This year’s event theme "Shape Your Purpose" challenged us to take an active role in defining the path forward for the industry. Through keynotes, sessions, exhibits and conversations, we explored emerging trends, models, technologies and strategies. As we grapple with constant change in the world around us, the conference provided perspective on how associations and nonprofits can remain responsive and vital.
With over 15 years of experience working with associations, I attended the ASAE Annual Meeting for the 6th time this year. While the focus often changes, the core goals remain consistent: serving members and generating non-dues revenue.
Here are my top takeaways from this year’s meeting:
The passion in the hallways and rooms is like a living spirit throughout this event. Everyone is feeling excited about seeing people and loving the industry they serve. More and more we are learning to lean on our community of peers and borrow ideas, crafting the best option for our organization. Those who work in this industry undoubtedly care for what they do and how they do it. “Nothing but the best for their members and constituents” rings true in every single conversation I had—whether with an association leader or an industry partner. We are all passionate about our purpose.
Throughout these discussions, a clear lesson emerges; change, although uncertain, opens doors to new opportunities. Associations have shown their ability to not just survive disruptions but thrive amidst them. The lessons drawn from the COVID-19 pandemic continue to echo across the community, underlining how associations swiftly adapted to the evolving circumstances.
Associations have a track record of quickly adjusting their strategies to match the changing landscape. This highlights the importance of embracing change now and maintaining that flexibility. With new opportunities arising and the market evolving, associations are well-positioned to take the lead.
The ASAE sessions also illuminated the immense potential of emerging technologies such as AI, offering a glimpse into associations' proactive stance towards adopting and flexibly embracing such innovations. In the same vein, the discussions underscored the importance of recognizing members' evolving expectations, further emphasizing the necessity of remaining attuned to their evolving needs. This highlights the ongoing challenge of nurturing continuous growth and adaptation within the association community.
Though specific strategies and models may shift, associations remain vital by delivering value to the professionals, companies, and stakeholders they serve. There are always new needs to meet, new connections to facilitate, and new knowledge to share.
With an openness to reimagine solutions, embrace new technologies, and listen to emerging needs, associations are poised to flourish. Opportunity awaits in increased global engagement, expanded virtual and hybrid offerings, data-driven insights, and heightened focus on member experience (a topic near and dear to my heart). This is a time for optimism and proactive experimentation. With courage and creativity, associations will continue to successfully adapt to rising challenges and chances. The brightest days lie ahead.
In the past, association executives may have shied away from viewing their roles through a sales lens. However, the landscape has shifted, requiring more revenue generation, member recruitment, and proving ongoing value. As such, associations must embrace that sales and marketing are integral to their work.
Every interaction association professionals have is an opportunity to showcase their organization's worth. Rather than avoiding sales-focused language and strategies, smart associations are now proactively building these competencies. Forward-thinking groups are training staff on consultative sales approaches to authentically convey value.
Associations have services, events, education, and community to sell year-round. Doing so with integrity and transparency is not only acceptable, but mandatory for continued prosperity. As long as the mission remains central, sales enable broader impact.
The rise of artificial intelligence is undeniable and its presence across industries will only grow. For associations, the question is not whether to adopt AI, but how to responsibly test and integrate these technologies to enhance programs, services, experiences, and strategy.
With a learn-as-you-go mindset, associations can pilot AI tools for specific challenges. The key is starting small rather than overhauling systems. For instance, chatbots and virtual assistants can improve event, website, and community interactions. Testing effectiveness and sentiment allows associations to build internal AI fluency. Moreover, forming partnerships with platforms that seamlessly integrate AI into their toolkit can provide an added advantage. If you had a chance to stop by our booth during ASAE, we spotlighted a range of AI functionalities, including enhanced learning creation optimization, underscoring the tangible benefits of this technology for associations.
Rather than reacting defensively to AI, curious and prudent experimentation will serve associations best. The impacts of AI will become more apparent over time. With proactive learning and piloting, associations can keep pace with AI's evolution in a manner true to their values. The waters may feel murky, but by wading in gradually, future directions will emerge.
If you’ve been hesitant to dive in, check out our recent blog written for association executives on best practices for using AI to develop content.
The passion, work ethic, and dedication demonstrated by the professionals in the association community is truly inspirational. Despite the rapid evolution and challenges facing the industry, the commitment to excellence among its members persists.
Association professionals pour incredible energy into serving their organizations, missions, and members. Their drive to keep learning, innovating, and advancing the industry forward in the face of obstacles is motivating. At conferences like ASAE, you witness their care and spirit of service first-hand through every session, discussion, and conversation.
