First of all, let me try to give an answer to the Big Question, knowing what I know today. My answer would be NO! The Internet will change things, and probably in a manner that no one can foresee, but associations won’t disappear (I hope – but let me stay unbiased).
Following are 10 characteristics of today’s associations safeguarding their existence. Do not call them 10 cons , because they sound like that, but in fact they are really 10 pros for the association:
- Confidence: a professional or trade association is by concept seeking to further a particular profession, the interests of companies that go beyond internet: associations want to move an issue forward, change policy, change the world. Members must have an innate confidence and belief in the tasks that lie ahead
- Complexity: an association does not limit itself to pursuing a one-issue cause, they are handling several issues, often at the same time
- Commitment: members of an association commit themselves to the organization, not only through the membership-fee, but also by providing essential feedback to the organization. It goes without saying that they expect a reciprocal effort and added value
- Content: associations create unique and authoritative content, as a result of their interaction with members and stake-holders. This content does not come automatically, but is construed by professionals. Managing content is undoubtedly a major challenge for association professionals
- Communication: associations do not only have to communicate with their members (c.q. potential members) but with a wide range of stakeholders, each of which will have to be dealt with in a appropriate manner
- Complementarity: whereas associations may use the Internet for many purposes, a vast amount of ‘work’ is done in the off line world (e.g. member meetings, educational programs,…)
- Co-ordination: the success of an association is largely determined by its structure and the people responsible for the organization of this institution. It goes without saying that this is one of the most challenged features in a internet-enabled world.
- Collaboration: associations rely for a large part on the willingness of their members, as well as their different partners, stakeholders (be it within the sector, the public authorities etc.) to collaborate on different levels in order to achieve the goals that have been put forward
- Continuity: it is a major focus for associations to make sure that the profession they embrace, is made sustainable. This includes first of all an involvement in the development and monitoring of professional educational programs and of safeguarding quality-standards(e.g. by upholding quality label procedures or quality management systems)
- Control: undoubtedly the most tricky issue is the obvious reflex of associations to maintain control or oversight of the legitimate practice of a profession or trade related issues
Let’s challenge the internet to substitute all these issues that associations have been taking for granted for years. Let’s understand and embrace all possibilities of the Internet. If my information is correct, in the US alone more than half a million of people are employed in the association management sector. In Belgium there are more than 17 000 associations of which 40% have professionals on the payroll. I’ll come back to these economic data in later posts.