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How to embrace change so your association can reach more people

Heather Nolan
October 8, 2020
How to embrace change so your association can reach more people

When it joined the Silicon Valley tech scene in 1998, Google was a modest startup that aimed to “organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible.” More than two decades later, Google has revolutionized the Internet, introducing sweeping changes to the way people connect and learn online. 

Google’s story is one of countless examples of the way change can radically and swiftly change the way we operate. From new technologies to social movements, associations face the monumental challenge of improving their processes to keep pace with the times. 

Although change is constant, continuous process improvement is no small feat. For one thing, associations are often large organizations with hundreds or even thousands of employees. It’s hard to be nimble when there is so much inertia in place.

Associations also tend to place a high value on history and tradition. While it’s true that institutional knowledge can be priceless, associations must balance the impulse toward continuity with innovation or risk being left behind.

To avoid falling by the wayside, associations should be proactive about nurturing an internal culture that can adapt to change.

Cultivate a culture of learning

Too often, associations are stuck with rigid policies and complicated bureaucracies. When there are significant institutional barriers in place, even proposals for small changes can result in bottlenecks. 

It’s important to understand why associations prioritize careful analysis and risk management. These processes are important, and part of why many associations have existed for more than a century. 

But the unintended result is that associations can become sluggish and ill-equipped to handle sweeping changes in their industries. At worst, associations can become places too intent on looking backward, instead of embracing learning opportunities and looking ahead.

Associations should strive to dismantle obstacles and replace them with simple, flexible policies. This shift can reinvigorate an organization’s internal culture, encouraging employees to pose bold questions and pursue their curiosities.

It’s perfectly natural for this shift to feel uncomfortable or risky. After all, cultivating a culture of learning means employees might propose unconventional solutions, or discover research that leads to unexpected conclusions. 

By getting comfortable with the unknown, your association will be more prepared to adapt to whatever the future holds. 

Leverage technology to reach a wider audience 

From social media to email marketing, webinars to live streaming, technology has created countless ways to connect with your audience. Associations that focus exclusively on their existing members are missing out on key opportunities to engage a much larger audience.

If your existing processes don’t take advantage of technology, it’s time to bring your association up to speed. Start by identifying what your association does well, and then investigate whether new technology could help those processes become even stronger.

For example, many associations hold annual events and conferences. Today, there are many tech-forward options for enhancing these experiences, including:

  • Live streaming the keynote speaker to remote participants 
  • Creating an app to guide attendees through sessions
  • Posting video clips of sessions on YouTube
  • Holding Q&A sessions on Facebook live

These tactics will modernize your existing signature events, and they can add a new level of value for members and non-members.

Though the future is always uncertain, one thing that’s clear is that it will involve change. Associations that gradually improve their processes will be better able to face whatever challenges lay ahead.

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Heather Nolan

Heather Nolan is a marketing specialist at Sidecar. A former journalist and social media manager, Heather lives in New Orleans with her husband, son, and grumpy rescue dog.

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