Two things I know for certain.
- Change is the constant today and continues to accelerate.
- Our nonprofit associations are dynamic, complex systems embedded within an even more dynamic, complex übersystem: human society.
Six Changing Association Contexts
Technological innovations have radically changed our übersystem, human society, in at least six ways. (Wiley, 2006).
Society continues to exert increasing competitive pressure on our traditional nonprofit institutions. Evolve or expire is the roar from the crowd.
No single response to these societal changes can successfully address every nonprofit’s situation. However, every organization must recognize, understand and adapt to these changes to remain meaningful and to contribute to the positive advancement of their members.
1. Analog To Digital
The primary format of information capture and dissemination has changed from analog to digital. Printed information (books, magazines, newspapers, etc.) is quickly giving way to electronic formats. Audio recordings have moved from CDs and tapes to MP3s. Detailed text-based reports are moving to short online videos.
Association challenge: Deciding which programs, services and information should move from analog to digital.
2. Tethered To Mobile
Most nonprofit programs tie a customer to a specific place and time. On the contrary, mobile devices allow us to communicate with colleagues, family and friends without being tethered to a wall by a telephone cord, a network cable or a power outlet. Often individuals can join a presentation via livestreaming or social networks without being tethered physically to the conference venue.
Association challenge: Transitioning offerings and services from tethered specific place and time experiences to mobile accessibility when appropriate.
3. Isolated To Connected
One of the best descriptions of today’s society is the drive toward universal, real-time, interconnectedness. Hyperlinks connect content. APIs and web services allow basic computer connections. Social networks, texting and mobile devices allow real time connections. People are more connected to people, content and communities than in the past.
Association challenge: Changing traditional face to face experiences and elearning programs from passive one-way transfer of information to more connected dialogues and polylogues.
4. Generic To Personal
Technology enables “mass customization” of goods and services in almost every aspect of life. From computers to mobile phone rings to interactive websites to personal recommendations to customized clothing options, personalization is our expectation and demand.
Association challenge: Designing programs and services that are customizable and not one-size-fits-all.
5. Consumers To Creators
The tools used to produce artifacts (books, movies, music) were once expensive and exclusive. Today those barriers have nearly disappeared. Anyone can become an author, producer or reporter. We now record, write and publish not just consume. We contribute and participate.
Association challenge: Changing the model of programs designed for passive consumption to those allowing active participation.
6. Closed To Open
The Internet has made the economy of distributing electronic information easy, common, inexpensive and often free. We feel entitled to free information. Open software provides free and legal replacements for expensive systems. Information like encyclopedias and literature are free and available to those with an Internet connection.
Association challenge: Openness must become a core part of the organizational culture which is directly opposed to the business model associations use.
An appropriate association’s response to changes in our complex human übersystem includes increased connectedness, mobility, personalization, participation and openness.
How can an association’s increased openness lead to the advancement of an industry or profession? Of these six context changes, which do you think is the most critical change that must occur?