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The Kiss of Death for Your Association

The Kiss of Death for Your Association

black lips kiss of death

After sharing my analysis and predicting more than half of associations will be dead or dying by 2030, I'm exploring more concepts impacting the future of associations.

Today we are focusing on an association epidemic.

When it comes to addressing the future, the kiss of death is the already established battle cry of, "That's not how we do things! We always do it this way!"

You can hear this passionate stand in almost every association.

For years, the commitment to repeating the past resulted in chasing away younger and/or newer volunteers who challenged all the work it took to get to the present.

Eager new volunteers irritated leaders asking questions like, "Why are we doing things this way?" 

Leaders grumbled about just wanting volunteers who would do what they were told - not ask questions.

Sensing the rejection and lack of access to help create the present, new volunteers seemed to disappear - over and over.

The story escalates with fear...

Leaders stretched thin with few volunteers, avoid the stress of trying new things by sticking to how they've always done it.

If you dig deeper, you'll discover quiet fear inspiring action.

What if the new ideas don't work? How will they be able to recover? They've worked so hard for so many years for the good of the association. Why would they risk throwing everything away?

One leader explained,

"I know how we've always done it isn't working as well as it used to; however, I just need it to keep working for one more year to get me through my year as president. I'd rather be a mediocre president than the person who takes out the association."

And there's more.

Volunteers can feel totally overwhelmed by the idea of doing things differently.

They don't know where to start. The learning curve is painful. It's easier to do things the way they've always done it.

Finally, and this is rarely admitted out loud, sometimes the volunteer leaders feel sort of insulted - with a sense of pending loss.

They worked hard to create the way things have always been done. Why is it not enough now? Are they going to throw away all their work - and perhaps them too? Who will they be if no longer the champion of the past?

Remaining true to how they've always done things has transformed associations into slow-moving organizations that regularly repel  members from being engaged.

Leaders who don’t know how to be strategic exacerbate the slow speed of change.

They fall back to tradition to justify why it's important to barely change - if at all.


"Younger members don't want to get involved. Everyone is struggling to attract new members now. No one has time to volunteer. Since it's just the core volunteers, it's better if we do things the way we've always done it."

Stories abound in explanation - and little changes.


Why is doing things they way they've always done it such a big deal?

How we've always done things is deeply grounded in the past.

To be successful year after year focused on how you’ve always done things, requires a steady and consistent environment - which is exactly opposite of the massive disruptions in the process of launching.

The face of the future, even just a few months out, may be very different than how things look today.

It doesn't make sense to think you can keep repeating history when you are playing a constant new game thanks to disruptions continuing to activate.

Your association needs to be nimble, response and entrepreneurial.

You need to be watching what's coming your way. Dancing with new steps. And trying things you've never dreamed of trying before.

To do things the way you've always done them is the kiss of death for your association.

So what do you do?

You've got to start gently unhooking your association from your past.

It’s not about forgetting the amazing things you've done to build the strong foundation you have today.

Instead, it's about freeing your association to be able to respond as needed to the future headed your way.

This is going to be challenging.

People will not change just because you say they need to do it.

They have years, often decades of their life invested in how it's always been. The habits are deep and some even automated.

To let go and shift to a whole new world will be scary and stressful.

Many will deny the need to change now - especially if you aren't feeling the disruptions yet.

(Don't worry. They are definitely arriving! Your members won't be overlooked.)

As a leader, you'll need to address the logical side of change - as well as the human implications.

Why do your members need to change?

What is so important it makes it worth facing down their fears and the stress of learning new ways? How will they be superheroes if they embrace the new path?

What can you do to make the experience easier?

To make them truly understand what's coming their way - and how they will be better by facing the changes together? How can you invite them to the table to help co-create this bright new future that may not even exist in this present moment?

There's a lot more we can delve into - and we will with time. Those are some great questions to get you started on the path.

Let's get even more real...

In the meanwhile, the most important thing is, do YOU understand why you need to let go of how your association has always done things?

Are you ready and willing to let go some of the legacies you've personally created in your association and start focusing on the next chapter?

Take a moment and note how you felt when you read those questions.

Did you get excited? IF you did, you are a rare person and it's lovely.

Or did you, like most people, feel yourself contracting? Feeling unsure where to start? Maybe your stomach is clenching and you notice resistance rising up?

Jot down whatever you are feeling.

Put it in a place safe. This is how your members are going to feel - perhaps even more intensified.

As you get more comfortable with the idea that it's time to face the future and start to take action, you may start to forget what it was like in the early moments of this adventure.

Being able to refer back to the fears and concerns you probably had will help you remember the human side of letting go of the past.

It can help you be more compassionate to your members. And communicate better with them as you may have walked in their shoes.

It's time to eliminate the kiss of death. 

Honor the foundation that's brought you to today. Find ways to release your association's institutional overwhelming commitment to the past.

Prepare your association for the future that's already arriving.

Take a deep breath.

We are in this together. You are not alone.

Over the next few weeks, we'll continue drill down into a variety of concepts to help you in your quest.

Yours in Finding the Future That Rocks!

- Cynthia

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