energizing breakthrough performance

The Coming Crisis in Association Member Participation

by Ronald A. Gunn, Strategic Futures principal

For most associations, the key to a dynamic and viable enterprise is the active participation of members—whether the member sits on the Board, or on Committees.

Each year, I work with a host of non-profit associations. Over the past couple of years, I have discerned a transcendent issue which promises to affect any and all associations that rely to varying degrees upon member participation—and that means the vast majority. The issue of activism levels has surfaced while I have conducted strategic planning work, member/non-member perception studies, and other projects that put me in touch with the concerns of client association executives and their boards.

A core component of the issue is this: The most active members in many associations are at or nearing retirement age. Not only have many associations lagged in cultivating a new generation of leadership and activism with which to replace these long-time active members, they may also be making the unsafe assumption that younger members will either be inclined or able to participate in the same manner or to the same degree as their predecessors.

Strategic Futures helps associations deal with the first issue—planning for member succession and developing those leaders through expanded committee structures, purposeful mentoring, and other strategic initiatives.

We also help with the second issue which is the inclination or ability of new and/or younger members to participate actively. This issue takes most of us into uncharted territory. Formulaic answers often don’t work. This is where new challenges await and where decidedly new thinking will be required to achieve success.

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