5 Questions for the Next 5 Years

By: Samantha Whitehorne

How will new technology and the next-generation workforce affect the work of associations and their members? Associations Now asked association professionals and industry partners to answer the questions organizations need to think about today to prepare for the years ahead.

Think back to 2005. What trends, issues, and hot topics was your association thinking about then? And how did all of those things affect the way your association operates today? Now think forward to 2015. What is happening in the association world today that is likely to affect what happens to your organization and its staff and members in the next five years? What questions should associations be asking?

To find out what's on the minds of association professionals, Associations Now asked readers for input on the questions that they're currently thinking about. Certain themes surfaced, including the changing workforce, an even greater reliance on technology, new IRS requirements and their impact on governance, competition for knowledge creation, and how to continue to engage and build community among members. Once the five questions came together, Associations Now asked a number of association professionals and industry partners to get the conversation going by providing their perspectives.

Question 1: By 2015, millennials will make up more than 40 percent of the workforce. What should associations be doing to prepare for the future workforce and its needs?

Courtney Neal

In order to survive, associations need to seriously begin thinking outside the box to attract the younger generations. There have been numerous articles that encourage associations to implement workplace policies that will attract and (more importantly) retain millennials. I'm a gen X-er, and I look for associations that offer workplace benefits such as telecommuting, flexible hours, compressed schedules, and travel reimbursement. It cannot be said enough how important having the option to telecommute and offering flexible work hours is to employees. It reaffirms that the association is not only invested in its employees but truly trusts [that] the employees will get the job done.

Associations should also be preparing for younger generations by investing in the latest technology. No one wants to work for an organization that isn't connected to social media and is still using a Windows operating system from last century. I'm not suggesting that an association should provide every employee with the latest iPad, but at the very least, from leadership down, the association needs to be willing to continue to invest in up-to-date technology.

Lastly, associations need to recognize that millennials and gen X-ers are not willing to spend their entire career with one association. However, this doesn't mean that these groups are expendable or should not be provided with career advancement within the association. Millennials and gen X-ers chose to work in the association world because we believe in the association and are invested in its success. Such dedication should be respected regardless of how long the association thinks the employee will stay.

—Courtney Neal, member relations specialist, Virginia Society of CPAs, Glen Allen, Virginia; [email protected]

Sarah Nakon

The future and current workforce are looking for motivation in a different way than previous workforces, and associations need to consider this moving forward. Daniel Pink, in his book Drive, talks about Motivation 3.0 and discusses what is motivating the current and future workforce. It is not traditional monetary motivation but rather a combination of autonomy, mastery, and purpose.

As part of the ASAE Leadership Academy for Young Professionals, we were charged with a final group project, and our group focused on four key areas where associations can look at Motivation 3.0 in order to keep top talent. The four areas we examined were risk and innovation, social responsibility, job growth, and job benefits. When looking at risk and innovation, associations need to take the risks to encourage creativity and autonomy by promoting staff involvement and idea generation. Regarding social responsibility, it is important to create purpose in not only your staff but your members as well. Look for guidance on how your association can be socially responsible in the association's mission in order to have an activity add to the purpose that is already present for members and staff.

By providing opportunity for job growth for employees, you encourage new ideas and new initiatives. Finally, when it comes to job benefits, it is important to look at employees as people and encourage a work-life balance in the job benefit package. When an association increases motivation using the 3.0 method, it creates staff loyalty, which creates a stronger association.

—Sara Nakon, membership services director, Professional Ski Instructors of America, American Association of Snowboard Instructors, Lakewood, Colorado; [email protected]

Online Extra: Question 1 Video Response

Thomas Getchius, manager of clinical practice guidelines at the American Academy of Neurology, talks about the future of working with millennials and discusses how their work style differs from other generations.

Question 2: Associations have, for the most part, lost their competitive edge as sole sources of unique, industry-specific knowledge. How should associations be redefining knowledge as a result?

Barb Sido, CAE

I think associations actually still have an edge in the knowledge game. While the information may be available from other sources, it is not available in the same way. Associations provide a safe environment for the creation and sharing of knowledge. For learning to be truly meaningful—transformative, even—members need to be willing to undertake the risk of questioning their most basic assumptions. This is something few people are willing to do other than within the fellowship that only associations can provide.

In this model, associations would define knowledge as more than the kind of information you can get on Wikipedia. Knowledge in an association context is imbued with values. Associations, on behalf of their members, set professional standards and educate the public on their subject matter. They really decide how the association, the profession, and the members are viewed by society as a whole. This is not a benefit you get from Google. Only in an association can you leverage knowledge effectively, for example, in government advocacy. If your members are knowledgeable about something—and all association members are in one way or another—that positions them as experts before key stakeholder groups. Most associations cannot compete based on sheer numbers of votes or PAC dollars, but they surely can compete on know-how. Associations also provide a way for members to learn something, go away, apply it, and come back with new knowledge gained in the application of that knowledge. Knowledge will continue to be the point on which the value proposition pivots.

