Building the Association of the Future

By: Chelsea Killam

ASAE & The Center members are participating in the Association of the Future project. Find out how you can get involved.

A group of ASAE & The Center young professional members (30 or younger) are several months into the volunteer engagement project Association of the Future. This is the first in a series of articles reporting on the progress of the project.

Lots of Birds, One Stone

In a brainstorming session around trending data from Designing Your Future, a team of young professional ASAE & The Center staff suggested a project modeled after an initiative of a major pharmacy chain they heard rumors about: a store designed to test new and innovative business models without risk. Ultimately, they discovered no such store exists, but the idea formed the basis for the Association of the Future project, which officially launched in early January 2010.

AOTF is a mock association with a staff, board, and membership comprised entirely of ASAE & The Center's young professional volunteers. They are mentored by a group of 17 representatives of ASAE & The Center's volunteer groups, all seasoned industry professionals. Through this project, participants have the opportunity to explore project-based volunteering, gain insight into the leadership style of the next generation of association executives, actualize trend-based scenarios making environmental-scan research tangible, and be part of a unique professional development opportunity for emerging leaders of the association industry.

How It Works

AOTF's operational information was determined using median data from ASAE & The Center's Policies & Procedures research. AOTF represents an "average" association and is a 501(c)(6) individual membership organization serving association professionals aged 30 or younger. With a budget of $3 million and a membership of 8,000, AOTF has a staff of 13 and a 16-member board. These volunteer positions were filled from applications of 152 of ASAE & The Center's young professional volunteers. An additional 138 ASAE & The Center young professional members are volunteering to represent the members of AOTF. In total, 167 young professionals are participating.

This group is tasked with proposing approaches to challenges and opportunities based on the potential trends in associations in the next five to 10 years. The process begins with the advisory panel of active, seasoned members of ASAE & The Center's councils and committees who also serve as mentors. Using trends from Designing Your Future, the advisory panel formulates potential outcomes based on the intersection of the trends. In this year-long project, the AOTF staff, board, and members will be presented with up to eight scenarios that they must respond to by making changes to their operations. After receiving board approval, feedback is collected from AOTF membership. The results of each scenario will be reported online to ASAE & The Center's members  at ASAE & The Center meetings, in blog posts, and various other outlets.

Why It's Important

Each participant in this project, be it volunteer or observer, has the opportunity to consider the future of the association industry. The AOTF staff and board are experiencing challenges their senior colleagues deal with daily and confronting scenarios they're likely to face in future leadership roles. The advisory-panel participants benefit from the unique scenario-planning exercises they're engaged in and are able to bring the group's ideas back to their own organizations. Many of AOTF's strategies reflect buzz in the industry about where associations should go or should already be. The feedback they receive from AOTF members will provide valuable insight to those associations exploring similar initiatives.

The Association of the Future project is a beneficiary of the Annual Fund for Research & Innovation. To support this project, visit To learn more and follow the progress of the Association of the Future project, visit

Chelsea Killam is manager, research strategy, for ASAE & The Center. Email: [email protected]