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Variable #3: Power Turned Upside Down

Variable #3: Power Turned Upside Down

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Over the last two weeks, we've explored variables: younger members as the magic bullet and  technology. They are two of the three variables I've watched to cause me to predict more than half of associations will be dead or dying by 2030.

Today we are going to look at the third variable: power turned upside down.

Until recently, the national (or headquarters) association was the gatekeeper and the giver of access to people and ideas their members could not get elsewhere.

National provided:

  • Fascinating subject matter experts to write and speak on thought-provoking topics.
  • Famous speakers the average person would never see or hear.
  • Access to other like-minded people – people it would take great effort to find, contact and get to know using other means.

Some national associations also offered discounts on sponsored goods, philanthropic projects and government relations efforts.

In other words, belonging to a national association was amazing - a whole valuable world opened up!

Many associations had local chapters to bring the experience even closer to home.

The chapters offered a mixed bag of branded experiences; however, consistency and health of chapters were not top priorities for national.

Remember, the national association was the critical gatekeeper for members.

Chapters existed to give members some local experience - an expense for the association to maintain.

(If your association doesn't have chapters, I encourage you to still keep reading. You too will be impacted.)

The role of national as the powerful gatekeeper existed for decades.

Then that darn Internet wrecked the game.

Websites, chat rooms, social media, Google, LinkedIn, Twitter and more all chipped away at the association's gatekeeper monopoly on information access.

Cut to today...

Subject matter experts and famous people have tribes, communities, followers, friends and fans. They even send personalized emails to those who sign up.

Members don't need your association for access to people.

Google's scholarly search makes worldwide information available with ease - and for free.

Your members probably don't need your national association to access academic research.

But, but, but...

What about CPEs, CPUs, etc?

Thanks to technology, it's simple and affordable for others to get in that space.

For-profit organizations love it - including the thought leaders your association used to be the primary middle man for!

Offering inexpensive (often free) education is a great way for corporations to get the attention of their desired market aka your members.

What about big-time, powerful, nationwide networking?

Social media platforms support your members in finding people like themselves around the world in mere moments. Online communities, blogs and even emails support members in making connections - again for free.

Your national association is no longer the primary gatekeeper for access to people and information.

What's left of value for your national association to offer?


Once again, websites like Amazon and Travelocity to the rescue.

If you want business deals, memberships to organizations like Costco, provide healthy discounts for things like insurance, merchant services, office supplies - and give individuals a deal on their groceries too!

Philanthropic projects?

It depends. How well do you market them? And how strong is the local effort? Many people prefer to see hometown impact from their money and effort.

Plus, that darn Internet again provides sites like GoFundMe where people can donate - and get updates that make them feel like heroes.

Government relations efforts!

Seriously? Unless you are a trade organization, selling the intangible benefits of strong government relations is challenging in the best of times. When it's well done, your members don't feel the sting of political bite - and people don't appreciate what they don't understand.

So what's left?

Local community aka your chapters.

Whether you call them chapters, networks or communities does not matter. People still enjoy easy face-to-face experiences. It’s one of the few ways for members to find their relevant value for paying your association dues.

If we circle back to the first trend we explored (the coming dramatic disruptions thanks to technology) to the potential impact of AI, people are predicted to be working fewer hours so they may have even more time to be involved in your chapters - as long as they get that relevant value.

Here's the kicker...

With your prime gatekeeper position dissolved, the value of belonging in your association, the glue that keeps people members and the experience that delivers what they can't get virtually is your local chapters.

Your chapters now play a much more important role in the success of your association.

They need to be healthy, thriving, easily managing surpluses of volunteers, welcoming new members, delivering quality experiences and more.

Your chapters are the face and the majority value offered by your association.

If this hasn't happened yet, it's on the way.

The power in your national association is, in essence, flipping from national as the powerful gatekeeper to chapters as the mighty-value deliverer.

Looking forward, you've got some interesting questions to explore:

How healthy are your chapters?

By healthy I'm talking about general member experience - not the fact you have recycled leaders on a roster.

Are your local leaders martyr leaders? Or happily managing large groups of volunteers?

Many associations, having chapters as a lower priority to the overall health of their organization, allowed a martyr approach to leadership to infiltrate their chapters - and be institutionalized.

(The biggest indicator of martyr leadership is a lack of general volunteers in the chapter. When there are few volunteers, martyrs rule.)

Martyr leaders, while very loyal to your mission, can also be the kiss of death for your association.

A few more questions to consider...

  • Where are chapters in your association's list of strategic priorities?
  • How are you training chapters to provide the branded experience of your association? (What does that even mean?)
  • How are you helping chapters develop future leaders?

WARNING: If your association is like many associations, filled with martyr leaders, what you are doing currently to develop leaders and support your chapters is not the right approach.

I repeat: Martyr leaders are the kiss of death for the future of your association.

If you don't have local experiences yet, what the heck will you offer your members?

Some of you may argue you are a special association or your biggest value is government relations. Fabulous! Given everything coming will that still be true? Does it honor your mission? You may part of the minority that will make it through to 2030.

Many associations, however, will need the local experience - or need to shift to a very different configuration in the future.

Most associations with chapters have some seriously creative and innovative work to create the vibrant organization members are looking for locally.

And there's more...

In the old days, chapters needed the national organization to exist.

The national organization did things for chapters such as:

  • Identify potential members.
  • Provide subject matter expert content for newsletters and such.
  • Give access to the national organizations brand and promotion materials.
  • Share website and database options.

Unfortunately, that darn Internet is once again messing things up.

It's easy (and practically free) for a motivated group of people to create, launch and succeed with their own local organization.

If people get value, they often don't care if the group is a chapter of a national group or not.

In other words, even more pressure for your chapters to be excited about being affiliated with you and to be skilled leaders in what they offer.

(If your chapter leaders love your national association, it is still easy for a competitive group to be formed in their geographic space.)

Whew! This is a lot to think about.

Some of your chapters have already recognized the shift in power and debate why they need national. Plus, they have a hard time selling individual members on the value of national membership.

This power shift is a serious issue many associations have yet to address - or even recognize.

When you combine the power turned upside down with the continued massive disruption of technology and the challenges of younger members, it makes sense more than half of associations will be dead or dying by 2030.

Every association needs to get more proactive and strategic about their future.

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

If you need help getting beyond how you've always done things to a more strategic space, a Future Bending Adventure may be perfect for your association.

Yours in Finding the Future That Rocks!

- Cynthia

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