Future of Membership Associations
Membership association is a term which refers to any organization that allows people to join, and often requires them to pay a membership fee or “subscription”.
Membership associations typically have a particular purpose, which involves connecting people together around a particular profession, industry, activity, interest, mission or geographical location. This might simply be to encourage or facilitate interaction and collaboration, but it also often involves promoting and enhancing the purpose itself. They are often not for profit, though often have commercial subsidiaries which provide publications and/or life-long learning or Continuous Professional Development.
A professional association is a membership association which seeks to further a particular profession, the interests of individuals engaged in that profession, and the public interest – for instance through influencing government policy. Professional bodies also often act to protect the public by maintaining and enforcing standards of training and ethics in their profession. There are two types of professional associations. One type is for companies eg the Association of British Insurers. The other, like the BMA, is for individuals.
Membership associations are facing a number of challenges from digital disruption, global changes, and changes in lifestyle:
- Members questioning the value they receive fromsubscription fees and finding new ways to get value by joining groups “for free” that are more relevant
- Individual expectation of immediate accessibility to knowledge,when I want it and how–on the device in my hand
- Role, timing and location of physical events compared with webinars and social media
- The role of publishing is changing as digital replaces print, and much digital content is“free” through the web
- There are new emerging models for learning and qualifications, and new requirements from employers and government
- Many have a national focus, while increasingly regulation is European or global.
Many organisations are finding it difficult to adapt ,to know how to respond, due to culture, silos of activities and content, policy, and the burden of trying to meet the needs of today.
We use the Three Horizons framework to set a framework for thinking about the future of Membership Associations. We will be running a workshop in London on 10th June to develop pictures of the forces for change facing membership associations, the timescale and scope of their effect , and the ways in which Membership Associations are tackling these.
If you would like a place, please email FMA@samiconsulting.co.uk.
Three Horizons: The Patterning of Hope by Bill Sharpe and Jennifer Williams (Triarchy Press, 2013). 
Written by Gill Ringland, SAMI Consulting