Driving Towards a Renaissance


“Associations give their members three huge advantages: greater strength, more information, and deeper relationships. That’s why associations have existed since ancient Greece and why they’re more valuable than ever in today’s fast-changing world.” 

~Geoffrey Colvin, Sr. Editor at Large, Fortune Magazine


Thoughtleaders like Don Neal, president and CEO of 360 Live Media, believe the conditions are in place to drive membership-based organizations toward a renaissance or new Golden Era where they will have even greater relevancy. How organizations thrive in the new decade depends on whether its leaders can develop new strategies and structures for their organizations to evolve.

In the Board Forward article The Emerging Association Renaissance, Neal explores three factors that can help transform membership-based organizations. I found the factors intriguing and can see how they could generate opportunities for strategic direction, new markets, and long-term growth. However, this would require out-of-the-box thinking for leaders and a willingness to break away from the normative patterns and beliefs that have created artificial boundaries for organizations.


A New Business Model

Neal points out that the association model has been in place for more than 100 years and has been rooted in conditions different than those of today. The model is designed exclusively for those who exchange membership dues for access to benefits. Associations were non-profit organizations that served individuals and companies with services that were not otherwise available.

Now that Costco, Amazon Prime and numerous other private companies use a “membership” model built around a low price of entry with high value and a la carte options, associations should consider how they might learn from these newer models. Perhaps fees for belonging are lower while initiatives, tailored packages, concierge services and unique experiences drive members to invest based on their needs and interests. A larger membership base could serve more stakeholders and produce higher net revenues for organizations.

A New Business Model | Hight Performance Group


Companies such as Amazon and innovative start-ups develop a Platform Idea Canvas to conduct environmental scans to review Drivers of Change, potential Business Models, Value Propositions for different audiences, Service Design, and Strategies which will propel their future direction. Associations considering the realms of possibilities for creating a new business model may benefit from going through a similar process. This would require abandonment of membership as we’ve known it to be.


Rethinking What it Means to Belong

Neal points out that associations provide a sense of community for professionals who shared similar backgrounds, goals, career aspirations and the power of the collective to solve problems. But associations have not evolved to meet societal shifts in how younger generations and communities interact, learn and work together.

As Kelly Clark advocates in the article 3 Trends Associations Should Focus on in 2020, it’s important to recognize there will always be a need for members to connect with each other. Membership-based organizations need to improve on being more inclusive by making programming and connection more accessible. Members with disabilities or those who are not able to engage in person will appreciate mobile-enabled content and access to online communities.

Clark suggests using a Human-Centered Design approach to place people at the center of organizational strategy. Spending time listening to members’ stories about their work, aspirations and concerns helps to shape organizational goals, programming and advocacy initiatives. Make a point of going to members and observing them in their own spaces rather than bringing them to you.

As technology speeds up the pace of life, people want to engage with brands in real time. Organizations can provide engagement opportunities through live and experiential events, live FaceBook and LinkedIn Updates, and podcasts.


Win Back Campaigns: Courting Dropped Members | Hight Performance Group


An Association for Life

Neal shares how associations are filling the void left by the changing nature of corporate America. Over the last few decades, employers offered a sense of community for their employees, but things have changed. A new generation of talent are gig workers or may work for 15 or more companies in their lifetime. Forbes estimates that about half of U.S. workers, about 86.5 million people, will be part of the gig economy by 2027.

Associations can become the core community in a world of constant change to help members fulfill the 6 Core Human Needs. To become the “Association of Life,” organizations need to do a better job of catering to the new workforce and providing opportunities to network, connect, advocate and serve. Big conventions and trade shows are good platforms to bring people together, but don’t necessarily provide connections.

Technology and platforms are changing to create curated experiences. Forward-thinking associations require future-oriented leaders that are not custodians of the past, but stewards of innovation and reinvention. These leaders will drive your organization towards a renaissance and create a Golden Era for those you have been charged to serve!


Cathi Hight helps organizations manage constant change, develop customer-centricity and “work smarter, not harder”. She is President of Hight Performance Group and the developer of The Member Retention Kit, A New Approach to Tiered Membership, and Work Smarter, Not Harder. Learn more at www.hightperformance.com.


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