Report: Association Execs Have Long-Term Concerns About Economy, AI, More

A newly released McKinley Advisors report identified the five most prominent trends facing executives in the next decade.

Association leaders will face challenges in five key areas across the next decade, according to a new survey.

Earlier this year, association consultancy McKinley Advisors asked association executives, “What major trends or changes do you expect to occur within the field or industry your association represents over the next five to 10 years?” The executives identified workforce shifts, economic disruptions, regulatory and legislative developments, sustainability commitments, and digital transformation. The results were released in a report published last week.

“What we see showing up in this of list of five is contextual to the world around us right now,” said McKinley Advisors President and CEO Jay Younger, FASAE. “If we had asked this question three years ago or five years ago, I don’t think we would have gotten the same set of results.”

For instance, while concerns about technology are evergreen, respondents called out emerging tools like artificial intelligence and augmented reality as key issues at the moment. Though AI is wielding its influence very quickly, Younger recommended keeping member privacy top of mind while reckoning with it.

Mass retirements of baby boomers may leave a skills gap in many industries.

“Understand the risks and make sure you’re rigorous in the experiments you’re running with regard to member privacy and staff privacy,” he said. He suggested associations identify staffers “who will champion it and help us understand the transformative power AI can bring.”

Economic issues are also a leading concern for leaders, according to the report. Mass retirements of baby boomers may leave a skills gap in many industries, prompting associations to work harder to attract more workers to their field. Budgeting and structuring around sustainability goals presents another challenge, and many associations are still weathering the effects of post-COVID inflation. That’s forced associations to make tough decisions around pricing.

“As soon as meetings opened back up, you were paying 15 to 30 percent more for things than you were pre-COVID,” Younger said. “That’s difficult for associations to swallow—you can’t put through 25 to 30 percent cost increases to a market that’s conditioned to expect flat pricing or 2 to 3 percent increases.

He added, “A healthy balance of programs that generate net income and things that operate at a loss is a good thing for an association to strive for, but it’s harder these days.”

Lastly, association executives voiced concerns about the current legislative environment. The report notes that many associations are concerned about increased government regulations and ethical “concerns about traveling to certain states for annual meetings and conferences because of personal safety concerns or laws that have been recently enacted in those states that contradict their beliefs.” In addition, current legislative gridlock and political divides have made it harder for associations to get their advocacy messages heard. 

In response, Younger said, associations should seek to be voices of reason and compromise. “When you’re an association whose members prioritize advocacy as a principal reason to belong, it can be frustrating for everybody involved,” he says. “But that’s where I think associations have such a major opportunity, if we can be part of the solution to get people working together again.”


Mark Athitakis

By Mark Athitakis

Mark Athitakis, a contributing editor for Associations Now, has written on nonprofits, the arts, and leadership for a variety of publications. He is a coauthor of The Dumbest Moments in Business History and hopes you never qualify for the sequel. MORE

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