Once upon a time, technology was an isolated country ruled by a few savants who spoke a strange language. They were powerful but others didn’t always understand, or even care to know, what magic they were up to.

Today, the castle is breached. Technology’s strength lies in the opposite of its reclusive beginnings. Collaboration and integration across the business landscape create the successful impact that is equal parts mindset and systems.

.orgCommunity’s Solutions Day event highlighted that theme. The September 29 conference at the OLC in Rosemont, Illinois was a meeting of minds and a journey to discovery. We invited industry providers and association thought leaders to describe their partnerships.

They shared stories about strengthening member relations, growing resources, and using tech tools to eliminate the zombie effect, or those repetitive tasks that drain creativity and enthusiasm.  

Take the Lead

I began the conference where discussions about technology should start—with the CEO. All of us, can and should, be digital leaders. A strong endorsement from the top is the first non-negotiable. The biggest barrier to digital success is imagining that anything ‘digital’ is someone else’s responsibility. Every part of the organization should be involved.

I recommended roles and activities to keep those channels open. We discussed how a digital strategist, innovator, and driver can help inspire creativity and promote the incisive thinking that leads to new sources of revenue and growth.

Put People First

Tiffany Kerns, our morning headliner, picked up that thread and skillfully wove it into an exploration of how technology provides the human insight to increase member engagement and build loyalty.

Tiffany is the Executive Director of the Country Music Association Foundation and CMA’s Vice President of Industry Relations and Philanthropy. The Foundation’s mission is to ensure every child has access to high-quality music education and every music educator has the resources to create a thriving program. .orgCommunity was thrilled to donate 10 percent of the proceeds from Solutions Day registration to this great cause.

CMA, like so many others, had a pandemic wake-up call. The association was already experiencing business concerns when COVID-19 delivered a stark moment of truth. With lockdown, half of the organization’s members became unemployed overnight. Live events, the industry’s bread and butter, were off the table.

An already weakened association was navigating its members’ uncertainty coupled with instability across the industry. The people who suffered most were the many professionals, from stylists to roadies and suppliers, who support performers’ careers. Unemployment made anxiety, depression, and even suicide widespread throughout a business that is stressful under normal circumstances. The situation was an opportunity for a much-needed reset.

“Our mission didn’t change,” Tiffany advised. “But our vision did.” The group dedicated itself to creating authentic human connections and a personal experience for every member. Communicating that perspective throughout the organization became the top priority.

CMA also found the courage to analyze their operations and eliminate, or change, any activities that did not contribute to those goals. Then, they began exploring how technology and data could help them achieve the member-centricity they were seeking.

This 60-year-old organization hadn’t felt the need to change until a crisis made action inevitable. Fortunately, the group realized that their Gen Z and Millennial members weren’t finding value in the traditional offerings.

 “We began shifting our business,” Tiffany recalled. “We let everyone know that it was okay to reimagine the future.

“Personal and professional well-being is intertwined,” Tiffany advised. “To be relevant, associations must consider both. We asked ourselves a series of uncomfortable questions. And we committed to accepting the answers without making excuses. We wanted to really understand our members on every level.”

To gather the right data, CMA conducted an assessment and analysis of industry trends. Then, they began using that information to build solutions that would inspire current members’ loyalty and motivate a new generation of music professionals to join.

There were more takeaways in this presentation than I have space to cover. But I am thrilled that Tiffany touched on many of the themes that I emphasize for success in digital markets, or our Association 4.0 playbook.

Draw a New Map

Managing the change needed to stay relevant in the digital era is the ongoing challenge for every association leader. Our afternoon headliner, Al Dea, Founder of Betterwork Labs, helps organizations create cultures that can thrive through transition.

“You can’t use an old map to explore a new world,” is wisdom from Albert Einstein that Al uses to explain his perspective on navigating change. “To succeed in digital markets, leaders must learn to think differently. You need to constantly update your personal GPS to the current coordinates.”

