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Associations are struggling to stay relevant and attract younger members. Keeping up with modern trends, and providing the right information can help with attraction and retention of your association as well as keep members engaged. The following areas provide actionable items for associations to engage with members (and in some cases non-members) and stay focused on the things that matter to them the most.

1. Creating the next generation of leaders – Management training and seeking out members with diverse sectorial experience helps equip leaders to tackle the challenges and demands that will be placed on them. The reason this is so important is that it not only allows managers to better understand staff, volunteers and front-line workers but also board members, directors as well as government bodies both locally and around the globe.

Also, next generation leaders may encounter tougher responsibilities than today’s leaders and should therefore look for mentorship, volunteering and job training opportunities to complement their other roles. This continuous development can and will help, not only the leadership grow to its full potential, but also the association as well.

Emerging leaders have another tool at their fingertips – delegation. Doing it effectively involves defining and selecting tasks, selection of the team, assessing training needs, setting goals, objectives and timelines, ensuring access to resources and information, and ensuring ongoing support. This has a dual usage from a leadership standpoint. Delegation not only maximizes volunteer staff but also assists in developing skillsets needed for the association to continue to run effectively and efficiently.

Finally, a certain amount of creativeness, trust in your Board and time prioritization will close the circle on leadership and effective management.

2. Operating with the right technology – Technology tools can work for or against an association depending on how they are being used. Relevancy, cost, and efficiency will dictate if you are getting the best bang for your buck. For example, dealing with association management systems (AMS) can be challenging whether you are starting from scratch or modifying an existing system.

Don’t assume all data must be captured in an AMS. Trying to incorporate too much into a single system may cause complexity and costs. Also, the same data can be used in different ways. Something like information about attendees at a conference can be used for registration packets, financial reconciliation, analysis of marketing effectiveness and registration trend analysis. Using information can be a great tool but it must be used with the association’s goals in mind and how best to achieve those goals.

eAGMs are also becoming a tool that allows for greater engagement at meetings. Blending the traditional AGM along with this electronic method can create opportunities for those not able to attend by giving them a voice in the decisions. Agenda items can be posted online for live and online members. Also, online questions can be fielded with participants knowing their questions will be a part of the minutes and record of the meeting.

Electronic voting devices are making their way into AGMs, as well. Instant answers to questions can be posted at  meetings while providing insight into where the majority of members are leaning on a particular issue. And because it is anonymous, members are more likely to participate and getter a better sense of directional decision making as it happens.

One of the elements that can help make eAGMs possible is cloud computing – a technology tool in its own right. Cloud computing can help members access documents in real time from anywhere at anytime. This allows for greater responsiveness and relevancy for stakeholders.

3. Feedback and fitness – Employees and volunteer staff are the lifeblood of any organization, especially an association where so much is often required of so few staff. Ensuring you have proper feedback is key. “CEO Disease” can often occur when employees are reluctant to be honest in their assessments of issues and supply vague and perhaps reassuring information to the boss. If you care about the association make sure you are getting accurate information where people can speak freely without repercussions.

Even when there is a comfort level, employees need to be asked the “right” questions (e.g. “What should I do more of?” “Is there anything I should add?”), in order to provide honest feedback. Also, don’t be afraid to get other or outside opinions and ensure you act on the feedback so the association can move forward and meet the needs of its staff.

Fitness is another way to keep your staff’s minds and bodies from descending into fatigue. Meetings, lectures and conferences can incorporate fitness breaks that not only help health-wise, but also build camaraderie and challenge participants.

4. Go beyond a membership-centric model – Reassessing your business model is an important aspect of remaining up to date and relevant. Demography is changing, technologies are changing and membership is changing. There will always be a loyal membership but younger industry-associated people may also be looking for services offered by the association without actually becoming members.

New and more adaptive business models can look at how you are running your association as well as how it can be more adaptive and inclusive of different segments. Knowing the value you bring is key. Also building technology around member AND non-member engagement will provide services to a wider audience and create a more inclusive atmosphere. Membership and stakeholder engagement is critical to the early stages of this business model shift but an imaginative and open association can provide value and be more inclusive of all industry players – members or not.

5. Knowing the role of the Board – Ideas like greater inclusiveness and a movement away from member-centric models will necessarily require new and greater commitments from the Board. A representational mind-set can help but may also hinder decision-making if Board members are too focused on constituents. Established polices and fiduciary responsibilities will help guide directors and the association as a whole.

Governance training (identifying roles etc.), evaluation and recruitment of directors who have time and energy can help weed out longer serving directors who have either lost their drive or are participating less and less in the process.

Also things items like creating a Board calendar and identifying purpose either at the Chair level or through Board documents can also re-energize the process and give directors future goals to strive for. Information, both quality and the right kind, can help the Board stay on track for strategic discussions. Management plays a role in this and should be able to provide quality information that possesses the “right” questions. Regular management and Board discussions can move this process along.