8 association trends for 2024 and beyond - hint, there’s a lot of AI

Conversations are happening around the 501(c) community about issues on the horizon, many of which already concern association professionals. But if you haven’t had time to participate in recent summits, webinars, and industry conversations, we’re making it easy for you to catch up right now.

Take a few minutes to come up for air and read about the trends on the minds of your association peers.

#1: Associations taking the lead on industry AI conversations and education

The mission of every association is to serve and advance the interests of the professionals and businesses in their industry. Given this mission, isn’t it the responsibility of associations to lead the conversation about AI in their industry? If not the association, then who?

Association board members and staff must learn enough about AI to lead industry-wide discussions about the short- and long-term impact on their industry, including the companies, employees, stakeholders, and markets they serve. These discussions should go beyond your members and audience to related organizations, too.

Employers and professionals in your industry should see your association as the first stop for AI training. Indeed, they can find AI training from the usual providers like LinkedIn Learning and Coursera. But you can provide what they can’t: credible industry- and scenario-specific training tailored to the needs of your audience.

Offer a range of training programs:

  • AI guidelines and policies for employers
  • AI ethics and privacy
  • AI literacy
  • AI skills for various positions

Before you can lead these conversations and design these programs, your staff must become proficient in AI.

#2: AI literacy becoming a required skill for association staff

AI literacy involves knowing how to use AI and also understanding AI privacy and ethics concerns. Association staff must know how and when it’s appropriate to use ChatGPT and other AI tools.

Association professionals are already using AI to help them jumpstart writing tasks, such as:

  • Emails
  • Marketing copy
  • Blog posts, titles, and SEO tags
  • Product descriptions
  • Policies
  • Job descriptions

AI helps people brainstorm, edit, and translate. It can also help you better understand all kinds of data by:

  • Summarizing documents
  • Clustering open text inputs into major themes
  • Doing sentiment analysis
  • Automatically generating data visualizations like pie charts or bar graphics

Being AI literate means knowing you should check AI’s work for errors. You understand the importance of giving AI output a human touch. Never forget the responsibility of using your own very human brain.

Because we’re still in the early days of AI, invest cautiously in new tools. AI will look different a year from now when better tools are available.

#3: AI-assisted process automation improving association communication, engagement, and marketing

Imagine what AI now makes possible. You can personalize messaging. For example, create customized renewal notices based on a person’s membership tenure, engagement, and other attributes. AI allows you to add interactive elements to emails and blog posts, like polls or quizzes, that assess the recipient’s AI literacy or readiness.

Create personalized recommendations for conference sessions, online learning programs, or content based on a person’s engagement history and other behavioral data.

AI can help you design and deliver learning content more quickly than before. You can develop customized learning paths based on a person’s experience, interests, and career aspirations.

#4: Boards adopting an annual sunset review process

Although automation makes it easier to work smarter instead of harder, to-do lists are still too long. Boards tend to add new programs and projects to your plate. In the long run, that’s a good thing since your association must experiment with new programs to meet the needs of your market. Otherwise, you’ll lose out in the competition for attention.

But boards need to cull programs, too, not just add them. The only way to ensure a sustainable program portfolio is to make sunset review an annual standardized process. Many associations do it on a two- or three-year rotating schedule.

Require staff to share data that shows the success and necessity of programs, products, and governance groups. Data helps to offset the emotional attachment felt by volunteer leaders and staff about programs they’ve invested time in.

#5: Audiences wanting to try before they buy

People are more value-conscious than ever. They don’t want to invest their money or time unless they’re sure they’ll get the expected return. The most common subscriber acquisition tactic alleviates these concerns: a free ten-day trial. New users get a feel for the product or experience before investing.

Consider adjusting this model to the association experience. Automated lead nurturing campaigns can offer this taste of membership.

  • Share a little content from behind the paywall
  • Offer a promo code for a free webinar
  • Invite them to a networking meetup, like a virtual discussion on a hot topic

Social proof can push a prospect to purchase. Share testimonials showing how people like them have tried and bought it.

Bear in mind that some prospects won’t ever convert to membership because they can’t afford it, don’t see the value, or their employer won’t support it. Keep these people close as part of your extended community. Try to convert them into loyal customers, attendees, learners, or grassroots activists who contribute to your revenue, reach, and impact.

#6: New membership models responding to audience needs and preferences

Many associations offer tiered membership models to appeal to different audience segments. Especially popular are deeply discounted tiers on career-entry and early-career resources for students and young professionals.

Learning subscriptions are popular with members and non-members, especially those whose employers don’t support membership. Some associations offer tiers that include individual or business coaching and consulting services for a year to cohorts of entrepreneurs or solo practitioners.

#7: Members leveraging their association community

Every industry survey says the primary reason members join is to meet other members. It’s human nature to desire community, but with the decline of civic and religious organizations and the increase in remote work, the opportunities for community are decreasing.

Participating in an association’s online community is helpful but doesn’t convey a sense of belonging. Members find their community at in-person events, but that’s out of reach for many.

Look for ways to cultivate niche communities online, such as:

  • Hosting more virtual events—if staff time is an issue, cede control to member volunteers and sponsors
  • Building participant interaction into online education programs
  • Offering cohort programs that combine learning and relationship-building
  • Experimenting with member-matching for pairs and groups
  • Encouraging mentoring among pairs and groups

#8: Flexibility for the win

Associations tend to tolerate long lead times for new programs. Staff are expected to hammer out every detail required for a perfect launch.

The approach to AI exemplifies this tendency, but you can’t wait to figure everything out. Establish what must go into your policy, for example, protecting data and intellectual property. But make a point of moving forward instead of getting trapped in analysis paralysis. Leaders strike a balance by taking advantage of AI tools within limits.

Losing the compulsion for perfection means taking an agile approach to new programs and practices. Get something going and then refine it based on feedback and observations.

Follow this principle with data management, too. Data will never be 100% accurate. Make your best effort and work with what you have. If you wait for 100%, you’ll never get far. Instead, aim for “good enough to start.”

Fíonta experts can help you figure out where and how to start by uncovering the best ways to leverage AI to improve efficiency, drive revenue, and strengthen member relationships. We create tailored solutions that enable associations to implement and customize new technology based on organizational needs.

Transform how your association operates and interacts. The future of AI in associations is here, and it’s within your reach.