Digital Transformation: It’s All About Culture

By Guest Bloggers Maddie Grant and Elizabeth Weaver Engel, M.A., CAE

Organizations of ALL types – for-profit and tax-exempt, national headquarters and chapters – have been talking about digital transformation for many years, yet association efforts continue to lag.

Why is that?

In The No BS Guide to Digital Transformation: How Intentional Culture Change Can Propel Associations Forward, we posit that it’s all about culture.

The main challenge associations face in our digital transformation initiatives is that digital transformation is an iterative process that includes both technologies and culture. Associations focus on creating more value for our members and for the professions and industries we serve at the national and chapter level, which means we need to continuously change the way we work, which means we need to be on the lookout for the tools and technologies that will allow us to do that across our organizations in a coordinated way.

Which sounds, if not easy, then at least simple.

So why aren’t we doing it?

Our research revealed that, while there is still work to be done on the technology front, it’s not technology that’s holding our industry back; it’s culture, and more specifically, culture change. This is why a lot of the copious digital transformation advice that exists don’t quite hit the mark for associations: For-profit culture is fundamentally different than association culture, and chapters are one of the main expressions of that.

What would that look like in a practical sense?

We all claim to collaborate well: national to chapters, chapters to national, and chapter to chapter, we’re all one big, happy family. But is that really true? Maybe your collaboration is a little awkward – you are siloed and don’t generally share member data freely and effectively – so how will the national and chapters suddenly start sharing data openly on new platform?

As Maddie is fond of remarking, digital transformation comes down to culture change + vendor selection.

From the technology perspective, that means you don’t want a mobile strategy, or a data analytics strategy, or a social strategy – you need well-thought-out organizational strategy that includes these things, at both the national and chapter level. The tech is not the end – it’s the means to the end of accomplishing your larger organizational goals in a coordinated and member-centric way.

But it’s the culture part that gets really tricky. In order to be successful, you’ll need strong, consistent support from your national headquarters leadership, actively providing direction and the resources for that change to happen; and from your chapter leaders, who need a clear understanding what the plan is, what the goals are, and the role that the chapters will play. All that involves identifying and, as necessary, adjusting your culture patterns.

Where do you start?

Maddie and I have you covered:

  1. Assess where you are now.
  2. Secure leadership support and a funding commitment.
  3. Identify strategic areas where digital tech could make a difference.
  4. Review your legacy systems and processes.
  5. Recruit your team.
  6. Get comfortable with experimenting.
  7. Improve your culture management.

THEN AND ONLY THEN, chose your tech investments and make it happen.

For more on how to do all that, download the full whitepaper for free at

About our guest bloggers

Maddie Grant is an expert culture designer and digital strategist who focuses on helping organizations unlock the power in their culture and navigate culture change. She has specific expertise in digital transformation and generational differences in the workplace. Check out more at Propel and be sure to look through their action documents and other resources.

Elizabeth Weaver Engel, M.A., CAE, is a chief strategist with a primary focus on membership, marketing and communications. Her work has been wide-ranging though, including corporate sponsorship and fundraising, technology planning and implementation, social media and internet strategy, budgeting, volunteer management, publications, and governance. Check out more at Spark Consulting (including her collection of white papers such as Mission Driven Volunteer and Getting to the Good Stuff: Evidence-based Decision Making for Associations which she co-authored with Mariner.)