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May 14, 2020

What a Decade of Data Means for the Future

Our retitled report, Association Viewpoint, reflects a new decade of data and insight.

Over 10 years ago, we released the first Economic Impact on Associations (EIA) study. At the time, we were in the middle of the Great Recession. Our latest edition, newly titled Association Viewpoint, explores a decade of data and insights and what it means for the future. Here are some of the challenges and opportunities associations face and what we know from those that emerged stronger from past crises.

The difference a month makes

Unlike the Great Recession, the COVID-19 crisis unfolded in weeks and months rather than years. One example is unemployment, which rose from 5% to 10% in two years during the Great Recession. By the end of February 2020, only one state had reported an increase in unemployment. But one month later, 6.6 million Americans had filed jobless claims.

Associations have experienced a similar rapid trend. In early March 2020, less than 20% of respondents said they were “somewhat concerned” about the outlook for their associations and industries. And for the first time in the history of the study, 0% of respondents described themselves as “very concerned.” By early May 2020, those numbers soared to over 80%.

Navigating shifting priorities

The association industry is certainly not protected from economic downturns and shifts in human behavior. But associations have positioned themselves to evolve more rapidly than ever before by fortifying for the future.

As a result, associations are narrowing their focus to a few critical areas. Here are a few ways they have effectively adapted in the past:

  • Shifting from expansion and diversification to immediate concerns like member retention, strengthening and communicating their core offerings, and ensuring financial sustainability.
  • Leading with messages of understanding and accessibility during the early stages of a crisis to support more acute member needs — rather than monetizing new resources.
  • Staying well-positioned to support members with access to vital resources, including trusted information, industry representation, career resources and community.

Line graph shows the highest priorities of associations over the last ten years.

Identifying vulnerabilities and reimagining possibilities

Years of research has made it clear that prosperity and adversity can exist simultaneously, and optimism and pessimism are often closely entwined. Naturally, many of us wonder what association leaders should prioritize in the coming year. Below are key takeaways and predictions, which we outline in more detail in the report:

Key Takeaways from the Great Recession

Preserving the Core. Maintain an exceptional focus on members.

Investing in Membership. Ensure the membership team is adequately resourced to maintain high-touch outreach and service.

Fostering Community. Understand the power of community for networking, camaraderie and business development.

Providing Timely, Trusted Information. Enhance your role as a broker of trusted industry and peer-to-peer knowledge.

Revenue Diversification. Identify the areas of financial vulnerability.

Our Guidance for the Coming Year

Rapid Innovation. Reimagine how you do business—from governance to hotel contracts.

Strategy. As always, set clear strategy and metrics.

Value Proposition. Deliver essential value with enhanced career resources and timely information and analysis.

Collaboration and Partnerships. Explore coalitions and partnerships to compound your association’s impact and value.

Financial Analysis and Scenario Planning. Understand potential impacts to guide informed discussion and decision-making.


Explore more findings from a decade of data and insights and what it means for the future. Plus, stay tuned for upcoming research including:

  • COVID-19 association and member tracker results.
  • A mid-year refresh of the Association Viewpoint study.
  • And a special summer report in partnership with Association Analytics.


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