Thought Leadership

The forces that are changing the shape of membership

Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it. So said a teen icon back in the 1980s, when your PC had 128kb of RAM, and most mobile phones needed a car battery for power. How we laugh. Our teen selves had no idea what was coming.

Since then, the pace of change has increased, and the failure to recognise its implications and introduce innovations has seen the slow decline and even death of brands such as Blockbuster, Woolworths, HMV, Toys R Us and Kodak.

For membership organisations, some of which have been around for so many years and rely on human investment, understanding the developments and recognising their implications has taken on a new urgency.

So, what are the developments in our society that have impacted membership associations and what are the implications?

The digitisation of society

It stopped being the elephant in the room a long time ago, but it’s worth reminding ourselves that every aspect of our lives, from daily rituals to industrial processes, is populated and connected with computing technology.

Information itself and access to it is more freely available. Sharing knowledge and information has become a social norm. The paradox is that privacy has become more of an issue, although probably not as much as the press would have you believe.

Social media usage is widespread. It has created new ways of exchanging and sharing information and is having a lasting impact on consumer behaviour, social values and cultural expression.

With this background, the challenge for membership organisations is to ensure that as a basic hygiene factor, their offering is technology-driven and distributed. Content must be created with a view to being authentic and highly valuable, not just something to fill the gaps.

Changing culture and values

These are partisan times. Globalisation and migration have brought social and cultural disparities into the spotlight, heightening sensitivities to many forms of identity. As a reaction to globalisation, regional and local interest groups have begun to shout more loudly. These are communities of interest, existing both online and offline, that have agendas driven by specific local demands (eg, sex education in schools).

Society is starting to hold business to account. Companies are, rightly so, much more aware of the impact of their operations on the environment and human health.

Consumers want a voice and a more direct input into the activities of your community, so membership organisations need to co-create the boundaries of membership with members. This will engender greater loyalty and point the organisations’ activities in the right direction for future growth.

Consumer behaviour

The traditional models and concepts of ownership are changing. Consumers are increasingly looking for more integrated services rather than specific products, and for products that provide an experience as part of their product offering and a greater degree of personalisation.

So, for membership organisations, business and pricing models need to be reconsidered. PAYG needs to be properly costed. Are the component parts of your offer strong enough to stand alone? Face-to-face communication is becoming something of a luxury in the digital age. Building experiences for members that facilitate more emotional and intimate connections should be viewed as a key membership strategy.

Changing workforce culture

It is said we spend around 25% of our lives in paid employment, but the long-term forecasts are for fewer working hours. Either way, the nature of our employment is changing, and membership associations are impacted.

Employment life for those just entering the workforce looks more like multiple jobs with multiple employers. Working practices are moving towards more open patterns of work and collaboration, driven by the increasing difficulty of finding staff skilled with the requisite experience in a growing number of areas.

Working practices are also becoming more dynamic and flexible. Advances in technology is reducing the need to travel so frequently but making it possible and indeed necessary to have your ‘office’ on tap 24/7. These flexible practices will also help to ensure that the knowledge and experience from an ageing workforce is not lost.

Professional associations need to re-evaluate their role and service offering. With the boundaries blurring between many job roles, it may be imperative to consider the merging of some professional bodies or rebranding to reflect a more diverse work culture. Work/life balance is the mantra, and yet for many there is a decreasing distinction. Content needs to reflect the needs of the employee beyond the office.

Groups form to reflect the society in which they exist. The key takeout from all this postulating is that things change. The biggest challenge for any membership organisation is to remain relevant to its members and continue to evolve and deliver a service that is needed and not just nice to have.

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