Lessons From Road to Relevance: 5 Strategies for Competitive Associations

By: Harrison Coerver

Certified Association Executives must guide their associations through difficult change. These five strategies will help you find the way.

Associations are confronted with an environment of unprecedented competition. Educational program competition. Competition from alternative information sources. Competition for members' time and share of mind. And the competitors are numerous: other associations, members themselves, large for-profits and niche entrepreneurs, media companies, co-ops—the list goes on. It's death by a thousand cuts.

The traditional association model was not designed for this environment. Most association governance and management practices were developed in a kinder and gentler time. This is going to require association executives and leaders alike to think differently about how they govern and manage their associations today and into the future.

There are answers. Associations are not the only field or profession encountering a competitive landscape. The legal profession is becoming increasingly competitive, resulting in major adjustments in how firms are run. The automobile industry had to respond from offshore competition. The intense competition in the airline industry has also resulted in major changes.

In our new book, Road to Relevance: 5 Strategies for Competitive Associations, Mary Byers, CAE and I identified proven strategies that we believe associations can employ to remain relevant in this "new normal." They aren't new, but they have been proven in other arenas.

  1. Build on strength. You can't win today from a position of weakness. Associations will need to rigorously identify and leverage what they do better than anyone else.
  2. Concentrate resources. A broad range of services is a prescription for disaster in a competitive environment. Focused competitors will pick off your programs one by one as you disperse resources across multiple offerings.
  3. Integrated programs have competitive advantage. Your services and benefits need to complement and reinforce each other.
  4. Lean operations. There is a lot of waste in associations. Any activity in an enterprise that does not add value to the end user is waste. Lean practices eliminate waste and improve competitive position.
  5. Abandonment. Letting go of obsolete or marginally performing programs and activities is the most difficult but most effective path to relevance. Withdrawing resources from losers and reallocating them to winners can pay huge dividends.

It's all about resources. The competitive association of the future is going to be far more skillful, disciplined, and creative in the way it leverages its resources.

Harrison Coerver is co-author of ASAE's 2013 publication Road to Relevance: 5 Strategies for Competitive Associations. Email: [email protected]

Learn More

Coerver will lead a discussion on lessons from Road to Relevance at ASAE's 2013 Annual Meeting & Expo in Atlanta. The discussion will take place on Monday, August 5, from 4:45 p.m. to 5:30 pm in the CAE Lounge, Room B407 of the Georgia World Congress Center.

A special thanks to Event Partner & CAE Lounge Host Johnson Lambert, LLP, and Event Supporter Veris Consulting, Inc., for being the proud sponsors of the 2013 CAE Lounge and CAE programming.