Asking different questions: MMCC 2013 edition

by Jeff De Cagna on June 3, 2013

“Is the association model broken?”

“What does ‘member’ mean to you?”

“Do we need a new membership model?”

“Is membership dead?”

These are all interesting questions, and I understand why some people are asking them. Unfortunately, they are not the right questions. Instead of trying to figure out how to extend the life of the existing paradigm, association leaders need to focus their attention on shaping the next one, specifically by building adaptive and resilient, i.e., thrivable, business models that do not depend on membership.

To move the conversation in a more generative direction, then, I want to challenge boards, CEOs, C-Suite executives and other contributors to grapple with three core strategic questions that will require them to undertake an honest appraisal of personal, organizational and industry orthodoxies, as well as pursue a deeper exploration of what is possible for their associations in the years ahead:

+What will it take for your association to thrive over the next decade and beyond?

Every association will need to come up with its own specific answer to this question, but one thing is abundantly clear: associations need to develop new capabilities for co-creating radical new value with their stakeholders. Over many decades, associations have invested considerable time and energy, as well as financial resources, in optimizing the work of selling membership to drive their existing membership-centric business models. As the forces of relentless societal transformation continue to erode the traditional economics of membership, however, associations will need to build stronger platforms for tangible and intangible new value creation that can become a source of “collaborative advantage” with distributed networks of trusted and talented contributors, irrespective of their desire for membership.

+What will your stakeholders need to thrive over the next decade and beyond?

While it can be hard for association leaders to conceive, the membership offer is almost always a better solution to the association’s “problem” than the stakeholder’s “problem.” After all, the association derives the immediate gain of another sale and another buyer it can begin to monetize through both direct and indirect revenue opportunities. Meanwhile, the stakeholder often must wait for access to most of what the association regards as the really compelling benefits of membership, only to discover later that those benefits aren’t really that compelling. To develop a clearer point of view on what their stakeholders will need to thrive in the years ahead, association leaders must nurture an empathic understanding of their stakeholders’ short-term challenges, intermediate-term needs and long-term outcomes to create distinctive value beyond the limitations of the benefits package.

+Why should your current and future stakeholders want to have a relationship with your association?

Membership isn’t a real relationship for the vast majority of association stakeholders, but a one-size-fits-all offer that involves little more than a magazine subscription and a once-a-year credit card transaction. For stakeholders with abundant access to a wide variety of information resources, network connections and learning opportunities that can help them succeed, ordinary approaches are not nearly good enough. To be intentional about building meaningful relationships going forward, associations must engage their stakeholders in deeper and richer value conversations that embrace serendipity, and seek to link purposeful action with the responsible pursuit of profitability.

If you’re interested in joining this conversation and you are attending ASAE’s Marketing, Membership and Communications Conference in Washington, DC on Tuesday, June 4, 2013, I will be speaking on the topic, “Why Membership is Killing Association Business Models” from 10:15 am-11:30 am in Room 150B of the Walter E. Washington Convention Center. You also may follow Twitter posts from the session using the hashtag #MMCCon LC4. One way or the other, I hope you will share your perspectives!

IMPORTANT NOTE: Google Reader will be shut down on July 1, 2013, making this an opportune moment to subscribe to the Principled Innovation Blog via email. You can use the “Receive Blog Posts Via Email” box found on the right sidebar to initiate your subscription. Thank you!

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Jeff De Cagna FRSA FASAE, chief strategist and founder of Principled Innovation LLC, is serving as curator and provocateur for the inaugural Association Chief Executives (ACE) Symposium, to be held on Friday, July 12 at The Gannett Building in McLean, Virginia. The ACE Symposium is open exclusively to association CEOs, and CEO attendees may register their #2 executives to participate with them in the event.

The ACE Symposium will feature nine CEO Thought Leaders presenting 15-minute TED style talks organized into three critical conversation themes: the future of membership, the future of new value creation and the future of leadership. In addition, noted thinker Seth Kahan, author of the new book, Getting Innovation Right, will be the keynote speaker. Symposium attendees will receive a complimentary copy of Getting Innovation Right at the event.