For professionals who want to build an adaptive and innovative organization, Al recommends these five strategies:

  • Put on your own oxygen mask first. “It’s easy to be swept up in the cycle of doing and urgency,” Al notes. “Sometimes, you must go slow to go fast. Take time to ensure that you are in a good spot before leading others.” ​
  • Bring people along on the journey. Al shared this advice for keeping teams aligned from Prabhash Shrestha, Chief Digital Strategy Officer at the Independent Community Banks of America. “You won’t always be present when decisions are made and ideas are formed. The culture you set is what ensures that people know how to act and engage.”
  • Take stock of where you are. Understand the roles that various constituents play in your association. Know who are the allies, contrarians, sponsors, and mavens. Maximize their influence to advance your goals.
  • Experiment to learn faster. Test new beliefs with small experiments. Review what experiments you’ve tried in the last 90 days? Consider how past failures have helped you grow learning and improve outcomes.
  • Align future ambitions with current behavior. Although behavior might seem hard to change. Incremental shifts pave the way to greater transformation. Use language and rewards as positive reinforcement.
  • To do differently, think differently. Break out of stale thought patterns and welcome the fresh insights that draw your new map to success. ​

Tiffany and Al bookended 12 rapid-fire sessions. Al’s five ideas were a great summary of that learning.

Discover Nuggets of Truth

At the beginning of the conference Kevin Ordonez, emcee and .orgSource President and Managing Director of Digital Strategy, gave us an assignment. His hope was that each attendee would leave the event with at least one idea that would be immediately useful. For me, every presentation offered a nugget of truth. These are snapshots of my insights.

The Value of User Journeys for Digital Transformation

Jake Toohey, Senior Digital Consultant, Adage Technologies and Jon Forst, Chief Information Officer, American Retirement Association

Tangled data, uncomfortable user experiences, and poor systems integration aren’t just roadblocks. These challenges can actually threaten your organization’s existence. Jake and Jon explained that personas and user journeys are strategies that can smooth the path to improved member engagement and better outcomes.

Leverage Data to Inform Key Business Decisions – Multiple Association Use Cases

Greg Pollack, Vice President Sales and Mark Lowry, President and Chief Revenue Officer, Association Analytics

“When you work with humans, you have to rely on data.” Adding to that advice from Tiffany, Mark and Greg noted that data-informed organizations do the driving. Using data to segment and categorize messaging gives every call-to-action greater impact. Data is the catalyst that delivers bigger returns on investment and helps you pare away initiatives and communications that don’t serve your goals.

Embracing Docuseries Models to Future Proof Your Profession/Industry

Jeff Baker, Association Solutions, Workerbee.TV

If you’re looking for a strategy toward engagement on multiple levels, consider a video series to promote opportunities across your organization’s industry. The cost of a professional production is rapidly dropping. And a powerful film clip can be the backbone for an entire multi-media campaign, making it even more affordable.

Conference Planning Doesn’t Have to Be Stressful

Jason Daiger, Vice President of Events Products, Community Brands

Meeting planning is a high stakes juggling act. Sessions, speakers, room arrangements, and AV are just a few of the balls that must keep spinning. Jason explained that when you communicate clear goals and objectives to everyone involved, that process is less stressful. A single source of truth for conference logistics goes a long way to relieving the pressure. Maintaining a centralized data lake ensures that everyone knows where to access the information to deliver a perfect program.

The AI Fueled Association – Redefining Your Membership Strategy

Patrick Dorsey, Senior Vice President of Marketing, Impexium

Patrick observed that AI integrates with many of the processes we should, or will, be using for greater member centricity. Chat bots and other intuitive services have the potential to free staff from routine activities, giving them time to pursue more impactful initiatives. I’m excited to see how associations will use this futuristic technology to boost engagement, enhance the adoption and acquisition of products, and transform the member experience.

How Automation Helped a Medical Association Digitally Transform

Jeff Golembiewski, Sales Engineering Vice President, Community Brands

Jeff reviewed these statistics from Community Brand’s Association Trends study:  63% of members believe that if associations don’t technologically transform in the next two to three years, they won’t survive. Only 16% of association professionals feel they are technologically prepared to meet member expectations. But 72% of members who perceive their organization as an early technology adopter report higher satisfaction. The right tech means fewer errors, cost savings, quality customer service, and higher returns on investment.

