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Trends and Best Practices for Associations

Dmitriy Buterin 15 November 2006 5 comments

I greatly enjoyed the recent CSAE seminar on Trends and Best Practices for Associations (and many of them apply to other kinds of non-profit organizations).

The world is changing and we all have to adapt - or deal with (unpleasant) consequences!

The guest speaker from ASAE, Great Kotler, also introduced the attendees to a new publication called "7 measures of success". This book, done with Jim Collins as the advisor (author of the famous business bestseller Good to Great) was also quite interesting. I will probably do a separate post on that one.

Here is a short recap of 8 Super Trends discussed:

1. Demassification (break-up of the mass market).

(And this word sounds made-up to me. I prefer "mass customization")

The mass market is breaking into smaller pieces, as differences in lifestyles, preferences, and priorities further segment the population. Members and prospective members alike are interested in focused efforts to meet the needs of their smaller, more specialized groups, not in a one- size-fits-all package of association products and services.

(I am definitely seeing this trend. One very cool idea we are working on in our Wild Apricot system which will help to support this notion is a tagging concept - to let people "tag" member records and events just like they tag pictures on Flickr or bookmarks on Del.icio.us)

2. Unbundling

Competition is pressuring associations to offer their products and services a la carte rather than as one organized package. Traditional value propositions—such as fellowship, personal and professional growth, and mutual assistance—must be delivered via specialized, targeted vehicles (the Web, for example).

(Personally, I think this unbundling can be bundled together with the previous trend. We are definitely seeing this among Wild Apricot users - we frequently see people creating 8 or more custom membership levels instead of a basic member/non-member distinction)

3. Scrimping

Members are looking for a greater return on their investment in association membership. As unbundling occurs, the risk grows that the association value package will lose its overall appeal. The key is to help members discover the personal and social aspects of belonging.

(When we launched Wild Apricot we thought that our lowest billable plan at $50 would be affordable to everyone. Not so! - we quickly discovered that there is a great number of small grassroots and community based groups can hardly afford $50/month. This is driving the introduction of new account plans in a few weeks at $12 and $25/month.)

4. Wave 3.1

Alvin Toffler’s “Third Wave” concept - the shift from industrial societies to information-based societies - is well underway in Western countries. Information on its own is becoming a profitless commodity. The competitive advantage lies in enriching professional development, learning, connectivity, and life itself through knowledge. The advice to associations is to move beyond purely informational products to offer enrichment and learning through the application of knowledge.

(When this trend was being discussed, an informal poll indicated that only one association out of 50 was happy with their website. Many small non-profits websites are so poorly implemented even for basic information access and event registration that anything more advanced is way out of their league. Well, this is something we definitely want to change with Wild Apricot!)

5. Virtualization

A highly mobile society has led to the disintegration of traditional neighborhoods and communities, straining personal relationships, and enhancing the appeal of Web-based “virtual” experiences as a form of fellowship. To maintain their traditional strength as community builders, associations must serve a growing appetite for virtual connections while continuing to offer personal experiences. Associations should focus on offering "the personal touch" while building and strengthening virtual communities.

(Great point. And creating a virtual community is not as simple as hastily throwing up some discussion forum software on the site and leaving the members to their own devices.  A lot of strategic thinking is required before - and a lot of hand-holding and community building after. We are working on some innovative ideas with some of our Wild Apricot customers - so we will be pumping out some of these in Q1 2007)

6. Cyber-Mobbing

The channels of political influence are broadening to include digital broadcast media that offer specialized forums for political discussion and Web-based communities that practice “swarm advocacy” and “smart mobbing.” To attract support for their positions in this crowded public arena - and to gain the attention of elected officials, regulators, and agencies - associations must develop a creative, multi-pronged, and Web-savvy approach to advocacy.

(Easier said than done! Though blogs are definitely helping to support these developments)

7. Scrutiny

Both special-interest legislation and litigation are on the rise, and local, state, and federal laws are introducing more aggressive oversight of association activities. As a result, associations must operate transparently, most notably in the areas of governance, advocacy, and political activity. They are well-advised to closely track the legal and regulatory developments - and develop proper policy frameworks.

(This is more of a governance/policy issue but I do think that tools like our own Wild Apricot which give board members instant access to all the key numbers - membership, event registrations, renewals and so on play an important role to support transparency and proper governance)

8. Counter-Americanism

The long-standing dominance of American styles, values, products, and business practices is diminishing with the rise of nationalistic and regionalistic politics (especially in Asia and Europe) and of disagreements with U.S. foreign policy. To operate globally, associations must develop localized models of association culture, governance, politics, and operations. The advice is to partner with others to develop localized models for association culture, governance and operations - and develop diverse value packages for non-US members.

( Could not agree more! Even though our original thinking and current focus is on North America, we have always recognized the potential for Wild Apricot to be used globally. That's why we have architected it in such a way to make future interface translation easier. And seeing all the interest from all over the world we are now changing the payment system to handle many more currencies and properly display the pricing of events and membership fees in selected currency)

Anyway, great event - I am looking forward to attending future workshops by the Canadian Society of Association Executives)

Dmitriy Buterin [Chief Apricot] Dmitriy Buterin [Chief Apricot]

Posted by Dmitriy Buterin [Chief Apricot]

Published Wednesday, 15 November 2006 at 8:06 PM


  • News/Blog said:

    Monday, 27 November 2006 at 6:30 AM
    As discussed in an earlier post on Trends and Best Practices, "scrimping" (cost-cutting) is a harsh reality...
  • Kip said:

    Wednesday, 29 November 2006 at 6:17 AM

    I am referring others to your website so the word about trends can be told across the community.



  • Ben said:

    Wednesday, 29 November 2006 at 8:54 AM

    You can find more takes on the super-trends on my blog, including some audio interviews with association executives who are taking/have taken steps to respond to the trends.  Just search "environmental scan" or the names of any of the supertrends in the search box on my blog.

  • Kevin Jackson said:

    Tuesday, 05 December 2006 at 6:13 AM

    Hi Dmitry,

    Great to see you there!

    BTW the speakers' name was Greta Kotler, CAE, and she is the Chief Knowledge and Strategy  Officer with ASAE & The Center for Association Leadership.


    Kevin Jackson

  • dqdxiwi@gmail.com said:

    Thursday, 28 January 2016 at 5:59 AM
    Writer | Get | Record Bad Story
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