When Push Comes To Pull: Can Associations Adapt?

We are living in a period where we are straddling two different society cultures and economies.

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We are transitioning from a push economy to a pull economy.

From Hierarchical To Networked-Based

Today’s participatory networked culture has changed business and organizations from a push approach (hierarchical, from the center out to others), to a pull approach (networked -based and decentralized).

This poses new challenges to institutions, organizations and specifically nonprofit associations that are largely designed to support push economies. Some are still wrestling with how to adapt to this transition. Some find that their structures are opposed to the pull approach.

Push Economy

Push economies try to anticipate consumer and member demands. Departmentalized silos create a standardized product and then push that product into the marketplace. They broadcast their services and products through traditional distribution channels and marketing.

Push economies are geared toward mass consumption. Leaders route resources to the right places at the right times to create mass, standardized products. One size fits all is the mantra. Push models are most successful when consumers or members don’t know what they want.

Push economies tend to incur huge overhead costs in administration during growth. They often have difficulty being nimble and applying innovation.

Pull Economy

Pull economies provide open and flexible platforms. Decentralized networks, often working across unrelated areas, produce customized products and services that serve specific niche audiences.

Organizations accustomed to pull strategies respond to demand-driven needs rapidly. They are extremely agile, flexible and nimble. They adapt quickly to change and win loyalty through a combination of speed and quality.

Pull economies tend to build and strengthen the capacity and competence of their networked partners. They share best practices freely and provide important feedback. Pull approaches capitalize on the enthusiasm and innovation of all of their participants.

New Challenges For Nonprofit Associations

Interestingly, pull approaches were the foundation of many nonprofit associations. These organizations started on the principle of serving all of their members and their industry. They focused on what was in the best interest of members, profession or trade. They tapped collective insight and resources.

During the past three decades, many nonprofit associations began adopting push methods in order to drive revenue. Association leaders found themselves in an ironic position of dealing with the tension of two areas:

  1. Finding new revenue streams to support their organizational structure and fixed costs.
  2. Serving their members needs.

Associations developed products and services for mass consumption by their members. Today, members have become increasingly specialized and much of the association’s products and services miss the mark. Some members have turned to online social networks as their source for best practices, content, feedback and mindshare.

Today associations are struggling with finding ways to add more value to their members. They are being forced to change their professional development offerings that educate people on how to operate in push economies. They are having to rethink traditional employee organizational charts and top-down models.

Ultimately, pull economies center around creating relationships of trust, sharing knowledge and close cooperation among network participants. Non-market value creation–tacit knowledge, intangible value–is steered towards common sharing. This is challenging to associations who used to be the sole source of profession- or industry-specific information. The wisdom and collective knowledge now rests in the networks that anyone can access.

What are some pull strategies that associations can implement easily? What are the barriers for associations adapting to the pull economy?

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  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Jeff Hurt and others. Jeff Hurt said: When Push Comes To Pull: Can Associations Adapt? #asaecenter #assnchat #nonprofit http://ow.ly/3sMab […]

  2. Traci Browne says:

    I am struggling lately with the value of most organizations I am/was a member of the last couple years. I cannot remember the last time I turned to my association website for answers…they are much more easily found through Google or my network of colleagues online. They offer little or no connection opportunities outside of the annual meeting or occasional chapter event (and the connection there is very superficial)

    I feel like I spend most my time “supporting infrastructure” and very little time creating value for our members with the organizations I am involved in. So, sadly, I have no answers for you but I am really glad you brought this up and look forward to reading the comments.

    1. Jeff Hurt says:

      Thanks for adding a very honest response. I am with you that I have to really evaluate the value of many of the organizations that I am a member. Sometimes it does feel like that my time and money goes to support infrastructure. It will be interesting to see what others have to say.

  3. Great post Jeff, I think that the crisis component of this incredible and sweeping change is that a lot of organizational leaders are pretending its not taking place…they are doing nothing differently. I do not know what the answers are for sure, but I know that being serious about the conversation and being serious about experimenting with new ways of doing things are critical. One thing that has become clear to me is that organizations and associations need to be less about “teaching” and more about creating powerful and unique containers for employees, members and other stakeholders to reflect, communicate in new ways and teach each other. People are hungry for shared inquiry, but there is little real space for that to happen. Great post, thanks.

  4. Jim Kelley says:

    Jeff as always some thought provoking concepts….leads me to the following question. What happens to those associations which do not adapt?

    Happy Holidays.

    1. Jeff Hurt says:

      Great point that many organizational leaders have their heads in the sand pretending that massive change is not happening. Or maybe they are still working on getting that extra revenue to keep the organization going. 😉 Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts.

      Fantastic question: What hapens to those associations which do not adapt? Readers, what do you think happens?

  5. Lillian says:

    Traci speaks my mind. I have been dis-engaging from organizations for similar reasons. Thanks for the post.

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