Jenny Nelson is director, content and knowledge resources, at ASAE.
Taking an association global requires a lot of work and involves a lot of risk. An ASAE Research Foundation report highlights effective practices that can help leaders make a strong start or strengthen existing international operations.
While the pandemic created a number of challenges in the association community, associations have also garnered global attention and engaged international audiences through virtual events, leaving some leaders wondering if it’s time to go global.
Association Global Maturity: Critical Actions for Successful International Growth, an ASAE Research Foundation report, provides insights for leaders who are ready to make that leap. The report cites the foundation’s original research to describe what globally mature associations—those that are operating successfully around the world—do differently from other associations across seven key components of global operations. These seven practices may not guarantee success, but together they provide a solid structure to guide and advance global efforts.
Get board support. Among study respondents from globally mature associations, 96 percent said that their board considered international growth to be a high priority and served as active champions. Forty-seven percent of all respondents reported having that level of board support.
The board’s support is foundational for all other efforts. Leaders who can create champions for a global vision on the board are more likely to get reliable support for shifts toward global operations and necessary investment in global growth.
Create a clear global strategy. Ninety-six percent of respondents from mature global organizations said that they had a clearly defined strategy, compared to 37 percent of all respondents.
A clear strategy enables leaders to set identifiable goals and measure progress. The organizational objectives and outcomes can then be communicated effectively to key stakeholders, including volunteer leaders and staff, to get buy-in and align work.
Maximize operations and service capacity. Compared to 42 percent of all respondents, 96 percent of respondents from mature global organizations said that their local market capabilities—such as volunteers, partners, and paid staff—complemented the capabilities of their headquarters without overlap or conflict.
Low redundancy allows for greater impact and less confusion, as staff, volunteers, and partners at the headquarters and in local markets clearly understand their necessary contributions to the big picture. That kind of synergy usually comes from time and experience, though, as leaders identify specific market needs and differentiate efforts accordingly.
Ninety-six percent of respondents from mature global organizations said that they had a clearly defined global strategy, compared to 37 percent of all respondents.
Develop a data-informed market strategy. Eighty-three percent of respondents from mature global organizations said that they developed a strategy for entering and growing in international markets using information from local leaders, member or customer feedback, and market research. Just 37 percent of all respondents said the same.
Globally mature organizations often customize their approaches or activities in different markets. Data and other local insights enable leaders to make the best product choices for each market.
Engage a global perspective. Compared with just 27 percent of all respondents, 75 percent of respondents from mature global organizations said that their board included many individuals who had experience in and were based in the local markets where the organization had members and customers.
Board members who know the markets where associations do business—or plan to do business—bring a global perspective to decision-making. They also help the group avoiding bias toward one market. Some globally mature organizations develop formal requirements for international experience on their boards.
Decentralize strategy. Sixty-two percent of respondents from mature global organizations said that management in local markets or regions was involved in planning and strategy, as opposed to 26 percent of all respondents.
While it may not be the first step for a lot of associations, many globally mature organizations have staff and/or partners in each market they serve. Leaders at these organizations are able to engage in-country stakeholders in planning and strategy rather than relying on staff at headquarters who lack more specific market knowledge.
Customize the value proposition for each market. Compared with 21 percent of all respondents, 58 percent of respondents from mature global organizations said that they segmented their members and prospects in local markets based on needs.
Market segmentation allows the organization to differentiate or customize their tactics in different markets. Leaders at globally mature organizations develop different value propositions and engagement models for different market segments, using knowledge about each market to adjust pricing, products, and services for each.