In his role, Jeff is working directly with the CEO Thought Leaders to shape their talks within the framework of the day’s three critical conversations. On July 12, Jeff will serve as the event’s resident “provocateur,” asking challenging questions of the CEO Thought Leaders and engaging Symposium participants in rich dialogue around the day’s themes.

The ACE Symposium is the brainchild of Shira Harrington, founder and president of Purposeful Hire, Inc., an executive search and consulting firm located in Northern Virginia. Ms. Harrington, who also serves as founder and curator of the ACE Symposium, said, “When I decided to host a thought leadership event for association CEOs, I immediately reached out to Jeff because of his commitment to being a catalyst for unorthodox thinking. I’m thrilled to be working with Jeff as we challenge CEOs to think in radically different ways about the future of their organizations.”

Asked about his role in the ACE Symposium, Jeff said, “It is tremendously exciting to design and create this kind of unique gathering for association CEOs, and a genuine honor to collaborate with a consummate entrepreneur and visionary like Shira Harrington. The ACE Symposium is going to be an amazing learning experience.”

Registration for the ACE Symposium is now open, and early decision registration pricing closes on Friday, May 17. More details on the event, including the agenda for the day, can be found online at An electronic flyer for the Symposium is also available for download here.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Google Reader will be shut down on July 1, 2013, making this an opportune moment to subscribe to the Principled Innovation Blog via email. You can use the “Receive Blog Posts Via Email” box found on the right sidebar to initiate your subscription. Thank you!

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Empathy, new value creation and the stakeholders of the future

April 8, 2013

In early January, I wrote a post on six serious ideas for 2013 that included the concept of SED, which is short for serendipity, empathy and discovery. SED is a term I coined to inspire association leaders to shift their conversations about the future in a more generative direction. Here is what I wrote about SED […]

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Overcoming the association value gap: part II

April 2, 2013

Building sustainable business models depends on association leaders adopting a 21st-century sensibility as they imagine and co-create new forms of value in collaboration with their stakeholder networks. (This post originally appeared on the Associations Now Leadership Blog last month.)

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Jeff De Cagna to deliver keynote at CESSE 2013 Annual Meeting

March 31, 2013

Jeff De Cagna of Principled Innovation has been selected as the opening keynote speaker for the Council of Engineering and Scientific Society Executives (CESSE) 2013 Annual Meeting. Jeff’s keynote talk, which will take place in July 2013 in Providence, Rhode Island, will focus on themes and ideas shared in his provocative free e-book, Associations Unorthodox: Six Really Radical Shifts Toward the Future.

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Overcoming the association value gap: part I

March 25, 2013

Even in 2013, association business models based on membership rely heavily on dues revenue. Leaders need to understand the limitations of this approach and think about how to create value that does not depend on membership. (This post originally appeared on the Associations Now Leadership Blog earlier this month.)

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My new Associations Now article is now live!

March 1, 2013

The article shares deeper reasons why boards are damaging their business models, while the web extra offers suggestions on what association boards and CEOs can do to address those concerns. If you are a CEO or senior association leader, I hope you will share both the article and the web extra with your association’s board to begin a meaningful dialogue about business model stewardship.

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It’s all about boards and business models in March!

February 27, 2013

In support of my new article, “Trapped in the Past,” a.k.a. “Five Reasons Why Boards Are Killing Association Business Models,” that will appear in Associations Now next month, I have a few activities on the calendar to which members of the association community are invited. Please subscribe to the P.I. Blog and my Twitter feed to stay on top of any updates.

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How Technology is Transforming Strategy

February 12, 2013

I find it remarkable that it is February 2013, and I am still reading magazine articles advising associations to create strategic plans every five or six years, and encouraging leaders to review those plans just once a year. Do association leaders still believe we live in that world? Really? That’s remarkable.

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Join Jeff for P.I./TMA Resources Executive Breakfast on March 6 in Alexandria, Virginia

January 30, 2013

Join Jeff De Cagna of Principled Innovation on Wednesday, March 6 for the P.I./TMA Resources Executive Breakfast for association CEOs, C-Suite executives and other association leaders. This free breakfast session will be held at the headquarters of the National School Boards Association (NSBA) in Alexandria, Virginia, and registration for this event is now open.

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