Are Professional Associations Built to Exist in 2066?

My name is Shontra Powell and I’m privileged to serve as ASQ’s new Chief Operating Officer.

I am blessed to have enjoyed increasing responsibilities of leadership over my 25 year career in for-profit business. It is my desire to leverage this perspective to further develop my offerings as a leader with impact. This desire has led to my career advancement at ASQ—a non-profit with mission-focused work.

In the new economy, there is an opportunity for leaders to connect the historical gap between commercial interests and social impact. I believe that I am in the right place, at the right time, to sharpen my understanding of this new leadership opportunity, and to grow my offerings to the society with rich and practical experience.

In recent months, I have given a lot of thought to the biggest challenges facing today’s associations, including ASQ. In this essay, I share my perspective—and vision—for the future of the association, including, of course, ASQ. Please note that the opinions expressed in this article are my own, and don’t necessarily reflect those of ASQ.

Professional, or trade, associations have been in existence since the early 19th century. These groups usually formed usually as a nonprofit organization that existed to further a profession, or the interests of the individuals engaged in that profession, as well as the public interest. Today, there are more than 92,000 associations in the U.S., many of which are based in the U.S. association capital of Washington D.C.

A few dynamics can shape the story for associations in the future:

1) The speed at which data and information is developed outpaces a professional’s ability to integrate diverse points of consideration within a mental model for the timely formulation of opinion, decision and use.
2) The increasing acknowledgment of social connectivity as a psychological factor for well-being; and new models for connection replacing old models (i.e., from dinner meetings to WhatsApp).
3) The evolution of what it means to be mission-driven, and what it means to become a member; and the currency/cost of joining.
4) The global body of knowledge serves as the new norm for problem solving.

When asking the members of a particular association on why they are members, clear themes take shape. Members seek their own growth personally and professionally, and see the association as a key resource. Also, members express an interest in being a part of a community, and based on age demographics, this can range from a “physical group” that I participate with to “the knowledge that I am connected” to a mission.

With consideration for the now economy, members would prefer a real-time channel of information that connects them to a body of knowledge, based on what they are seeking at a given point in time.

Members will have a new paradigm for serving their role of member.

Members will no longer see value in paying to participate in dinners and conferences as the norm for receiving impactful developments in their field of interest, and, instead, members will require intellectual insights that can help them to perform better in their profession, instantaneously.

The association of the future will shift from “body of knowledge” – accessible via a portal on a website and pruned regularly to “channels of discussion” –latest and best, 24×7.

Leveraging the amalgamation of a … Google-like content database + Sirius-like frequency of discussion + LinkedIn-like connections + Facebook-like personas + Open-source cross-geography access for problem-solving, the association of the future will further the advancement of professionals by extending their knowledge base via a respected community of participants.

The membership model shifts would include…

Annual fees and conferences are deemphasized and “value of contribution” becomes the new currency (called breakthrough equity). A member would earn breakthrough equity as a rating from global peers within the connected community (similar to a “like” on Facebook). This equity would be the cost of participation (or invitation) to mission-driven, global conferences and other thought leadership forums.

Association members are asking for “just-in-time” information and “how-to” guides today. The challenge for many associations is that this new requirement must be supported by a robust technology capability and systematized information; all of which have not been a traditional strength, or investment. In short, many desire to be the “Google” for the knowledge that they value; however, they fall within a chasm between their current state and this vision.

Macroeconomic trends will inevitably impact the evolution of professional associations. If they take a strategy focused on building a robust future model, however, we will see associations in the future. The future association will be designed to serve and strengthen the knowledge worker who is seeking advancement of mission and increased impact on his or her field of study, science, government, and society.

What’s your future vision for the associations you take part in—whether they are ASQ or another group?

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12 Responses to Are Professional Associations Built to Exist in 2066?

  1. Insightful and prescient.

    We are seeing the same. Associations are rebranding, securing IP, and developing new business models to offer member value.

  2. Michael Carmody says:

    ….this emerging trend is being experienced in many countries and regions around the world – particularly in developed nations. Unfortunately, unlike ASQ, many associations and non-profits are failing to innovate and develop their service offering to satisfy the emerging member demographic outlined in the article. The broader global challenge for ASQ is to tailor its membership strategy, services and products to encompass developing and under-developed nations – many of which receive significant value from the current (more traditional) membership strategy.

