The State Of Association Technology

The ASAE Foundation’s Technology Success and Readiness Study sheds light on where association technology stands today and where it needs to go to increase member satisfaction.

Imagine living your life without technology. Seems impossible, doesn’t it? After all, technology plays a role in how we communicate, collaborate, learn, and remember—and new technologies continually reinvent how we approach our work.

For associations, technology success depends on systems and processes effectively serving the organization’s mission and meeting member needs. But this is no easy task.

To better understand how associations manage technology and how member expectations align with the tech environment their organizations have created, the ASAE Foundation, in partnership with Delcor Technology Solutions, developed the Technology Success and Readiness Study. It reveals new information about where the sector stands and offers guidance on what associations can do to prepare for the future. Here’s a closer look at some of the key findings.

IT Maturity

IT maturity refers to the degree to which an association’s technology systems and environment reflect innovation and contribute to the organization’s success. The ASAE Foundation study aimed to find out how respondents stacked up on a 100-point IT maturity scale.

The 277 associations that participated in the research were assigned scores based on their technology decisions and investments. IT maturity can be understood as a continuum that passes through four stages, each defined by specific characteristics:

Restrictive (scores of 0-33). At these associations, technology sometimes causes more harm than good. Web resources lack interactivity, data is decentralized, infrastructure is unstable, technology lacks a strategic outlook, and support is reactive.

Functional (scores of 34-49). Organizational technology works but lacks integration and automation. Website integration is limited, pockets of data are not integrated, IT planning is sporadic, and IT support is limited.

Effective (scores of 50-83). At these organizations, technology is more than an operational tool. Technology supports the organization’s mission by adding value to the member, volunteer, donor, and constituent experience. Main operations systems are integrated with the website, databases are centralized, planning is annual, and support is proactive. In addition, staff will experiment with social media.

Innovative (scores of 84-100). Associations in this stage use technology strategically to meet members’ existing needs and anticipate future needs. The association has well-defined strategies for its website, social media, and mobile engagement. Data is used for business intelligence and drives decisions, infrastructure incorporates fringe technologies, and the IT team is a critical partner in advancing the mission and ensuring constituent service.

Most associations that participated in the study are effective, with an average score of 60. Ultimately, this means that their technology systems are supported by and supportive of their missions. These organizations also do a good job of managing data, have solid processes and infrastructure, and engage in long-term planning.

But the study revealed some differences among associations based on type and budget. For example, professional associations tend to have higher levels of IT maturity than trade associations or hybrid trade/professional associations. (See “Average IT Maturity Score by Association Type,” above.)

IT maturity also tracks with budget size: Organizations with less than $1 million in revenue have an average score of 54, while those with $5 million or more in revenue score a 66. However, an association’s geographic scope (local, national, or international) doesn’t affect IT maturity.

While most respondents earned scores that rate them effective, only 9 percent manage technology and tech integration in ways that are considered innovative—the highest level of IT maturity. (See “Distribution of Associations Across IT Maturity Stages” on page 55 for the percentage of associations in other stages.)

According to the report, this “signals that association models for developing and using technology to transform the constituent experience do exist, but many association leaders and members will be more familiar with models and platforms from out-of-sector competitors—potentially resulting in these models and platforms driving expectation and direction in the sector.”

Member Satisfaction

While IT maturity focuses on internal resources and practices, the study also looked at external factors like membership satisfaction with technology offerings. There’s good news for associations: Members are much more satisfied with their association’s technology than IT decision makers and staff believe them to be. (See “Member Satisfaction Level,” below.)

Most IT staffers underestimate their members’ technology satisfaction level: 52 percent of members are highly satisfied, more than double the level perceived by IT decision makers. And while nearly one-fifth of decision makers think their members are dissatisfied, member responses reveal that’s not the case.

Members’ satisfaction with association technology is not just good news for IT teams. It can also be correlated to satisfaction with membership:

Among members highly satisfied with their association’s technology, 88 percent are highly satisfied with their membership overall. Among those who are not highly satisfied with their association’s technology, only 47 percent are highly satisfied with their membership.

Among members who reported being highly satisfied with their association’s technology, 95 per-cent indicated a high likelihood of renewing their membership. Among members who are not highly satisfied with their association’s technology, only 78 percent indicated a high likelihood of renewal.

The study also asked members about their satisfaction in specific technology areas. Areas with the highest average member satisfaction included data security (78 percent satisfied), meaning members are confident in their association’s ability to keep their information secure, and the ability to do business with the association (75 percent satisfied).

On the other hand, members are least satisfied with their ability to tailor digital content to their needs (65 percent) and to communicate and collaborate with their peers online (67 percent).

Areas of Opportunity

Lower scores and satisfaction ratings shine a light on direction for improvement. In particular, associations can make strides in the development of digital content and educational offerings and the integration of technology decisions into discussion of overall organizational strategy.

Areas where associations had low scores for IT maturity and where members indicated lower satisfaction were compared against the correlation of these areas to greater satisfaction among staff and members. The areas with low scores that most frequently connect to satisfaction were identified as “pain points.”

Here are the top IT maturity pain points for staff:

  • Online content suited for digital environment
  • Ability to produce a complete view of constituent engagement
  • Clear connections between technology decisions and association business needs
  • Training for IT staff
  • Investment strategy for technology infrastructure
  • Data integration

Meanwhile, these are the top pain points for members:

  • Ability to find necessary information online
  • Ability to access educational resources and training in the digital formats desired
  • Ability to tailor digital content to needs
  • Ability to access online resources from any device

The overlap among these pain points shows that developing dynamic, innovative content and expanding options for engagement will be important in the future. For associations that focus on leveraging data, improving processes, and investing in new technologies, the hard work will likely pay off in more engaged and satisfied members.


Jenny Nelson

By Jenny Nelson

Jenny Nelson is ASAE’s manager of research content and knowledge resources. MORE

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