Get Serious about Your Association’s Global Strategy

If associations want to grow globally, they have to commit resources behind their strategy and develop the in-country knowledge, leaders and partnerships to hone their value to members and customers in emerging markets.  

These findings come from a joint research initiative of the ASAE Foundation and MCI Group to understand the factors differentiating international membership and revenue growth.  Baseline survey results and initial strategy recommendations are available in a white paper free to ASAE members.

As someone who has seen associations get stuck in what a global membership model might be, this research suggests a smarter way to resolve this issue. Most non-North American members and customers first become familiar with associations through products: publications and magazines; conferences, expositions and meetings; education and training; certification and accreditation; and digital libraries and online communities. Associations can lead first with a product strategy and use that to discover workable membership models: “While membership continues to be the single biggest offer to non-U.S. prospects and customers, it is products that can dramatically impact local demand because the need for Western management practices is very strong, especially with emerging market governments and the fast growing private sector companies and related institutions.”

And associations that can’t get past governance issues should note that the associations experiencing strong growth are engaging volunteer leaders from outside North America in key board and volunteer roles to help them make the required transition in thinking. Associations getting the best results have in-country partnerships. The most common are agreements with other mission-driven organizations, but the real competitive edge seems to come from establishing a local office or using an in-country association management company.

Many associations are drawn into a global strategy by a need to harmonize global standards and regulations. Growing associations are operating where there is a need for U.S. standards, codes and generally accepted practices.  This often requires navigating and cultivating partnerships with these governments.

Perhaps the best finding is that growth is not highly correlated with being a large organization with more resources.   Regardless of their size, associations that are willing to introduce a range of products at a higher rate are more likely to be growers.  As the white paper recaps, “the more an association dedicates resources and specifically designs products and programs to international members, customer, and prospects, the more likely the chances of success and sustained growth over time….Strategies that ask international members and customers to repeatedly return to the United States to access product or membership benefits is not a long term strategy unless supplemented with unique and desirable activities provided locally.”

This white paper makes an important economic forecast for associations. The growth in US domestic markets is likely to produce smaller returns or even decline while the growth in emerging markets will be rising. A serious global strategy based on understanding and developing products and relationships in these emerging economies will be a critical route to continued growth for many US-based associations.