—Barb Sido, CAE, interim executive director, Association of Pet Dog Trainers, Greenville, South Carolina; [email protected]

Thomas L. Stefaniak, CAE

Unlike the past, when subject-matter experts had to utilize an association's publications and website to share ideas and best practices, experts now have access to a broad array of delivery channels at their disposal, including blogs, LinkedIn, and Facebook groups as well as YouTube and Vimeo videos. It is quite possible to find individual blogs that have more activity than the blogs maintained by a related association.

Should associations close up shop and leave it to individuals to generate all knowledge? Definitely not. Associations still control pockets of content that are highly valued by the industry that the association serves. Often, this sought-after content results from association survey research and its public-policy endeavors. Public-policy work and survey research is very difficult for an individual to reproduce. A major public-policy change can radically shift an industry. Outreach activities should summarize key survey findings and current industry trends. Build excitement around this association "gold" and then make decisions about what will be provided free and what will become a purchasable product.

Access to unique content may no longer be what an association member values most. What if the association builds a site that serves as a gateway to all applicable content from various resources? The role of association then shifts to one of a partnership builder and content curator. The association serves members by activating new content streams that have been screened for applicability and usefulness. Relevant and dynamic content fuels conversation as associations redefine knowledge.

—Thomas L. Stefaniak, CAE, knowledge network director, International City/County Management Association, Alexandria, Virginia; [email protected]

Question 3: New requirements on the Form 990 are one example of what some are calling  a governance revolution. How do you think this will affect both associations and their boards?

Richard Yep, CAE

I'm not sure that we are looking at a "governance revolution" or if we are headed to a "revolution by our governance." Some of the detail and information being requested in the new 990 is great from a transparency position. However, I am also concerned that some public policymakers will start to think that, based on what they are seeing in these forms, that nonprofits might be a good sector to help reduce the deficit through additional taxes. Given all that associations do for their members, and more importantly for the public, we need to avoid making things so complicated that we lose sight of our missions.

On the other hand, if the new 990 and other examples of transparency lead boards to take more seriously their responsibilities, then perhaps we are looking at a governance "evolution" rather than a revolution. Knowing that there will be greater scrutiny by the public and government officials of what nonprofits are doing could lead to more savvy and greater ethical behavior by those who agree to serve. In addition, those who might consider serving in association leadership might be entering this arena with more information than their predecessors ever did, and that isn't such a bad thing either!

—Richard Yep, CAE, executive director, American Counseling Association, Alexandria, Virginia; [email protected]

James P. Sweeney

Over the next five years, associations should be aware that the audit algorithms that the IRS is using to identify audit targets are real and something that they should be cognizant of.  Associations need to be aware of the targeted information they report in their Form 990 that is likely to make them targets of a potential IRS audit.

In addition, while governance is paramount, transparency and other aspects are very important to associations. We are moving toward more statutory requirements. We expect that recent proposed legislation presented in the healthcare act by the Senate Finance Committee will result in a change in the statutory language that will apply to all 501(c) organizations in the near future.

Compensation issues will continue to be a focus of the IRS. Also, nondues revenue is an item that is of importance to a 501(c)(6) organization. To ensure that nondues revenues are not subject to IRS scrutiny, many structural issues must be presented and addressed on the front end of entering into such agreements by associations. However, the new Form 990 does the opposite.

Lastly, subsidiary-organization issues are the focus of the IRS and reportable on the 990, whether they are taxable entities or nonprofits. The rules for transfers to and from these organizations come with not only taxable issues but also continuing exempt-status issues.

The new 990 will require boards to continue to be more proactive in monitoring activities of its association to ensure that items that could cost the association a lot of tax dollars do not occur. Some of the adjustments that we have seen in this arena already have required trade associations to pay six-figure amounts back to their affiliated 501(c)(3) foundations in order to remove the 501(c)(3) from possible revocation of exempt status.

—James P. Sweeney, national lead, exempt organization technical tax services, managing director, RSM McGladrey, Inc., Mid-Atlantic/Baltimore/Greater Washington, DC; [email protected]

Question 4: How will association staff, members, and volunteers be doing business differently as a result of technology?

Layla Masri

In 2005, tech prognosticators suggested that Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) might be a promising way to connect telecommuters and distant employees. Really Simple Syndication (RSS) was starting to catch on among bloggers to make their content available to anyone. There was no Twitter. Facebook was just one year old, and YouTube had just launched. What a difference five years makes!

By 2015, associations will need to adapt to technology growth that will enhance usability, accessibility, and data management. Usability improvements will affect everything from enhanced video conferencing, collaboration tools, and the hows and whens of engaging with members (which, thanks to the massive growth of mobile access, will outgrow typical business hours). Accessibility improvements from new tools like tablets and next-generation smartphones will require the creation of new strategies, content, and goals as it becomes less successful to simply create "web lite" versions of your interactive messaging to meet the needs of members and staff on the move. And there will be a huge push toward greater use of open-source and cloud tools, which allow for the sophisticated management of huge infrastructure setups that are accessible anytime, anywhere.

While this growth may seem overwhelming, the good news in all this change is that it equates to the ability to fine tune and target your sales, event marketing, retention, staff efficiency, and member services with laser-like precision, thanks to more integrated tools with superior data-mining abilities.

