Associations are complex systems.
Many players–board members, members, sponsors, staff, volunteer leadership–shape its up and down seasons. A jumble of external and internal factors affects the association as well.
The Life Cycle Of Associations
All living systems, including associations, go through predictable life cycles:
- Growth (formation, adolescence)
Healthy systems work to avoid decline and eventual death by using the wisdom and calm of maturity to plan a rebirth. It often seems counter-intuitive to plan the new even as the current shows signs of abundant life. And that often frustrates those that are enjoying the fruits of maturity.
Nevertheless, the failure to anticipate the future will guarantee greater frustration and conflict during decline. And this usually occurs at the time of reduced financial strength.
Unhealthy associations avoid change as long as possible. They wait until the end is staring them in the face.
Leadership unknowingly adopts an entitlement syndrome that members have always supported the association and will continue to support. Or that members will always pay dues. Or that members will always attend the annual meeting, volunteer or ___________ fill in the blank. Leadership’s ego eclipses reality and they don’t recognize their denial.
During the decline stage, leadership often blames others for their decline. Those actions ultimately hurt trust and harm the community.
They squander limited resources to avoid death. They fight for more funds to retain staff and preserve ineffective, outdated programs.
They avoid critical self-examination and reflection. Thus they enter into turn-around efforts without knowledge of context or opportunity. They just want the pain of dying to stop.
Assessing the association’s current life-cycle stage isn’t easy. It depends on association metrics. A set of measures that quantify results.
These metrics are more than feelings of satisfaction or the absence of conflict. It requires candor about the vitality, life, momentum and future of the association.
Healthy Association Wellness Signs
An association’s wellness is more than 98.6 degrees on a thermometer. Here are several signs that your association is alive and thriving.
- A vibrant mission that makes a discernable difference within the industry, its members and overall community.
- Open communications.
- Members bring their yearnings, desires and questions to the association openly and freely.
- Staff and leadership adopt programming, plans and partnerships based on members’ best interest.
- Members’ needs and desires are placed above partnerships with stakeholders that fill budget reservoirs.
- Leadership willing to be guided by outcomes.
- Growth in membership – members’ maturity, knowledge and skills as well as numbers.
- Transformation of members’ professional and personal lives.
- Leadership able to take risks, fail without blame, and everyone learns from that failure.
- Authenticity, transparency and confidence when dealing with conflict.
- Nimble and able to effectively deal with change.
- An adoption of “We serve our members best, when we serve our industry/profession first.”
Wellness is dynamic, not a steady state that an association reaches and then maintains.
Wellness lies in how the association and its members respond to change, stress, opportunity, people’s needs and personalities.
What are some symptoms of a healthy or unhealthy association that you’ve experienced? What resources can leadership use when identifying their association life cycle?