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Associations Now

6 Radical Shifts for Associations

ASSOCIATIONS NOW, September/October 2012 Leadership

By: Jeff De Cagna, FASAE

Summary: Jeff De Cagna, FRSA, FASAE, chief strategist and founder of Principled Innovation, offers six radical shifts associations can make today to thrive in a new world.

1. Crowdsource Strategy

The era of strategic planning is over. Instead, associations can use crowdsourcing to engage future stakeholders in the more important work of strategy: purposeful and rapid learning. By crowdsourcing strategy, associations can identify serendipitous opportunities for collaboration and experimentation.

2. De-Emphasize Membership

Mobile, social, and related technologies continue to reinvent the fundamental human experience of associating, altering the economics of membership and raising stakeholder expectations for new value creation. Associations need to implement imaginative business models that integrate compelling value propositions, robust organizational capabilities, and meaningful incentives that can create new revenue streams and increase future market share.

3. Go All In on Digital

Face-to-face experiences serve a comparatively small minority of stakeholders in most associations. No matter how financially successful in-person events have been in the past, there is good reason for concern about their long-term sustainability. Going fully digital in communications, finance, governing, marketing, publications, and research will yield substantial real-time data to inform decision making, streamline cost structures, and increase long-term profitability.

4. Eliminate Budgets

Association boards can function more like investors by allocating capital to fund high-level strategic priorities and projects, while trusting staff and voluntary leaders to collaborate in real time to define the approaches and investments required to
advance them.

Instead of monitoring individual budget line items developed based on retrospective data, leaders can focus their attention on rolling performance metrics and reallocate resources as shifting conditions or new opportunities require. This approach challenges association leaders to become better equipped to make good decisions quickly and more open to investing in continuous innovation.

5. Collaborate Everywhere

The headquarters office has long been a symbol of association success. Too often, however, it has also embodied bureaucratic inertia. The explosion of smartphones and tablet devices—alongside the growing popularity of co-working and other new social work arrangements—means associations must adapt to collaborate with a mobile and connected workforce. By using digital technologies to support distributed collaboration and manage day-to-day business activities, associations can break resistance to transformation.

6. Build a Strategically Legitimate Board

The failure of boards to prepare their associations for the future may well constitute a passive form of moral hazard. Board members should be selected for their strategic mindsets and orientation toward the future, not their popularity or political clout. Boards need to be smaller and more focused, and it is time to sunset obsolete governing structures such as executive committees and houses of delegates that displace boards and drain resources. Chief elected officers should focus on improving board performance, not micromanaging their CEOs. Boards and CEOs that can nurture genuine collaboration will place their organizations in a much stronger position to thrive in the years ahead.

Jeff De Cagna, FRSA, FASAE, is chief strategist and founder of Principled Innovation. Email: jeff@principledinnovation.com

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