How Are Association Leaders Using Artificial Intelligence Today?

Davis_AI and CEOs September 28, 2023 By: Susan Davis, CAE

Data from a new survey conducted by ASAE’s Association Insights Center reveals how association executives approach AI within their organizations.

At the American College of Osteopathic Family Physicians (ACOFP), conversations around AI started surfacing five years ago both internally and externally. “While informative at the time, ACOFP’s collective leadership wasn't ready to spend much time or resources on further exploring it due to other priorities at the time, the hands-on nature of member’s work, and then the onset of the pandemic,” said Bob Moore, MA, MS, FASAE, CAE, executive director of ACOFP and the ACOFP Foundation. 

This year, the AI conversation ramped up amongst the ACOFP senior staff team. “One of our team members recommended that we create an organization account and pay for the upgraded ChatGPT service so that the IP/content created is protected and not publicly accessible,” Moore said. “We have also formed an internal task force to pull together resources on utilizing AI in the workplace, creating use cases, and ultimately recommendations and parameters we should consider moving forward.” 

The role of AI in associations has also become one of the focuses this year for ASAE’s Association Insights Center (AIC), a community of association executives collaborating to face the increasingly complex environment and challenges ahead. 

Data from an AIC survey of more than 450 executive-level association executives revealed that less than one-fourth of association executives have AI solutions underway. Most association leaders indicated they were in the early planning stages regarding solutions relative to AI and that they are likely to implement plans, assessments, work groups, and seek advice about AI in the next year. 

Mary E. Post, MBA, CAE, CEO of the American Academy of Neurology (AAN), said that they have been having conversations in their staff and board meetings around AI. “We established a cross-functional work group to focus on AI,” she said. “The work group created guiding principles, division-specific use case examples of AI, staff training, and a SharePoint site with information about AI use at the AAN.”

Out of the association leaders surveyed, the executives who have implemented AI identified use cases, avenues, and AI interfaces that they have started to explore. These included:

Common and basic use cases. Ideation, checking and rewriting copy, creating headlines, drafting outlines and letters, and note-taking.

Advanced use cases. Recommendation systems, CX, navigation, e-payment, fraud detection/phishing, marketing automation, and debugging software.

Avenues and interfaces. Chatbots on websites, HubSpot, ChatGPT, and general software (e.g., Dall-e).

Association executives surveyed were more likely to focus on the positive impact of using AI rather than the negative, particularly for marketing and data analytics departments. The opportunities were focused on AI’s role in content brainstorming and messaging, creating summaries, automating tasks, identifying trends, research, adaptive learning, monitoring educational status/needs, and upskilling. 

“Our marketing department has been using it to work through writer's block and get ideas on creative headlines and messaging,” said Moore. “Our education department has been experimenting with using it to assess qualitative feedback on our evaluation surveys and draft modules for leadership programs.”

The threats of AI were centered around heightened competition, violating copyright laws, potential negative effects on staff, and concerns about quality and integrity. Compared to other functions, association executives were most likely to be concerned by threats to publications, communications, and education.

The AAN team has been actively evaluating how their staff is using AI and taking steps to mitigate potential threats. “Our AI work group did an assessment about how our teams are using AI by reaching out to staff teams for input,” Post said. “The information from our AI work group assessment highlighted the need for guidelines and principles for Large Language Models, addresses intellectual property and privacy, biases and limitations, and how to verify and validate information.”

Navigating AI as an association leader takes research and experimentation within your organization. Starting discussions, work groups, and policies now about your association’s approach to AI can help your staff and board recognize opportunities, as well as threats, for your organization. 

Susan Davis, CAE

Susan Davis, MS, CAE, is senior consultant at McKinley Advisors.