—Layla Masri, president, Bean Creative Funktional Web Design, Alexandria, Virginia; [email protected]

Amith Nagarajan

Associations will engage their members and volunteers more closely than ever before as a result of tight integration between new and mature technologies. By combining traditional database and web capabilities with emerging tools in the mobile and social spaces, associations will relate to members in a more personalized manner than ever before. The continuous feedback loop derived from this integration will allow an organization to respond more rapidly and effectively to member needs.

One example is in the area of interest and competency tracking. Many associations are focused on learning their members' interests, preferences, and competencies. The problem is being able to obtain and maintain accurate data in this area. By integrating social networks such as LinkedIn and Facebook with an AMS database, it is possible to infer many things that you would not be able to learn otherwise. Having more accurate and timely information will allow an association to drive more relevant content back to their members and engage them in activities that enhance their experience.

Technology changes rapidly. At the same time, associations must focus on their core mission: maximizing member value. Selecting the pieces of the technology puzzle that most directly bring value to members must not be lost in the shuffle. New and exciting technologies often become "must haves" for the wrong reasons. Carefully selecting the right pieces to tightly integrate into a cohesive environment will allow technology to serve its purpose of generating a compelling return on investment for the association and its members.

—Amith Nagarajan, CEO, Aptify, Washington, DC; [email protected]

Question 5: Today members are easily able to engage and build community with their professional peers outside of associations. How should associations be rethinking their membership engagement and recruitment strategies?

Alyssa A. Pfennig, CAE

Associations should be thinking in terms of fostering community. When I think about how I have become involved in particular groups or associations, that's what keeps me wanting more. We may stumble on an association through a search engine when we're looking for an answer, or we may be lucky enough to have someone invite us to a seminar on a topic that looks interesting. While one cannot force community, having the right ambassadors and social networking in place as well as creating opportunities with minimal time commitments are essential for the long-term building of community. This may be something as small as a book club related to the industry that meets once a month (in person or virtually) and then heads out for cocktails or the formation of a task force that meets via web conference a few times to discuss a particular project.

This allows that small group to get to know each other as well as learn more about the industry and the association's purpose and offerings, which in turn makes those members (or nonmembers) want to gain more knowledge by attending more seminars or a conference to see their new-found friends. Or it at least allows them to be able to put a face with a name when attending, rather than feel out of place.

—Alyssa A. Pfennig, CAE, director of membership, AMOA-National Dart Association, Indianapolis; [email protected]

Tom Quash, CAE

Associations could once lay claim to cornering the market on building community, but technological advances, societal trends, and to some degree, belt-tightening budget practices have all emerged as factors that cause us to challenge this assumption. Today, communities, often online based, are emerging at a rapid pace, and associations are no longer guaranteed to "drive the bus." I think we should always be in a position of assessing and refreshing our recruitment and engagement activities, but with the communications landscape changing so quickly, we need to be aggressive and forward thinking in our planning.

There is still a need for the traditional recruitment and engagement efforts—direct mail, email, list rental, advertising, and exhibiting—but associations need to create a presence in new media, including proven social media platforms, industry-related blogs, and applications for mobile devices. To remain viable and current to their potential and existing members, associations should insert themselves into those spaces that their constituents go to for that sense of community. Likewise, we need to determine how these individuals want to engage and cultivate communications that are genuine and add real benefit to these environments.

As consumers, our hunger for connectivity is being fed like never before, and just like the best platforms for community, associations can also deliver. You could say we're in an era of experimentation, and as new opportunities arise, so must our strategies adjust in order to remain relevant. But the one thing that will never change: Associations will remain rich resources for community as long as the members find them of value.

—Tom Quash, CAE, vice president, marketing and business development, Association of Women's Health, Obstetric, and Neonatal Nurses, Washington, DC; [email protected]

Stephanie Doute

Customization will be a key element in maintaining engaged members in the future. In an on-demand society, where younger generations are technology dependent to the point that even email is not a fast enough communication method, members will be increasingly used to having what they want at their fingertips. They will not spend time reading through information delivered in a way that they do not find optimal, nor will they engage with an organization that doesn't provide an easy, customized experience.

To keep engaged members, associations are going to have to be vigilant about tracking member preferences and member behavior. With enough data, an association can customize each member's experience to reflect his or her expressed or observed preferences, thus providing the "instant gratification" experience. This will make engagement with the association and its activities easy for members, because the association is delivering these things in ways that resonate with each individual.

Along those lines, associations will also need to create a networking environment for members that flows seamlessly from online engagement to face-to-face interaction. In an increasingly digitized world, one of the greatest values associations can bring to members is to continue providing the human element. This further customizes the member's experience as an association acknowledges the importance of their online engagement and provides outlets for members to bring those relationships to "real life." If associations can help members translate those relationships to real time, then the member will place value on the role of the association in furthering his or her growth as an individual and maintain engagement and loyalty with the association as a result.

—Stephanie Doute, director of membership and group services, Aging Services of California, Sacramento, California; [email protected]

Samantha Whitehorne is managing editor of Associations Now. Email: [email protected]