Amplify Your Association to Do the Impossible

Associations using technology adeptly can become more agile and resilient, galvanize their value proposition, and increase their mission impact. That’s my take-away message from DigitalNow 2014 conference May 19-21 in Nashville.

What only large institutions could do, individuals and organizations can now attempt using technology to amplify their efforts.  As DigitalNow keynoter Mitch Joel, marketing guru and author of Ctl Alt Delete observed, we have reached an inflection point where technology is finally removing technology from technology.  In other words, these very powerful tools are becoming easy to use and affordable.  

Marina Gorbis, Institute for the Future, offered examples of organizations doing seemingly impossible things with little or no money, staff or management.  In what she calls the socialstructed world, scarcity is reversed through hyper-connectivity and collaboration. She asked associations to consider what might be possible if they shift from their first curve structures to a second curve of disruptive innovation.   Gorbis called for urgent optimism to turn our associations into movements.  

Adam Braun, founder of Pencils of Promise, shared his personal story of opting for a life of significance rather than success and launching a movement to build 500 schools that can become a global distribution system for education innovation.  He argues that nonprofits associations should see themselves as for-purpose and not nonprofit, because we should speak the language of the organization we seek to become. 

Associations need a culture of testing and learning to discover what can work. “Every breakthrough that wows is the exception not the rule. Everyone has the ability to be the exception in your industry,” Joel said.  Some of his wow examples connected consumers with high utility content in creative and unexpected ways. Using technology and data, associations have the ability to have more direct and personal relationships with members and consumers.  He said consumers are moving into a one-screen world, with tablets and smart phones competing to be that device.  

DigitalNow is a good place to scout what leading edge associations are doing. The Project Management Institute is executing bold plans to expand its community from member only based communities of practice to one project management community. PMI with a 700,000 membership has its eye on the 51 million project management practitioners and organizations around the world. PMI’s knowledge strategy is to be the preferred source for project, program and portfolio management resources and information. A new knowledge portal will launch this year to move vast amounts of knowledge assets tagged for easy retrieval from behind the member paywall. PMI also acquired another project management content provider to quickly extend the type of resources it can offer.  

Associations not only need to systematically scout and adopt digital technologies now available; they need to understand the entire changing landscape if they want to be relevant, resilient and agile. As Tom Hood, Robert Rich, Don Dea and I advised in our DigitalNow session, associations need to use foresight in strategic planning, visioning, strategy development, anticipatory learning, innovation and change leadership.  In our session handout, you can see how the American Chemical Society and the Maryland CPAs are practicing foresight, read our advice and access a short list of recommended resources to help you galvanize your value proposition in a changing world.