Learning on the Go: What Tomorrow’s Professionals Expect

Thomas Wong, Director of Business Development, 360Factor and Martha Zaborowski, Director of Product Strategy and Evaluation, the American College of Chest Physicians

Learning-on-the-go used to be focused on options for travelers. Today everyone is an on-the-go-learner. Martha and Thomas described how two e-learning apps put significant educational opportunities in CHEST members’ pockets. They noted that elegant mobile design compels learners to return to platforms on a regular basis. And, ease of use makes professional development fast, functional, and habit forming.

Work Smarter, Not Harder: Let Your Data Work for You | A case study with the Leadership Institute

Melissa Miller, Principal Consultant, IntelliData and John Davis, Vice President for Growth and Development, the Leadership Institute

The Leadership Institute had 40 years of data packed in an Excel spreadsheet. You can guess how that played out. Melissa and John outlined how data analytics helped them put that information into a format that every staff member is able to access and review daily. They discovered that when you study trends regularly, threats and opportunities on the horizon are easier to spot.

Become the Most Interesting Person in the Room: Your Association’s In-house Futurist

Michelle Brien, Vice President Marketing and Product Strategy, WBT Systems

Michelle picked up on the forecasting theme. She opened and closed her presentation with “The Path Less Taken,” Robert Frost’s poem about choices and exploration. As a professional, you constantly consider options. A futurist focuses on the road ahead. “When you are problem-solving,” Michelle advised. “It’s helpful to have someone on board who challenges the status quo. A forward-looking mindset forces you to pay attention to the big picture and the root causes. When you are a futurist, you can see innovations before they become obvious.

What’s in Your Leadership Toolbox? 5 Strategies to Build High-Performing, Engaged Teams

Mark Sehmer, Chief Technology Officer, Web Courseworks

Without a great team to execute, all of these ideas are superfluous. Mark shared frameworks that Web Courseworks uses to define their culture and deliver peak performance. The ideas include tenants and principles from the Manifesto for Agile Software Development. This model can help groups collaborate, communicate more effectively, and create what members or customers want and need. Spotify Squadsobjectives and key results or OKRs, and an Advice Process are also tools you can use to improve relationships and results.

Connecting Membership Dollars to Outcomes

Kim Sorin, Director of Sales Marketing and Partnerships, Aura Innovative Technology and Pete Bradley, Associate Director of IT, American College of Surgeons

The American College of Surgeons has 65 chapters across the country. The group knew that closer collaboration could deliver benefits to the entire family of organizations. As a step toward a stronger partnership, the association proposed a centralized system of dues collection. They selected Oracle Netsuite, a cloud-based enterprise resource planning system, to do the job. This platform is flexible enough to grow beyond dues collection, should the need arise. It also provides the robust reporting that will give chapters greater insight into member recruitment and retention.

How the American Heart Association Digitally Transformed Their Education Program

Diane Perrino, Senior Director, Association Solutions, Impelsys and Joe Shirey, Director, Commercial Technologies, American Heart Association

Diane and Joe’s presentation covered miles of tech ground, from creating a bespoke LMS platform to developing modular learning components as new sources of revenue. But the message I’d like to highlight is about the way these two groups work together. Joe stressed that Diane and her team at Impelsys aren’t regarded as “vendors.” With complimentary missions and cultural compatibility, AHA and Impelsys operate as true partners.

Find Partners for Success

A relationship of trust and collaboration between the corporate and association communities offers rich rewards for both groups. Taking the mystery out of technology to make it accessible across roles and organizations is just one of many benefits.

This is the essence of Solutions Day—convening talent and thought leaders to help you find the partners you need for success. .orgCommunity is proud to be the catalyst for our amazing colleagues to share their expertise.

To learn more about .orgCommunity’s partners visit our Solutions Center.  Video of the Solutions Day program will be available by mid-November. Save the date for Solutions Day 2023, November 2.