Two Threats to Associations, One Good Counter

There I sat in a volunteer committee meeting when the question came up “what’s the threat, why should I give to the ASAE Foundation?” “I understand the threat if I don’t give to American Red Cross or the Haiti Relief Fund or Katrina relief, but I don’t see the threat for this [ASAE] foundation.”

I thought wow, great question. The ASAE Foundation indeed is not going to feed the hungry, find housing, give medical care, or provide disaster relief. But you see our associations are and our association foundations will feed the hungry, get housing for the homeless, find medical care for the uninsured and provide disaster relief to those in need. And that’s the threat. If our associations and foundations don’t innovate, if they don’t thrive, if they don’t attract bright new leaders, they will not be able to respond to the ever-present need for food,  housing, medical care, disaster relief and research, standard setting and innovation in all pockets.

I know it’s the traditional conundrum. No one wants to fund the infrastructure; they want to buy the food, medicine, clothes, building materials, or education, but we need the infrastructure – i.e. our associations and foundations.

To me, there are two threats ASAE’s Foundation addresses:

Aging infrastructure. Let’s be honest. The internet—with all its power, bells and whistles, and reach—has changed our playing field. We’re in what sailors might refer to as “dirty air.” In a sailing race when one boat sails to the windward side of another, it can steal the first boat’s wind leaving it to slow and fall behind (just like this poor sailor). The internet – or perhaps more precisely – the social web has cast a wind shadow on associations and left us sailing in dirty air.

That’s where ASAE’s Foundation comes in. They are building on the body of knowledge we need to survive today and into the future. The Foundation conducts research and fosters innovation to build sustainable organizations. Tomorrow’s governance, business and volunteer models are being explored today. And in this exploration, the Foundation is enhancing the tools and resources we have available as members through ASAE.  

Tomorrow’s leaders.  The first inclination when you read that phrase is likely to focus on the younger generation. But the phrase actually embraces a larger group. To be leaders, our associations must have a diverse pool of people – a pool that reflects all generations and many underrepresented segments. 

On one hand, associations are no different from other employers in the sense that we will need to compete for younger workers, while retaining older generations. And we must also figure out to attract underrepresented workers. On the other hand, we are not-for-profit organizations which too often puts us in a less-competitive position in the eyes of many professionals. We must speak for ourselves.

Our need to invest in our workforce goes even beyond filling our own staff positions. You see the leaders within our organizations are guiding the conversations and the work that creates sustainable professions. Consider the partnership between SHRM and AARP to embrace the older worker. This program is an outgrowth of the leadership and innovate thinking by the professionals on those staffs.  We have yet another critical role in preparing our association’s volunteer leaders who serve in our communities.

The ASAE Foundation is investing in our profession through the Leadership Academy, the Young Professional Network and the Diversity Executive Leadership Program (DELP).

I should have said at the beginning there are three threats. I know that the threat to associations won’t compete in the public with Katrina, Haiti, homeless shelters, etc. So the third threat is that if we in the association profession or members of associations don’t support our future, no one will.asae foundation logo

AARP CEO Barry Rand said, “History tells us that companies that fail to adapt to societal changes, including diversity and aging populations, risk stagnation that comes from being mired in the old way of doing things.”

I gave in 2010 and I will give annually. Will you?

PS  Want to see some of the really great ways associations are making our communities better? Check out or the Associations Advance America awards.

PPS Your donation is tax-deductible!