Does Your Association Have Foresight?

Pine Combest-Association Foresight March 27, 2024 By: Suzanne C. Pine, CAE and Hannes Combest, FASAE, CAE

Vision statements, scenario planning, and storytelling are all part of planning for your association’s future. Gather round as we tell the tale of an organization that took all the necessary steps to prepare for change.

Once upon a time, a group of association executives in the Travel Delay Association (TDA) were faced with challenges of declining membership and declining revenues. They were seeing other organizations being formed that incorporated the use of AI tools for consumers. They realized that this could mean that their association was going to be bypassed.

They needed to jump-start their organization. The TDA leaders found a tool published by the ASAE Research Foundation: ASAE ForesightWorks. The evidenced-based research they found allows associations from all different employment segments to benefit from the expertise of experienced futurists, researchers, and dedicated association volunteers who have already completed framing the project, collecting information, and describing baseline and alternative futures for 50 drivers of change.

With the pace of change occurring at unprecedented speed, it became more critical than ever for TDA to study these changes and begin planning for the impacts that these current trends would have on the future of their organization.

The association executives brought the executive committee of their board of directors into the conversation and jointly selected the four drivers of change that impacted their association the most. In partnership with the full board, they began to research and discuss how these drivers would impact their specific situation in 10 years and how their organization would respond to those challenges. They brainstormed ideas that would allow them to shape their association to continue to meet the vision statement they had created before this crisis occurred: To be the leader in ensuring hassle-free travel globally.

Now that they had the ideas and the various futures identified, they needed to discuss how to communicate this information. They remembered that one of the facilitators in the ASAE Application Workshop for ForesightWorks encouraged them to write stories about these futures. She reminded them how long Grimm’s Fairy Tales has been around and the impact these stories still have today. People remember stories.

TDA’s chief staff officer knew that they needed to communicate the urgency of these scenarios in a way that would stick in the minds of their membership. Together, the senior leadership and executive committee flexed their creative muscles and began to create their first story based on their vision for their “preferred future.” Then they created smaller groups from the remainder of the board and asked them to begin their own stories on alternative futures.

To inspire them, they distributed a copy of the article Candice Georgiadis wrote for Forbes on storytelling for business. She referred to storytelling as “the art of crafting narratives that capture the essence of your brand and appeal to your audience. It also involves communicating narratives in a way that is both relatable and memorable.” Georgiadis suggests using the classic storytelling structure of setup, conflict, and resolution.

The groups were asked to keep track of the research they conducted and refer to it, just as Peter C. Bishop and Andy Hines recommend in their book, “Teaching About the Future.”

As the teams worked, they were cognizant of the continued decline in membership and corresponding revenue. They considered stopping their focus on the future as membership needed immediate attention. However, during their discussions, they realized that would only be a bandage for their association. They need to prepare for the future—and they needed to do it now!

TDA successfully created their story for the preferred future and identified scenarios that could require following a plan for an alternative future. They knew they weren’t predicting the future but preparing for whatever the future might bring.

It was a tense few months, but soon they began to unveil their story for their preferred future to the membership. They kept focus on their vision and showing their organization that they were ready for whatever came up. The membership began to trust them more and more and began to talk to colleagues in other organizations. Membership didn’t rise overnight, but it did go up, slowly at first, and then the organization became the talk of not just those in the travel delay industry but in the whole travel industry.

The preferred future story was reviewed annually, as were one or two of the alternative futures. In addition, the board continued discussing other drivers of change (ASAE continues to release new drivers of change on a regular basis). After all, the future is always changing, so why shouldn’t TDA?

As you might have guessed, this association is fictional. But it could be based on any association—even yours! Are you ready to start addressing your future? Now is the best time to start. Join the ASAE Research Foundation’s brand-new Foresight Application Workshop focused on integrating the practice of foresight into your association’s strategy and operations.


Suzanne C. Pine, CAE

Suzanne Pine, FASAE, CAE is a strategic advisor at BlochReed Association Advisors.

Hannes Combest, FASAE, CAE

Hannes Combest, FASAE, CAE, is a partner at Governance Directions.