“I’m done with __________________!”
Go ahead and fill in that blank with any type of institution. Big business, conferences, education, government, medicine, membership associations, nonprofits, professional societies, religious organizations, trade organizations, etc.
We are witnessing the rise of the Dones, as Dr. Josh Packard calls them. Groups of people that are done with traditional, outdated institutions. And before you dismiss this post…know that Packard’s research applies to your nonprofit membership association and your long-established, time-honored, conventional conference.
The Research About Your Institution
Yes, your conference and your membership organization are customary, standard institutions.
Not sure you agree with me?
Professor and sociologist Packard defines institutions as groups, establishments, or organizations founded for educational, government, legal, religious, social or similar purposes.
As you can see from that definition, that includes your annual conference and your nonprofit association.
Here’s what Packard says about your institution:
Recent decades have seen a startling shift in the way that Americans engage with their primary social institutions. Participation in professional groups, social organizations, religious organizations and local schools is at an all-time low. In addition, people are expressing decreasing levels of trust for leaders in all sectors from business to government to religion.
In short, I research the decline of voluntary associations. Religion is just one of them. Basically, people are leaving church for the same reason they’re leaving everything else…and when they leave, they’re creating new and interesting things in all of these sectors (e.g. the rise of home school as people disengage from traditional school, the development of homeopathic remedies as people increasingly distrust modern medicine).
The same is happening in the association and meetings industry. People are not joining and attending (as they did in the past). But it doesn’t mean they don’t care about networking and professional development. They’re just finding new and different ways to get them.
Three Things You Must Shift To Increase Trust
In the past couple of months, I’ve presented with Packard several times about how to apply his research to conferences and associations.
“You can’t get good enough at improving what you already do to ignore these trends. You are either going to adopt them or they will negatively impact your institution.”
Here are three of Packard’s critical findings we must adopt to increase trust. (Note: Packard’s research actually identifies more than just these three areas)
1. Participation Not Dictation
The traditional model of the expert lecturing to the audience is dead. If you want to increase trust, we have to find ways to increase conference registrant’s participation. We have to decrease our reliance on selling passive consumption. Conference participants want to ask questions, discuss important issues, have doubts and uncover new ways to solve challenges. They can’t do this by sitting and only listening.
2. Activity Not Bureaucracy
The traditional conference and nonprofit association is full of permission withholding tollbooths as T. J. Addington would say. Conference organizers and committees believe they can control the audience by controlling the flow of information. Our conference and association participants want independent thinking, not bureaucratic, outdated red-tape methods. They want relevant application of theories and concepts, not outdated, formal mandates.
3. Conversation Not Doctrine
Dispensing content and delivering information is not the same as fostering conversation and adult dialogue. Today’s conference and association participants want to be involved in collaboration not authoritative dogma or rules. They want to co-create together not consume top down legalism.
What will it take for your nonprofit association or conference to adopt at least one of these trends? How have you experienced any of these trends in associations or conferences?