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December 19, 2022

Navigating the Turbulent Twenties

Years ago, two scholars predicted that the nation was headed for the “Turbulent Twenties,” forecasting a decade of growing instability based on a historical model of crises paired with current data. 

These crises have come to fruition as a result of political, social, economic and health turmoil.

The externalities from the challenges of the past two years have had an impact on association stakeholders, investments and operations. What can association leaders do to not just survive this turbulent decade, but thrive?

The key is to be agile in decision making and governance processes while capitalizing on opportunities that add value and leverage your association’s strengths.

Engage in dynamic strategic planning.

Association leaders are increasingly struggling with the traditional three to five year time horizon for strategic plans. Instead, they are looking for a dynamic strategic planning process that involves continuous feedback, evaluation and an effective change management process.

Accelerating effective decision making supports your association’s ability to amplify what’s working and cut back on what’s not. Evaluate the technology, rules, behavioral norms, and processes currently in place to determine if there are roadblocks and discover opportunities to become agile.

In a study McKinley conducted of strategic plans across multiple associations, we found membership value and growth, organizational strength, a commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI), and advocacy engagement were the top drivers in 2022 strategic plans with an emerging theme of environmental sustainability.

As strategic plans for 2023 are underway, understanding and responding to the current economic and business landscape can help your organization make an impact throughout the decade.

Shore up the business model to sustain ongoing turbulence.

Across our practice we are seeing association leaders put greater emphasis on navigating the intersection of strategy and operational execution.

According to our 2022 Association Viewpoint study, only 28% of association leaders are very confident in their current business model.

This year, association leaders are re-evaluating their portfolio approach and focusing on initiatives to grow non-dues revenue. The portfolio assessment includes evaluating:

  • Which products have enhanced value and which should be retired temporarily or permanently.
  • Where there is a new need or gaps in your offerings.
  • Which programs in your portfolio of offerings align with your strategic plan.
  • Assess new program opportunities in the context of the existing portfolio of the offerings.

Outcomes for portfolio assessments include creating diverse products, meeting member needs, generating net profit, advancing your mission and achieving strategic plan goals. Associations are looking at varying pricing models, launching new programming, investing in certification and accreditation as well as knowledge-based certificates in order to achieve these outcomes. 

Leverage data to unlock insights and make key decisions.

When you engage in dynamic strategic planning and portfolio assessments, it is important to understand the perceptions, needs and values of members and non-member stakeholders. Collecting data and synthesizing trends can provide actionable insights that are forward-thinking and challenge you to explore new possibilities.

A robust data strategy requires forethought, planning, and sensitivity to the organization’s culture around decision-making.

Develop a data strategy that fits with your association. Tools including quantitative and qualitative data, such as surveys, financial data, focus groups and marketplace assessments can help you uncover what to stop doing, align your resources with your strategic plan, and assess new business opportunities. With this data you can develop a dashboard based on your strategic plan to assess the health of your organization and determine what changes need to be made throughout the year. These research initiatives can deliver the market intelligence required to overcome obstacles and deliver on your mission.

Employing dynamic strategic planning, enhancing your portfolio and using a data strategy to drive decisions are key areas of focus for associations. When you cultivate a culture that embraces innovation and feedback your association will have a lasting impact.

Connect with an association expert at McKinley Advisors to explore how your organization is positioned for this turbulent moment we are living in and how to overcome the challenges that lie ahead.


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