Back to The Future: Associations in 2010

The Associations 2025 Summit is coming up next week!

It is a collaboration between The Portage Group, CSAE and a group of inspiring leaders from associations and businesses across Canada. Together in a fun and interactive format, we will explore the landscape of associations today and discuss what trends will shape the sector in the years to come.

I found this article from Carol-Anne dating back to 2010 where association professionals were asked to weigh in on what they think a successful association would look like five-to-six years into the future. Well that future is here. Lets explore if those prophecies have turned into reality.

I think that while tactics will evolve and achieving success will become more of a challenge than ever before, the things that will take an association to the top and keep it there will be the same as what they are now: In my version of the future, differentiation, innovation, value and engagement will continue to be the factors that make or break not-for-profits of all shapes and sizes.

Here are a few of the most crucial ways your Association should adapt to thrive: 

Customized Membership

The survivors will be those who are truly able to stand out from the crowd by being able to deliver value in a world where the term means something different to each member. In order to provide a unique experience that members can’t replicate elsewhere, membership and all that it involves will become more customizable. 

New Revenue Models

Increased competition from sources such as the internet and social media are allowing people to access networks and resources without having to pay a membership fee. Associations will increasingly have to give away for free a lot of what they have until now leaned on as their main sources of revenue.  Some real outside-of-the-box thinking will be needed to help associations figure out how to generate enough revenue to be able to achieve their mandates.

Flatter, Less Hierarchical Structures

Many associations today have structures that are left-over from the days when boomers joined right out of school and stayed until retirement. This multi-layered and bureaucratic structure doesn't fit in a world where people need access to information, resources and decision-makers immediately without having to jump through multiple hoops and gatekeepers. Future associations structures will be flatter so as to be more accessible, responsive and nimble.

Evolution of Volunteerism…and Engagement

The reality is that people are busier than ever before and have more things competing for their time. Social media will be a great tool for the innovative association looking to recruit, retain and engage.  The markedly ‘un-linear’ and transparent nature of this medium has real potential to help boost engagement among all stakeholder groups, from members and volunteers to staff, board members and donors.

Transparency Will No Longer Be An Option

As social media moves more into the foreground, non-transparency just won’t be an option anymore.  When associations mess up, they will have to face the music.  If you haven’t followed the saga, this charity is a great example of how social media makes this happen.  Here’s an article on the debate from the New York Times. (

The Great Age Divide

The baby boomer generation is retiring and will continue to have a significant impact on not-for-profits.  All of the stakeholder groups will start looking a lot younger - from association staff, board members to volunteers and donors. 

Helping members to attract ‘young blood’ to their industries, adjusting to the new leadership styles of a younger generation, and finding ways to transfer tacit knowledge between seasoned executives and young leaders are just some of the challenges associations will face in this arena.

So what do you think? Are these still the most relevant challenges happening in your association? How have you adapted?

We look forward to seeing your top leaders and up and comers in Toronto on April 19th. At Associations 2025 Summit!

Get ready to explore solutions and create change!