  3. Navin S. Dedhia says:

    Professional Associations have to change with time in regards to offerings, services
    and communications. Explosion of information and communication methods have
    made difficult for the organizations to come up with right solution. To attract
    more members, the membership fee structure has to be in line with the country’s
    economy can afford. ‘One size fits all’ membership fee structure does not work in
    this global competitive environment. Many countries have similar associations,
    which serves needs at a local level.

    • Kishore says:

      Innovative cost structures such as those based on specific geography or country and member type such (retiree vs unemployed vs regular) are few of the best practices used by professional associations that are looking for sustainability and growth.

  4. David Prins says:

    What guidance do you have for ASQ Section leadership striving to increase Section Member value?

    • ASQ Communications says:

      Hi David, here’s a response from our Community Development department. For more information, please contact

      The appeal of a section is access based on location, whether that may be opportunities to connect with other like-minded individuals or the ability to participate in convenient or affordable professional development offerings. An important part of providing member value involves understanding or anticipating what members want. What do you know about your members from the membership data provided and from actions taken to understand the voice of the customer? In addition to that, building a stable foundation enables the section to provide member value. Is there succession planning or active efforts to engage members in required and key leadership roles; is there ongoing communication to establish and maintain awareness of your section and to engage members through recruitment, retention, and networking efforts; is there access to professional development opportunities that members and others might be looking for? These actions can be as modest or as aspirational as the section’s resources allow. A willingness to listen to the customer and being ready and able to respond to their needs will help sections provide member value.

  5. Katrina Rogers says:

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts on the future of the society. I’ll be looking forward to participating as we implement some or all of these ideas.

  6. Mike Allison says:

    Very refreshing to see forward thinking to manage the organization’s future. In Australia, we have seen several formerly successful organizations crumble due to lack of forward thinking and consequent adaptation to change on a timely basis. One aspect of change that haunts me is Stephen Hawking’s observation that machines adapt orders of magnitude faster than humans and may eventually make humans obsolete. Should professional associations embrace a “Cyborg future”?

  7. Kishore says:

    Non-profit professional associations must leverage the industry best practices and provide true consumer (member) value similar to successful for-profit industry leaders in order to survive and succeed in the global marketplace.

    1. Work closely with triple helix – Close collaboration with Government, Industry, and Universities to serve community and professional members

    – Professional associations must influence local, regional, national, international policies, standards, regulations, and law making

    – Professional associations must play active role in guiding universities in setting up relevant courses to grow these professions in universities. An active student body that is closely affiliated within universities is essential for sustainability.

    – Professional associations must maintain close relationships with industries and professionals that work in these industries to disseminate appropriate best practices, processes, methods, tools, techniques, and provide resources such as accreditation, certification, assessment, auditing, education, training, mentoring, conferences, seminars, workshops, publications, certifications, networking, and competent workforce

    – Professional associations must work to recruit, develop, excite, and retain professional members

    – Professional associations must serve as catalysts to
    => Provide professional identity, recognition, reputation, leadership and professional development opportunities
    => Advance collective knowledge of members
    => Career opportunities/advancement
    => Elevate the reputation of professions these members belong to

    – Professional associations must serve communities at local, regional, national, and international levels

  8. Marc Gioglio says:

    I think it is most important for a professional organization is to be internally consistent. If your stated goal is to provide mentors, then do that. If instead you prefer to be an encyclopedia, do that. Do not try to be all things to all people, instead find your niche.

  9. I agree with Shontra, and believe her inputs are essential to the improvement of ASQ Member Retention, which is currently at 68%. According to this data, ASQ cannot hope to meet its growth targets until member retention is at or surpasses 80%.

    Among the insights within Shontra’s post, the following would be constructive and beneficial toward the increased interest and engagement of our existing members, and consequently the basis for their long-term retention:
    – Continued personal and professional growth (at member discounts with value and cost recovery)
    – Part of connected physical and virtual communities
    – Instant enhancements of knowledge through 24/7 portals and continuous information channels
    – Breakthrough equity (I referred to this member value as “Loyalty Capital”) which measures the worth of information and content.

  10. This is something good”” “Are Professional Associations Built to Exist in 2066” Extremely reviving to see ground breaking to deal with the association’s future. In Australia, we have seen a few in the past effective associations disintegrate because of absence of ground breaking and subsequent adjustment to change on a convenient premise. One part of progress that frequents me is Stephen Hawking’s perception that machines adjust requests of greatness quicker than people and might in the end make people out of date. Should proficient affiliations grasp a “Cyborg future”?

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