There is a palpable camaraderie that comes from a shared purpose and devotion to making a positive impact. Strangers quickly become colleagues as knowledge and ideas are exchanged. The opening keynote, Daymond John said it best, “We don’t invest in companies, we invest in people” and the association industry is no exception to this rule, whether you are referring to our members, learners, or staff within the association, we are a people loving community, who thrives on meaningful interactions. The community comes together to collaboratively envision and build the future.
This spirit has defined the association space for generations and continues as new leaders carry the torch. Seeing professionals at all stages of their careers maintain this commitment renews your faith in the progress associations can achieve.
It serves as a reminder that no matter how much the tools, models, and strategies evolve, the dedication at the heart of this work persists. Associations remain vital for sustained excellence from professionals who believe deeply in the value of their contributions. This community's resolve powers it through challenges and sets associational excellence as the standard.
The association industry today faces disruptions that necessitate new perspectives and willingness to depart from status quo strategies. Complacency and reliance on traditional models may undermine an association's continued prosperity and impact.
Chad Foster's keynote presentation, Blind Ambition, offered inspiring lessons through the story of his life. After losing his sight, Foster persevered in pursuing success, even though the path was difficult. He encountered setbacks and struggles but remained committed to his goal of overcoming adversity. Though unsure of the way forward at times, he continued striving. Foster's perseverance through hardship exemplifies the power of steadfast determination in achieving one's desires, despite the obstacles. His experience shows that with ambition and resolve, we can overcome life's challenges and accomplish our dreams.
To thrive into the future, association leaders must have the courage to critically examine existing practices to determine needed shifts. In some cases, longstanding processes require not just tweaks, but transformational change to meet member and stakeholder needs.
This could involve anything from reimagining antiquated technology systems to diversifying leadership to incorporating emerging delivery models. Creating an organizational culture that embraces evolution rather than resisting it is key. This requires regularly evaluating if current approaches still produce optimal outcomes or if bold new directions are called for.
By combining openness to change with a commitment to purpose, associations can responsibly challenge conventions. The goal is not change solely for change’s sake but change to expand an association’s ability to serve its members.
The future will present obstacles but facing them with creativity and resolve leads to positive outcomes. Our community’s dedication empowers us to shape better futures.
The connections formed within the association community create invaluable support systems that members rely on throughout their careers. The friendships, mentorships, and professional relationships formed through conferences, chapter events, and collaborations become essential networks.
Having peers that you trust intrinsically provides benefits beyond business partnerships. They become trusted advisors to turn to when challenges inevitably arise. You know they genuinely want to see you and the industry thrive.
Being able to speak candidly, ask questions, and brainstorm ideas without judgement facilitates growth. The relationships offer reassurance that others understand your realities. The connections forged empower us individually and collectively to shape the future. For that, they are invaluable.
The association industry is constantly evolving. New technologies, models, challenges, and innovations arise every year that force associations to adapt and keep pace. However, even amidst this steady change, the core of this community persists.
No matter the shifts happening around us, the passion that drives this profession remains. At the heart of every association professional, you meet is a fundamental care for the mission, members, and stakeholders we serve. A drive to expand knowledge, resources, connections, and advocacy in our respective fields pushes us forward.
Conferences like the ASAE 2023 Annual Meeting powerfully capture this spirit. In every session, conversation, and handshake, you feel the shared commitment to making a difference. Laughter and ideas fill the hallways, as we learn together. Strangers become colleagues, and colleagues become friends.
It's this camaraderie, compassion, and dedication that I'm reminded of year after year. We face new obstacles but are still bound by common purpose. Informal chats at receptions turn to excited brainstorming on future collaborations. Innovators share their knowledge freely, wanting to advance the industry.
While so much changes on the surface, these roots run deep. As long as we nurture this spirit of service and community, the future is bright. Though the tools, challenges, and strategies evolve, the care for our work and each other endures. It's what brings us back, year after year, to reignite these passions. This collective heart empowers us to take on whatever lies ahead.
About the Author
Amanda Davis, CMP, Chief Experience Officer
Amanda has over 15 years of experience in the association world, strategically focused on learning products. With multiple association roles as Director of Learning & Development and Online Learning Manager, Amanda has a deep understanding of the adult learning landscape and what keeps association executives up at night. As Chief Experience Officer, Amanda now oversees the end-to-end experience for our growing mix of association clients. She is dedicated to fostering positive, productive relationships, and ensuring associations have an excellent experience partnering with our organization. Amanda draws on her background in learning strategy and association management to advise clients and shape an experience that enables their success.
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