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September 5, 2018

Moving Forward: Results of the 2018 EIA Study

The results are in for the 10th edition of McKinley’s annual series, the Economic Impact on Associations (EIA). Each year, our research team examines the impact of shifting economic conditions on the association sector. This year’s theme, Moving Forward: Associations Adapt in an Age of Accelerations, takes a closer look at how associations are maintaining relevancy in today’s everchanging market.

The main focuses of this year’s report included:

  • Economic impact: How associations are making the most of a thriving economy and planning for future shifts.
  • Membership & organizational priorities: How organizations remain committed to enhancing value while also focusing on diversifying revenue and adapting their organizational structure and model to keep pace with evolving member and market expectations.
  • Diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I): How organizations are frequently including DE&I as part of their core values, vision and/or mission statements but falling short in application.

Here’s what we discovered this year:

Economic Impact

From the big picture perspective, associations have benefited from better than expected economic conditions and are generally operating from a position of strength compared to when we first launched EIA in 2008. In 2017, for example, conditions yielded better results than predicted for 40 percent of associations, representing an 11-point increase from the year before.

Over the years, we have witnessed association insights and performances shift in response to the economy and other environmental influences. Associations are consistently adapting and have the potential to move forward in unparalleled ways.

Yet, while associations are becoming more adept at predicting and responding to economic conditions, industry uncertainty continues to cause concern over future shifts.

Economic Optimism for Associations and the Industry from EIA 2018

Membership & Organizational Priorities

Member retention trends continue to remain stable: Most professional associations reported a member retention rate above 80 percent, and the majority of trade associations reported retention above 85 percent.

We’re also seeing that despite continued economic expansion, concern over core business lines remains on the rise – suggesting the traditional membership model is under increased scrutiny. Associations are expanding programs and services in the search for non-dues revenue and overall portfolio diversification.

Top Priorities for Associations from EIA 2018

Associations are also continuing to add, reorganize and outsource staff functions as options to maximize resources and position organizational priorities more strategically. These changes in organizational priorities and actions related to legacy programs, models and structures are indicators that more substantial changes related to value delivery are on the horizon for many associations.

Diversity, Equity & Inclusion

Diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) are frequently cited in associations’ core values, mission and vision statements, and organizational priorities. However, our research reveals a common tendency among associations to identify DE&I efforts as a top organizational priority without implementing the specific strategies needed to advance efforts in a significant way.

Association Priority on Diversity and Inclusion from EIA 2018

Successful practices that have made a difference at other organizations – such as formal diversity trainings to both staff and management, supporting diverse communities, and implementing mentoring programs and cross-training – are not being adopted and incorporated by the majority of associations as often as needed to lead to substantial results.

Moving Forward

Overall, we see strong economic optimism across the association sector today, as well as a recognized commitment to enhancing value and impact while diversifying revenue streams and participation.

For many associations, however, a pressing challenge is to remain relevant while relying on a largely 20th-century business model. What does this new age of acceleration mean for the association model? Our 2018 edition of the Economic Impact on Associations Study lends data and McKinley’s unique perspective on the landscape to draw back the curtain on these top-of-mind questions for association executives.

Download the 2018 EIA study and learn more about the state of the association industry.


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