Disruption of Associations: A View Forward
Will the golden age of associations start to tarnish in the next few years, or will it just shine brighter?
This is a question that’s on my mind these days. As a consultant dedicated to helping associations thrive and grow, I am a fan of this kind of organization—the role this category of non-profits plays in our society, democracy and economy is unique, often too quiet and, I must also add, ripe for disruption.
To my mind, the pandemic created the opportunity for society to see the benefits of associations in a refreshed light. Put simply, groups of people needed immediate answers and community; governments needed immediate consolidated and disciplined answers to keep the economy moving and people safe. Who was there to meet these needs? Associations. This, at least in my generation, is the start of a golden age for associations.
Of course, there’s a “but” coming.
Yes, the pandemic disrupted the way people see associations. And we all know it also accelerated a myriad of other seismic shifts in our politics, economics, society and technology.
Let’s agree: like-minded individuals, businesses and organizations will always need to come together to solve problems collaboratively. That’s the heart of an association.
But the method for doing so, and the psychological forms of “belonging” and commitment, are fundamentally changing, and herein lies the rub.
Are Associations as a Category Ripe for Disruption?
Yes. I see evidence everywhere—new concepts of membership in the public and private sectors are reframing our behaviours. Social media and global technology are throwing us—for good or ill—into our private groups of niche “associations.” And bigger generational shifts are happening in relation to concepts of the value of our time, our actions and our data—and how we expect to be rewarded for providing those things.
What do I mean by this last point? Here’s an example: More and more of us shop online but do so by selling our data and online behaviour for “cash back.” We don’t just shop for a deal. We shop, give up a slice of our data (or privacy, depending on your view), and in exchange, we get dollars back.
The investment–reward equation is changing. And associations need to take note.
Think of it—what if a brand-name global rewards organization decided to start up a competitor to your organization? Ridiculous? I don’t think so. This is the type of disruption that forward-thinking association leaders need to stay ahead of.
What do you see ahead in 2023 and beyond? Is the disruption path that started in 2020 going to continue?