'm seeing associations come up with a list of possibilities and from that list they're prioritizing two to five things and then they are doing experiments in each of those five different things simultaneously to see what sticks, knowing that they can't do everything.”

What is the future of association events?

In this clip, Mary Byers shares the differences in the way events were done pre pandemic compared to now and discusses the new strategies that associations will have to implement to keep up.

She said: “Two things to be thinking about, one there is going to be an arc to education. It will no longer just be a one hour event, a one day event, or a three day event. I think we have to think of the whole arc of learning. That's the first piece of it, and I also think as we talked a little bit earlier, hybrid is not necessarily going to be that we are live and then we're just streaming that. We are going to see a virtual strategy, we're going to see the hybrid strategy and then we're going to have an in-person only strategy and we need to ask, if we've seen that the learning can happen online, maybe our in-person meetings are going to be more about fun, meaningful connections and networking because those are the things that we can't do or haven't yet quite figured out how to do really, really well virtually.”


For more insights on How Thriving Associations Are Embracing Innovation and Blazing a New Trail to Relevances, access the free on-demand replay of our conversation with Mary Byers and Harrison Coerver.

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