Regardless of how the specific future unfolds, unless associations have within their arsenals the necessary methods to engage the future, imagining different scenarios is a waste of time. Numerous authors have contributed ideas regarding associational strategies for the future (Church, 2011; Drake, 2012; Fabian, 2008; MCI Benelux SA, 2010; Rolfes et al., 2010; Stetzer, 2004; Weeks, 2011; William E. Smith Institute for Association Research, 2006). Each of these strategies, in addition to the dozens not listed here, must be considered within the context of individuals associations before attempting implementation. Nonetheless, associational leaders should consider the following macro-level strategies relevant to a wide range of associational scenarios.
Prioritize thought leadership and sense-making (Drake, 2012; Fabian, 2008; MCI Benelux SA, 2010).
In the information age, possessing information is less important than analyzing data, packaging the information, and making it easier to leverage. Any search engine can gather information, but associations can position themselves as the experts to turn to when their customers want to ask, “Now what does this mean?”
Raise the status of the next generation (MCI Benelux SA, 2010; Rolfes et al., 2010; Stetzer, 2004).
The next generation of leaders do not want to be placated, they want to be valued and they want to contribute. Next generation leaders need positions of leadership that offer real opportunities to influence the association and learn up close from others in leadership positions. Millennials have grown up in a world interwoven with technology, therefore if the association feels like going back in time 20 years, Millennials will not be involved. Rolfes et al. (2010) present the idea of mobile-based volunteerism that relates directly to Millennials who are looking to leverage technology and squeeze te most out of their work time in order to protect their non-work time. Associations must seek out, appreciate, and develop the talent of the next generation, not merely seek to fold younger members into existing paradigms.
Emphasize “multi-“ (Drake, 2012; Fabian, 2008; Rolfes et al., 2010).
Wherever there is diversity in the association, cater to it in some way. Offerings may need to be provided in multiple languages. Messages will need to be consistent and constant across multiple forms of media. Build systems whereby members from different generations can learn from each other. Offer programs targeting multiple audiences. Seek collaboration and participation from a diverse crowd consisting of members and non-members alike.
Provide community (Fabian, 2008; MCI Benelux SA, 2010).
Associations need to be places of safety for practitioners. Networking is a foundational purpose for associations, but members also need opportunities to share war stories, compare notes, exchange ideas, and develop friendships with people in similar positions. Although associations have mixed results when relational networking becomes the only reason to gather, it must be included among the reasons to gather.