Why I started a campaign to save the associations – and why you should care
It was a cold day. Snow flurries were swirling in the air. Our hands and faces were red and raw from the cold, and we wondered for a moment whether we should just call the whole thing off.
It was 2017 and membership decline was experiencing a downward trend — especially among younger generations. Associations everywhere were questioning their value propositions, relevance, and futures, and some were taking considerable hits in revenue or forced to close their doors.
Our firm had long researched membership engagement behaviors and trends and I’d spent the past decade consulting with association leaders on the values of younger generations and what they expected from a membership experience. Our clients were able to turn the tide and achieve growth, but many associations were still struggling.
Emboldened to help the associations struggling to engage the next generation of members and ‘save’ them from continued decline, we decided to ramp up our efforts. Outdoors on a very cold day in 2017, our team filmed a video titled Save the Associations, encouraging associations to be intentional about their outreach to young generations.
In the years that followed, the effort gained momentum. We released an ebook under the same title featuring case studies and best practices, and launched a Save the Associations web show featuring interviews with association executives.
All the while, the challenges associations were facing were becoming increasingly difficult. Political conflict, social change, workforce shifts, and advancements in technology were challenging associations and their members in unprecedented ways.
Here and now — exactly three years after our team filmed that video — a global pandemic has forced the world to shelter-in-place and work-from-home and associations have been catapulted into a crisis response situation. Whether they are representing front-line workers, organizing efforts to help their communities, recovering from revenues lost to event cancellations, or trying to adapt to a remote and technology-reliant workplace — every association in every country has been disrupted.
Our team quickly pulled together two Save the Associations summits to report on how associations are responding to the crisis. The first summit aired on April 28 featuring executives from six U.S. associations representing front-line and disrupted industries as well as an exclusive interview with Susan Robertson, CEO of the American Society of Association Executives. The second summit airs May 14, featuring nine association executives from Canada, Europe, Australia, and the Middle East.
Someone recently asked me why associations need saving. Perhaps you’re wondering the same thing. Why have I directed our company towards this awareness initiative for the past three years? Does it really matter?
Why should anyone care about the future of associations?
And the answer is this: Because there is no other segment of society that improves our quality of life like associations do.
In every industry and country, associations mobilize millions of people. Associations impact the policies which protect our industries, train our workforces, create employment opportunities, respond to urgent community and industry needs, strengthen economies, and inspire positive change. We need associations to prosper so they can continue to fulfill their missions and positively impact our communities, workforces, and economies.
On that cold day in April 2017, our team set out to create a message of hope. We wanted to remind associations that even in times of decline, there are opportunities. Even when it seems like there are no answers, there are solutions waiting to be discovered. There is always another chapter. There is always a next generation to carry the legacy forward.
That’s what Save the Associations is about and why it matters. It’s always been a call to action to plan for tomorrow today, to disrupt, innovate, and be inclusive of new ideas and new people. It’s a call to action to lead our associations forward, so associations can serve, influence, and inspire more people than ever before, creating a better future for us all.
Ironically, while we set out to create this message of hope, we’ve received hope in return.
Currently, the world is bracing for economic recession, and some analysts are already predicting as many as one-fourth of associations will be forced to shut down in the coming months. It would seem the chips are down, but associations are rising and rallying.
Since starting this project three years ago, I’ve been incredibly inspired by the stories of resilience, collaboration, and innovation. During the past decade, associations have been more challenged than ever, but many are dedicated to finding their way forward. And that’s good news for all of us.
Whether you realize it or not, associations have always been there for you.
Whether you realize it or not, associations have always been there for you. They are your voice at the Capitol, they create opportunities, inspire change, and build communities. Their efforts never cease. Not even now — especially not now.
It’s time to return the favor. Take the time to volunteer, promote, support an association in your industry or community. Do your part. Join the movement.
Because now, more than ever, we need to save the associations.
If your association needs a boost, reach out to us, and we’ll help you develop a plan for the future.
Join the Sarah Sladek and XYZ University mailing list
Expertly curated emails that'll help you deliver an exceptional customer experience