Monday, December 10, 2012

Are Your Members More Tech Savvy Than Your Association?

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WSAE had Mary Byers speak at their year-end event last week. She's the co-author of Race for Relevance, and gave the WSAE members plenty of food for thought. Among the many things she highlighted was the woeful amount of money most associations spend on technology. In one memorable slide, she showed how many associations spend less on technology than they do on printing or on meals at their events.

It reminded me of how critically important it was for associations to at least be at parity with their members when it comes to technology.

Many associations, I think, have justifiably built up an amount of goodwill with their members. They represent their industry or profession, provide valuable services, and are attempting to accomplish things that are larger than what any single member can do on their own. This goodwill gives them some slack when it comes to not being as up-to-date as the rest of the world in the realm of technology. If it takes a day or two to confirm a new profile in the online community, or the e-commerce site goes down from time to time, or the website looks awful on a mobile device--it's tolerated because of this goodwill. They are an association, after all.

But from where I sit, this goodwill is starting to evaporate. The online expectations of members are being shaped by their experiences across the web, and fewer and fewer of them will offer an association the same pass they might have offered before.

In my own world, I see more and more of my member companies adopting, struggling and solving their own technology challenges and building productive online interactions with their employees and their customers. It's happening slowly, but it is accelerating, and it will eventually become the norm in our industry in a way that it hasn't been before. This adeptness will, I think, inevitably lead to a new set of expectations being placed on my association in the area of technology. A broken e-commerce site or a crappy mobile website will no longer be a sign of a non-profit organization that is trying really hard. It will be the sign of an incompetent organization that no longer deserves support.

Every association is experiencing this shift, and some have already suffered from being caught behind the technology expectations of their members. Ours, I think, has a handful of years to make the necessary adjustments, but yours might be in a different situation. It's a complex problem that won't be solved only by allocating more money for technology in next year's budget, but that will undoubtedly be a necessary component.


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