Associations Optimistic about Economic Recovery

Association executives are joining the ranks of those optimistic about economic recovery although they are cautious in forecasting growth in most revenue streams.

ASAE and the Center for Association Leadership conducted two surveys of association CEOs in spring 2009 and winter 2010 to gauge how economic conditions are affecting associations. Listening to an analysis by ASAE and the Center Vice President of Research Monica Dignam at the Great Ideas Conference March 9, I found these three conclusions noteworthy for all of us working in the association community:

  1. Most CEOs believe a recovery is underway. Last spring 64% expected a decrease in total revenue while only 12% expected revenue would increase. In Winter 2010, only 38% expect revenues to decrease, 38% expect revenues to stay the same, and 24% expect revenues will increase.
  2. CEOs appear to be good forecasters of future revenue in all areas but online education and virtual programs. They over-estimate how much these sources will grow. The research did not explain why. Perhaps CEOs expect people with limited travel funds will switch to online and that cultural shift in learning preferences simply hasn’t materialized yet. Or it is possible associations are slow in getting new programs up and operating to boost revenues.   CEOs are predicting a large increase in these revenues again this year. We’ll have to wait and see if this is the year these programs turn profitable.
  3. A whopping 66% expected membership to decrease in spring 2009. Half still believe this will happen in 2010. About 40% expected to restructure dues in 2009 but only 25% believe they will try this in 2010. Just as politicians are reluctant to raise taxes in a bad economy, so are association execs reluctant to touch the “third rail” of membership dues. 

The CEOs continue to be concerned about advertising revenue, sponsorships and annual meeting and conference attendance and membership retention. But ASAE’s economic outlook survey suggests CEOs are easing toward optimism.

Signature i won’t be celebrating the end of this recession just yet.  An increasing number of CEOs report they plan to reduce the use of consultants and vendors. In spring 2009, 33% had adopted this cost-cutting strategy; now 36% say they will do so. There’s plenty of hard work ahead for associations and those of us who are depending on their economic success.