Seven-Year Study Shows How Associations Weather Economic Ups and Downs

The latest results from a longitudinal study looking at economic effects on associations suggest that in good times and in bad, association managers are strategic and generally optimistic.

Optimism abounds among association managers, according to the latest McKinley Advisors “Economic Impact on Associations Study,” which also suggests that association managers have always had a positive outlook, even during the depths of the Great Recession.

Ninety-two percent of the roughly 300 respondents reported they are optimistic for 2014, an increase of 5 percent from last year.

“Having a strong economy allows you to do things that are more exciting—you have the liberty and resources to create new programs and come up with new ideas,” said Patrick Glaser, director of research at McKinley. “But even in bad economic times, associations are really needed by their members. They can help them find jobs. They can provide them with resources to help them get through [hard economic] times, so there’s always cause to be optimistic if you’re an association.”

Granted, there are caveats. Some industries, such as the housing and construction, experienced a significant downturn during the Great Recession. But overall, Glaser said, the McKinley researchers have always sensed a positive future outlook among respondents.

The annual study, which is now in its seventh installment, was originally conceived of as a way to measure how associations were changing their behavior as a reaction to the down economy.

“What’s interesting to us is we’re now able to look at not only how they reacted to a shrinking economy, but how they changed their behaviors and how quickly they’ve done it as the economy’s begun to grow again,” Glaser said.  “We can see their general strategy and outlook, which is when things turn down, pull in, and when things expand, look around and see how it’s affecting your members, re-strategize, [and realize that]now’s the time to come up with new programs.”

The 2014 study identified nine key findings, including:

  • Top areas of concern for 2014 are membership retention and recruitment.
  • While the federal government shutdown and budget cuts of 2013 had immediate impacts on associations, the full effects are still unknown.
  • Since an initial increase in membership retention in 2010, respondents reported that retention rates have stabilized with little growth.

Despite any challenges, new or old, that associations are facing, Glaser advised recognizing the opportunities they have at their disposal.

“The same way that other types of organizations are being disruptive to associations—finding opportunities to expand their range of services and benefits—associations can look at their own opportunities in that way, too, and provide unique advantages,” he said. “But they have to really understand their members in this modern context. They have to revisit their assumptions and see where they can apply the things that they do that no one else has the opportunity to do and apply that to nontraditional and traditional programs and services.”


Katie Bascuas

By Katie Bascuas

Katie Bascuas is associate editor of Associations Now. MORE

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