New research from the ASAE Foundation shows that associations are currently meeting member needs and expectations, but they will need to make changes to keep pace with future demands.
Are your members happy with the technology they use to engage with your association? Does your technology currently support your mission? Tech Success for Associations, the new release from the ASAE Foundation's Technology Success and Readiness Study, asked these questions of associations across the sector. With responses from more than 5,000 IT decision makers and association members, the report provides a comprehensive look at how associations are using technology and how members perceive it.
The research focused on two concepts related to association technology success:
- IT maturity: how well an association's technology system and environment reflect innovative practices and contribute to the organization's work and mission
- techno-readiness: the degree to which people feel comfortable adopting and using new technology
In assessing these concepts together, the research revealed key strengths and weaknesses in the association sector.
Associations are typically effective in their technology usage and maintenance systems. According to the IT maturity rating scale used to assess study participants, 68 percent of associations can be considered "effective"—that is, their technology usage and systems support their organizational mission and add value to member experiences. Areas of particular strength for associations are infrastructure and data management, while strategic planning and alignment and digital presence earned lower scores.
"Effective" is fine, but given that technology supports so much of association work—including key areas of member engagement—associations have opportunities to become truly innovative. A key first step: Association leaders and technology decision makers must ensure that the technology they employ and develop supports their mission and their strategic plan. Talking about technology in conjunction with organizational planning is one way to make that happen.
36% Percentage of members who identify themselves as early adopters who are optimistic about new technology
Members are currently satisfied with association tech. Most of the study's member respondents said they were highly satisfied with the way their association uses technology. However, a majority of members also said that associations could increase their technology capabilities.
One sign that associations should start looking at technology changes sooner rather than later: Respondents in the baby boomer generation were most likely to be highly satisfied, while millennials were the most likely to say that they are dissatisfied with their associations' technology and that it should be expanded.
When asked to rate association online offerings and access points, members rated access to content and self-service options as critical areas where they expect support from their associations. Members are satisfied with their association's options in these areas, particularly with their ability to complete self-service transactions, including membership renewal, conference registration, and member record updates. However, the sector's lower IT maturity scores in digital presence—which includes an association's engagement opportunities and access points on the internet and social media—indicate that many organizations are going to have to look at broadening what they offer online.
A gap exists between staff perceptions and member perceptions of member interest in technology. It shouldn't be surprising that association members are a tech-savvy group. They are typically well educated and highly engaged in their industries and their work. Yet the surveyed association IT decision makers were much more pessimistic about their members' comfort with technology than the members were.
In completing the study's self-assessment of techno-readiness, 36 percent of association members identified themselves as "explorers"—early adopters who are optimistic about new technology. This was the largest member segment. On the other hand, association IT decision makers believed that few members would fall into this category and instead thought the largest portion of members would fall into the "hesitator" category—those who are optimistic about technology in the abstract but somewhat scared to actually use new technology and therefore unlikely to be early adopters.
Members are more interested in and capable with technology than association staff perceive them to be. This leads to a question: Are associations ready for the increasingly techno-savvy new members who are already joining and volunteering?
We may not know what the future looks like, but it is clear that associations have room to grow, improve, and innovate, even by current standards. In understanding where those growth areas are, and where association members are, executives can create a future for their organizations supported by the technology that best fits their missions, their needs, and their strategic goals.