Future of Association Work and Survival


Stuart Meyer hasn’t worked in an office setting in eight years, including the last two years as CEO of the National Barbecue & Grilling Association. He serves as a virtual CEO of an entirely virtual organization.

Since NBBQA changed its business model in 2015, the association has seen lower operating costs, more focus on strategic business priorities, higher productivity and an increase in customers.

While a remote workforce may not work well for every organization, operating trends and customer demands require associations to be more agile and take more risks to stay relevant.

On Aug. 15, I co-presented a standing room-only session on “Association 4.0: New World of Work” during the American Society of Association Executive’s annual conference in Toronto, Canada. Meyer and I, along with Kevin Ordonez, COO of .orgSource and co-founder of .orgCommunity, discussed how associations must change the way they serve customers and adjust their operations in order to adapt to Industry 4.0.

The Trends

Industry 4.0—or what some people call The Fourth Industrial Revolution and the Internet of Things—is the current trend of automation and data exchange in manufacturing technologies. It is the new era of interconnectivity. It is the convergence of the digital, physical and biological worlds that are influencing the way associations work and the nature of the work they do.

There are four major aspects of Industry 4.0, or impacts on the future of work, that will affect all associations:

  1. Demand for mass quantity with high-quality, customized service
  2. Formation of new partnerships and collaboration beyond sales and marketing to innovation agreements—where the offline and online worlds work together
  3. Transition of operating models to digital models, leading to more platform-oriented solutions and organizations (e.g., Uber and Airbnb)
  4. Products enhanced by data that are continuously improved (e.g., sensors providing constant feedback)These trends are challenging traditional and strongly held beliefs about core value propositions as well as content and delivery in associations.

How to Thrive

To thrive in this new world of work, associations must think like entrepreneurs and execute like Fortune 100 companies, yet continue to provide purpose. Associations must:

  • Broaden their value proposition to compete for members and customers
  • Engage new and different audiences
  • Cultivate staff talent with for-profit marketing and product development business acumen
  • Change governance structures to reflect the markets we serve—develop leaders who look like the people we serve
  • Adopt new business models for education delivery and community
  • Determine new ways to cultivate resources—people, financial support and technology

As Meyer explained to 165 attendees at ASAE, thriving and surviving requires a new way of doing things. NBBQA’s success is largely attributable to clear processes, use of cloud-based management tools for team collaboration, and a culture of transparency, open communication and accountability. Everything it does is designed to facilitate connections, identity, and a sense of belonging on a daily basis.

Your association may not be ready for a 100-percent virtual operation or a freelance workforce, but the time is now to embrace strategic thinking, nimble decision making, and risk taking.

Are you considering changes at your organization, or are you ready for change but not sure how to go about it? Call on .orgSource. Whether an initial assessment or a comprehensive strategy, we will provide you with a custom solution for your transformation.

Position Your Organization For Success

Join .orgCommunity today for free.

Subscribe to Our Newsletter