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September 7, 2023

How Association Leaders Turn Strategic Priorities into Actions


Each year, we reach out to hundreds of association leaders to get a pulse on the top challenges and priorities they are facing. We ask, “What are your association's three highest priorities for the year?” and the results shed light on the focus of association leaders across industries. 

This year, developing new methods for member engagement, generating non-dues revenue and assessing the level of value delivered to members were the top three priorities. Our team checked in with association executives from The Council of Insurance Agents and Brokers, American Counseling Association (ACA) and ASIS International mid-year to see how they were progressing on the top three priorities and tracking their success.  

Developing new methods for member engagement

The Council of Insurance Agents & Brokers has gone through dramatic shifts in its member engagement strategy to stay relevant and of value to its members. Catherine Richardson, COO of The Council of Insurance Agents & Brokers, explains how they stay innovative to address the evolving commercial insurance brokerage firm industry and new target markets. 

Catherine Richardson: “There are two things that have expedited a shift in our member engagement strategy.  The first is a very active merger and acquisitions environment which has increased the complexity and size of our average member firm, making it hard to push our value proposition deeper into member firms. The second has been growth within the association. We now have a robust content platform, Leader's Edge, and an Insurance Professional School targeting early-career learners, which has expanded our sphere of influence and created unique target audiences with different needs. 

These factors have necessitated heavy investments in people and systems which allow us to actively listen to employees of our member firms through their digital footprint and use technology to curate content and programming recommendations for these new stakeholders.”

Generating non-dues revenue

Shawn E. Boynes, CEO of The American Counseling Association (ACA) uses lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic to emphasize the importance of strengthening their non-dues revenue portfolio. ACA’s board and staff team are currently evaluating their existing range of programs and product offerings, conducting environmental scans to evaluate the market in which they operate and using research to uncover gaps in ACA's educational portfolio.

Shawn E. Boynes: “If the disruption from the pandemic didn’t teach associations anything, we’re doomed. Many organizations rely on one primary stream of revenue, and those organizations who relied on meeting and conference revenue were probably the most severely impacted by not being able to meet in person.

Associations remain challenged with diversifying where we bring in necessary revenue to support organizational priorities. The American Counseling Association is no different. Our primary revenue source is membership dues. A recent membership survey noted there’s a growing need for more professional development for students as well as early-career counselors. An untapped area for us to grow is in content development (courses, webinars, topic-specific conferences, etc.). Our audience has told us they want and need more education from the ACA. We just have to deliver! Doing so will significantly change the organization’s revenue mix so that we aren’t so reliant on membership dues alone.

The ACA staff is aligned on generating non-dues revenue and we’re focused on hiring the right talent to execute. The board is supportive and with our new strategic plan, we’ll be able to ensure this remains a priority.”

Assessment of the level of value delivered to members

The ASIS International’s HQ team is focused on uncovering the value they can offer to their members at the chapter, regional and global levels. Peter J. O'Neil, CEO of ASIS International highlights the importance of using research to uncover the unmet needs of their members. 

Peter J. O'Neil: “This is complex work and we have worked hard to address the value proposition at each layer, fueled by data. It has taken many partnerships across staff teams, across member/volunteer teams, and working with outside partners to improve our net promoter score and continue to use data to drive us in specific directions.

The ASIS HQ Team works very hard to remain aligned with our Global Board, Regional Boards, 4 ex-officio boards, and nearly 1800 global volunteers. This takes a lot of effort and very deliberate, coordinated communication to remain aligned.

Our 501c6 and 501c3 work in a coordinated, deliberate manner to conduct research that our profession relies on. This includes member engagement research in a number of ways. First, a global member needs assessment. Second, continuing micro-assessments. And third, through anecdotal interactions and other industry research that we use.

Daily our staff and volunteers are coordinating their actions and activities across the globe to continue to drive member value. It is challenging but we know through our change in net promoter score and from other data that we are making great progress.”

It is crucial to gain clarity on the organizational priorities that will have the greatest impact, align the staff and the board with the overall vision, and utilize data for measuring and monitoring success. These elements will enable your association to effectively deliver value to your members and the field or industry your association represents.

Inspired by these association leaders? Access the latest data-driven insights on how to achieve strategic agility in your association in our Next-Level Governance™: Leading with Strategic Agility report! 

McKinley Advisors

McKinley Advisors is an award-winning association consulting firm dedicated to accelerating associations’ positive impact on the world. McKinley works in partnership with association executives and volunteer leaders to identify and address their most significant challenges and opportunities. McKinley provides services...


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