Every association embracing the long term social future needs an awesome captain

Looking back at 80 posts on TFOA, and the mission I gave myself, this is what it boils down to for me at this moment. Associations really depend on people. I’m sure this is not a universal truth, but looking at the more than 450 Belgian professional and trade associations, one of the most striking things for me is how their presidents and directors are crucial in many ways their organization is doing things, or dare I say not doing things.

Clay Shirky already warned us that professionals like to see the world through a lens created by other members of their profession. This has as consequence that a lot of associations are closed and like to stay that way. Why change a winning horse ?

Here’s what I think. Because we live in a brand new world, perhaps not that brave, but nevertheless characterized by an increasing complexity and ongoing change, demanding a lot from all players involved and leading to protectionism, fear and above all immobility. Competition is rough, stakeholders of all sort are trying to stay in the picture. Especially since the most frightening evolution is the impact of the internet on how associations are operating. Internet does not only change the tools but also the rules! It has become very easy to get organized, even more easy to get things done and above all, if it doesn’t work, you can change your strategy and try all over. Why need structure, meetings, committees, overhead? Send out some e-mails or invites for a social network group and look: here comes everybody!

If associations don’t want to become superfluous they will have to open up and start embracing the long term social future. Professionalism is no longer enough, they have to step up to a next level, one they are not used to be dealing with. Associations are no longer islands of well-stowed away information, acting only when an attack is at hand. Future associations are part of a hyperconnected world, driven by the permanent and impatient input of their members, confronted with the necessity of working together with, let’s say, everybody, all of the time. No time to sit back and enjoy the ride ! What’s more, staying upfront isn’t enough, associations need to seek that awesomeness-sauce to make a difference. Doing things the other way around, doing new things, creating ‘thick content’, diving into social media, thinking of what probably will come, but keeping in mind that it probably will be so different, perhaps so much worse.

What that kind of new organizations need are remarkable association executives, well-educated, flexible, charismatic, creative, hyperconnected supermen and women. If my TFOA-journey has not yet given me the answer to the question if associations will be able to survive in an internet-enabled world, it has at least convinced me that we have to rely on people to do the job. And not just anyone, but fierce captains of associations. That’s why I invested time in founding the Belgian Society of Association Executives. Surely, that’s not rocket-science, since there are good examples like ASAE, ESAE, IofAM, the Dutch VPN or the French CEDAP, but nevertheless it feels like going somewhere where no one has gone before.

To make sure I’m right about all of this, I’m embarking on a trip to the Annual Meeting of ASAE (21-24 of August), travelling along with a delegation of Dutch association professionals whom I’m looking forward to meet.  But my final mission lays in discovering why so many association professionals (4000 ?) want to come together ‘in the flesh’ to learn, meet, connect. If you want to look over my shoulder follow me on this blog, or on the ASAE-Acronym blog where I will be doing some guestbloggers posts, or on twitter http://twitter.com/2Mpact).

P.S. If you are not convinced why I want to promote association management in Belgium, check out my PROMO-presentation on Slideshare.

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