Do associations still matter?

By Chloe Blair

In a world where technology continuously evolves and communication boundaries appear to blur on a global scale, we may find ourselves wondering if associations still matter in the modern age. For generations, associations have been a valuable resource for people and have helped to set standards for various industries and interest groups. They’ve long provided a rich breeding ground for new ideas, education and innovation. 

With the sudden rise in tech-fueled connectivity, some people feel associations are no longer needed for these purposes. They argue professionals no longer need to rely on an association to continue their education in a specific field because they can just refer to online resources such as YouTube. They may also believe associations are no longer needed for networking because social media appears to connect people faster. 

According to many associations, the average age of members continues to increase. It appears young people are utilizing online resources to fulfill the role associations provided in the past. This is difficult for organizations who need to attract and retain new and younger members.

Despite these challenges, I’m here to argue that associations do still matter, and in the age of impersonal connection, one-on-one interaction is more impactful than ever. Associations offer a wealth of relevant information; the benefits just need to be presented to new potential members in a relevant way that resonates. 

Three important things associations provide its members are:

  1. Resources: Education, information, networking and professional development
  2. Standards: High sets of standards, codes of ethics and certifications in specific fields
  3. Advocacy: The power to represent interest groups in an impactful way in government and politics

The internet has very limited quality control factors. Fake news dominates on the internet because it’s more entertaining, as discovered by MIT’s study. It’s more eye-catching and attention grabbing and thus spreads more readily. This issue highlights just how low the internet’s standards are for quality information. For many professionals, their success banks on the quality of the information they gain. This is where associations come into play. They set the standards for industries, and their content is produced with the sole intention of furthering their mission and the success of their members — not gaining attention.

Michael Clarke, who serves on the board of directors for Silverchair Information Systems and is a past board member of the Society for Scholarly Publishing and the Council of Science Editors, strongly believes in the importance of associations. According to Clarke,  “As the world becomes more complex and the nature of work (its skills and technologies) continue to change, professional associations will continue to have a role (in some cases, an increased role) in supporting their members with the knowledge, skills, and networks to navigate the changing workplace and remain successful.” 

As technological advancement continues to push forward, associations have a huge role in being a support for their members. It may feel easier for some younger professionals to network on social media, but that doesn’t mean the quality of those interactions are the same. The likelihood of getting that job because of directly messaging an employee on Instagram is low. The respect and potential for influence from meeting an executive through an association-related event, sharing drinks and exchanging contacts is substantially higher. Not to mention the benefits garnered from making those lifelong connections with superiors in your fields of expertise or interests. 

Many associations are utilized by interest groups to push political initiatives that represent their members needs, rights and desires. One example is Family Equality, an association whose sole mission is to “advance legal and lived equality for LGBTQ families, and for those who wish to form them, through building community, changing hearts and minds, and driving policy change.” With the LGBTQ population in America making up only 4.5 percent of the population, according to a Gallup poll, associations like these give minority communities more power to allow their opinions and voice to be fairly represented in politics.  

Although the importance of associations in our society is clear, what’s not are the changes that need to be made for them to adapt to a quickly evolving world. These organizations need to do a better job of making their importance and their existence known to potential members. 

As Amanda Kaiser noted in this GuideStar blog, “The reason young professionals do not join, they say, is because they did not know about the association. Or if they knew about the association, they did not know it was for them.” 

In other words, associations need to invest time and resources into branding themselves in an attractive way to younger generations. Some ways of doing this include:

  • Creatively utilize social media to speak directly to younger generations. Instagram, Snapchat, and TikTok all cater to young audiences.
  • Be innovative. With so much interconnectedness, it’s difficult to be heard above the noise. One way to do this is to try something that has never been done before.
  • Stay on top of new technology and ask if it’s beneficial for your organization and your members. Change can be scary, but it’s necessary to remain valuable. 

Though the association industry is rapidly changing, it has the potential to be more valuable now than ever. Providing valuable and trusted resources is essential to the growth and development of society. 

Without good information, trusted resources and innovation, making necessary change is impossible.

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