Does anybody know what the association of the future looks like?

At the Institute for Organizational Management, offered by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, I have the opportunity to teach — or facilitate — a class entitled "Strong Associations for the Future."

The elective is described as an environmental scan of challenges, opportunities and resources to better position organizations.

After presenting smart practices and progressive examples, the executives offer their input about the association of the future.

Here’s a summary from the class at the University of Georgia program this summer.

Start with a Strong Mission

The mission frames everything — so be sure it is clear and powerful. Examples included "The Voice for Visual Journalists" (NPPA); Hopkins Regional Chamber's "Champion for Business – Advocate for Community" and Florida Medical Association’s "Helping Physicians Practice Medicine." Could you boil your mission down to a tweet?

Business Acumen

Align with the terminology of business — "nonprofit" is only a designation. Transform members into investors and shareholders, and work to increase member equity.

Don’t Let Borders Limit

Think beyond boundaries; and develop products and license them to the other 49 states or to allied organizations. Do members have to be the only customers?

Intensify Collaboration

Find new collaborative partners. For example, a local component or chamber can partner with rural health or rural water organizations to focus on adequate resource accessibility into the future.

Global Benefit

Members and businesses may be expanding marketing share with an eye on global interests. Build relationships, insights and knowledge of global opportunities. Integrate international affairs into programs and services. For example, what is the potential impact of the enhanced Panama Canal on members, businesses and communities?

Technology Investment

Build technology platforms to reduce reliance on staff and improve member access to education, membership, mentoring, connectivity, etc. Invest adequately for the long term, potentially up to 10 percent of the budget.

Intellectual Property

Use the expertise of the board, staff and volunteers to create documents that position the organization as an expert in the field. Copyright the intellectual property to increase stature and credibility.

Measure Performance

Conduct an organizational resilience test. Available free, "Inventory, Assess and Improve" can be found at

Kick-Ass Problem Solutions

Innovation must be a guiding principle for board and staff. Members foremost want answers, solutions and resolution to their problems.

Right Board Size

State laws allow corporate governance with less than five persons. Does a board of 40, 50 or 70 directors make sense? Analyze costs associated with convening a large board, insuring them, keeping them informed, providing documents, food and beverage.

Fair Share Dues Model

What would members pay for dues based on a fair share or value? The model comes from the restaurant promotion: "Pay only what the meal is worth." Would members increase or decrease what they pay your organization? Upsell with tiered dues, offering added access and value.

The Right Structure

Build subsidiaries to enhance revenue and opportunities in the form of a for-profit and/or foundation. Use the organization’s knowledge and equipment to create a management company for other organizations.


Referencing the board members as trustees of the corporation should characterize the directors as having the trust of members to fulfill their fiduciary duties and governing responsibilities. This is a transition from, "I’m just a volunteer on a board."

Revamp Staff Titles

Empower staff with titles that position them as experts. The Education Manager may be the "Director of Knowledge;" the Membership Director may be the "Director of Shareholder Relations and Engagement;" the CFO may be the "Asset and Equity Building Manager."

Purposeful Abandonment

Evaluate everything that has been added to the to-do list over years and decades. If it doesn’t fit the mission or money criteria, revamp, drop or give it away to another organization. Ask a task force to bring programs and resources back in line with the mission.

Too many organizations simply describe their benefits and services as a "long list without much value." Work towards creating a "golden handcuff," a benefit so valuable members are eager to join and renew.

The Energy of Emerging Leaders

Invest in an Emerging Leaders and Young Professionals Forum and give them responsibilities in the organization. They can be a powerhouse of energy and ideas.

Too Many Organizations in the Space?

Explore mergers to strengthen the community instead of divvying up the resources among multiple organizations. If not a merger — explore serious collaborative efforts.

Member Care and Wellness

If the organization positions itself as the lifelong home to members — consider a role in offering wellness services. Be ready with services when a member is stressed, addicted, etc. Don’t ignore problems when members are hurting and need a place to turn.

Regional Thinking

Enlarge you footprint, stature, issues expertise with regional thinking — avoid working in a silo. Find new and unique collaborative partners.

Customer Base

Focus less on "the member," but more on a broader customer base for the organization.

Issues Ownership

Consider adopting in-depth issues that impact members and community. For example, the Drug Free Workforce Alliance (resulting in insurance savings), the Water-Economic Impact Nexus, or the Business Infrastructure Alliance. Take up issues that impact members and position the organization as a respected resource and visionary outlet.

Is the Name Tainted?

The word association or chamber denotes, "pay your dues." Create an organization less reliant on dues, broader in services and focused on a bigger vision.

Consider replacing your name with council, alliance, or forum. Examples discussed included Forius (NACM Midwest), the Global Cold Chain Alliance, and Corenet Global. Could an association of CPAs transform to the Alliance for Business Success and Accounting; can an Economic Develop Council be the Economic and Global Development Forum?

The leadership and staff should constantly scan the environment and adapt for the future.