Develop a Translation and Language Strategy for Your Association

ASAE Association Translation Strategy April 4, 2024 By: Jakub Konysz, CAE

If your association is already working in countries where English is not the primary language, or you are considering expansion, chances are good that translation of your association’s resources has crossed your mind, or even your to-do list. Translation is one of many ways to engage and include international members, customers, and prospects; but even with the best intentions, language strategy can be challenging.

A lot of well-meaning associations decide to provide simultaneous translation for a “global session” at the annual convention or for a one-off webinar in hopes of attracting new members or catering to existing ones. In some cases, beginning to translate is like opening the proverbial Pandora’s box. Once you begin to translate, it is difficult to stop, and you find yourself with growing requests for more translations that can be costly. But it doesn’t have to be that way if done strategically with the right set of resources.

Translation and language strategy were the focus of a recent study conducted by Global Navigators to better understand how the U.S. association sector approaches the topic. This important yet rarely addressed topic is critical to American associations working internationally.


Here are some takeaways from the study:

- On average, U.S. associations that participated in the study had 30% of their members based in countries where English is not the primary language.

- In general, continuing education was the primary resource offered to members and customers in countries where English was not the primary language (78%), followed by certification (40%), licensed content (35%), and credentialing (30%). Other resources included advocacy, technical content, chapter management, research, networking, events, local content, website, marketing materials, publishing, webinars, and manuals.

  • 70% of respondents translate such resources into languages other than English.
  • Continuing education and webinars were most frequently translated (38% each), followed by live content translated simultaneously (25%), code of ethics (19%), and credentialing exams (19%). Other resources commonly translated by U.S. associations include essential documents, the website, and marketing materials
  • The most popular languages U.S. associations translated into were Spanish (Spain), Spanish (Latin America), French, Chinese (Simplified), Arabic, Portuguese (Brazil), and Japanese.

- Associations use a variety of translation tools, like third-party vendors (53%), international chapters that outsource locally (28%), and Google Translate (25%). Most frequently, however, associations reported using individuals, either members or staff, to help with translation (60%).

  • Only 15% of respondents reported utilizing AI technology in translation.
  • Roughly one-fifth of associations reported licensing content for translation to third parties.

- Additionally, respondents indicated several engagement opportunities offered to members based outside of the U.S. and Canada, including volunteer opportunities (87%), in-person events (80%), and chapters (52%).

- Interestingly, only two participating associations translate all content into several languages.

- Less than one-third of participating associations reported conducting research to assess the need for translation.

- Less than one-third of associations have a verification process to ensure cultural and local accuracy.

No two associations are alike, and each evolves its global operations following different pathways driven by a variety of opportunities and needs. This brief study on translation and language strategy barely scratches the surface of how U.S. associations approach localization of products and resources to appeal to international audiences and is not meant to be a definitive guide.

However, from the analysis of responses, one can conclude that U.S. associations approach translation with little market research (less than one-third of participating associations conducted member research on this topic), and with no cohesive strategy (only 12% of participating associations have a written translation strategy).

Lack of research and strategy might not prevent an association from reaching its goals in international markets; but it might lead to market confusion with some resources translated but not others, lack of strategic clarity, missed opportunities, and a snowball effect where one ad hoc translation leads to other costly ad hoc translations.

Translation can be an expensive endeavor and can also be one with terrific ROI measured not just in dollars or members, but in reach, perception, inclusion, and accessibility. As you prepare your language strategy and operations, remember to collect critical data and measure your success regularly so that you can continually refine and tweak your approach.

Translation does not necessarily guarantee higher engagement or increased revenue, which is important to remember as you consider your language strategy. Whether your approach is to translate individual resources, translate everything, or operate strictly in English, a consistent strategy will allow your association to present a cohesive image and support stakeholders in an informed, strategic way.

Allison Ferch, executive director of the Globalization and Localization Association, recommends associations consider four key elements when developing a multilingual approach: strategy, people, processes, and technology.

  1. Strategy underlies all language operations and should be based on market and user data. Traditional exercises such as persona development, customer journey maps, market-sizing, and demographic dashboards can be useful here. Most importantly, your language strategy should align with and support your organization’s strategic priorities and goals.
  2. Language operations are comprised of people, processes, and technology and include activities like project management, vendor management, and content management (including style guides and glossaries). One key to success is to have an internal language and culture champion who can lead and educate internal stakeholders.
  3. Translation is a high-tech industry, and leveraging translation technology means faster time to market, cost savings, better scaling and efficiency, and improved user experience. Beware of raw machine translation (such as output from Google Translate), especially with branding or marketing materials, or in any domain requiring subject matter expertise.
  4. Finally, know that there is a mature industry out there supporting the multilingual needs of businesses, nonprofits, and governments. You can always find support from the translation and localization industry.



Jakub Konysz, CAE

Jakub Konysz, MBA, IOM, CAE, is founder of Global Navigators and the Immediate Past Chair of ASAE’s International Associations Advisory Council.