When you made your last five-year plan, you likely didn’t imagine that your association would be navigating all the ups and downs of the last few years. But change is a part of life – especially association life.  

In 2023, as new challenges emerge and your association’s membership evolves, it’s a good time to look at how your organization can learn and adapt so that you can meet the demands of the year ahead and continue to serve your membership well.  

What should associations keep in mind in 2023 and beyond? We identified four major association trends that should be on your radar and laid out what you can do to ensure you stay on the cutting-edge. 

Trend 1: Retention must a top priority 

The economic instability and inflation of 2022 aren’t set to end anytime soon. In fact, many economists are predicting we might see a recession in 2023. That means your association’s members could be making hard decisions about which expenses to keep and which to cut in 2023.  

What can you do to make sure your membership isn’t on the chopping block? If you want to convince them to stick around, it’s critical to deliver real, tangible value to members. Make yourself essential to your members during the good and the hard times. For example, you could consider starting a job board on your website and organizing more networking or skills development events for your members if your industry sees significant layoffs.  

Steps You Can Take 

  • Audit and analyze your current offerings: Put thought into why your association matters to your membership and how to ensure that you’re seen as essential by them this year. Audit your current offerings with that in mind by either looking at past feedback, conducting a membership survey, or doing a focus group with your members.  
  • Solicit plenty of member feedback: If you haven’t been providing feedback forms after events for your membership to fill out, now is the time to start. You can also add a note at the end of each of your emails asking for feedback, and programming input. You could even host a listening event to get your member’s advice on the future direction of your org. Whatever you do, make sure you’re aligned with your membership’s needs in 2023 and beyond.  
  • Look at what other organizations are doing: Don’t reinvent the wheel! Check out what similar associations are doing to respond to their member’s evolving needs and association industry trends. Do they have any wildly successful programs or events that your members would also like? What kinds of services or discounts do they offer their membership? Implement it in your association.   

BONUS TIP: Your association management software should have tools to help make retention and renewal efficient for your team and members. If you want to learn more about the tools MemberClicks has to help you renew members, we’ve got a guide on it.

Trend 2: Emphasize quick and mobile-friendly engagement. 

Member’s expectations about your association’s digital presence have changed dramatically over the years. It’s no longer enough to have a functional, good-looking website. Many users are mobile-first and, for some industries, being able to engage members on the go is especially critical.  

We’re seeing an association trend of mobile apps becoming year-round resources, not just something you create for your association’s conference. As you evaluate your member offerings, make sure you take a close look at how you’re interacting with your membership, too. 

Steps You Can Take 

  • Offer bite-sized learning and credential programs: Life is busier than ever. If your longer learning and credential programs aren’t getting the engagement they deserve, try breaking them up into shorter programs. Or consider offering new programs that address your members’ most pressing 2023 needs.  
  • Invest in a year-round mobile app: If you run a conference and use a conference app, you already know the member engagement benefits they deliver. The big association industry trend of 2023 is towards year-round mobile apps. You can then offer value and engage your membership 365 days of the year.  
  • Use AMS tools that create mobile-friendly pages: Association management software changed how you interacted with your membership – but if it’s not mobile-friendly then it’s time for an upgrade. You shouldn’t expect your membership to always access your website on a desktop. Make sure your AMS tools and member pages are fully mobile responsive.  

Trend 3: Connection is key 

Your association might have a great relationship with its members but the greatest value you can deliver is facilitating your members in building great relationships with each other. The network of connections is what makes your association so valuable. Member networking helps with member acquisition while also helping your members supercharge (or reboot) their careers as they navigate this current bout of economic instability.  

That also makes your retention efforts easier, not just because you’re offering more value to your membership, but because your members will look forward to your events so they can reconnect with professional connections they genuinely enjoy seeing. 

The rise of virtual and hybrid events as now-standard parts of an event calendar has been immensely helpful in creating more and more diverse opportunities for members to connect. 

Steps You Can Take 

  • Plan casual virtual networking events: Every event doesn’t have to be an elaborate and time-consuming production. Hosting casual virtual networking events is one way to build community without a ton of work. You can theme your events around a topic, have a special guest, or keep it casual and unstructured. Whatever works best for your members!  
  • Empower members to host local meetups: If you’re worried you don’t have the staff to refocus on community this year, don’t. The best part about sparking community is that you can let your members take the lead. Create a toolkit for how members can host local meetups for other members and then send out a call for volunteers. It’s as simple as that.  
  • Ensure the quality of your online forum experience: Is your forum’s participation lagging or is the content lackluster? 2023 is a great year to focus on improving that. Consider hosting monthly ‘Ask Me Anythings’ with experts in your field. Or add boards that address members’ current concerns – like jobs boards or networking boards. Make it a goal to increase forum visits this year by making your forum indispensable.  

Trend 4: Foster a culture of communication and agility. 

Amid the crises of the past several years, associations have learned how the way they operate internally impacts their ability to deliver value to members, pivot quickly to address new challenges, and even survive as organizations. 

An agility mindset is an asset for your organization. So, how do you achieve it?  Through clear and purposeful internal communication. In 2023 one of the big association industry trends is associations becoming more intentional about their internal communications.  

You can even use your new commitment to agility as a focal point of your messaging to members. Sharing your ‘agility resolutions,’ will show members you understand how important it is to respond quickly to their evolving needs.  

Steps You Can Take 

  • Use the right management and collaboration tools: An association is often only as good as its tools. If yours aren’t working or purpose-built for an association’s needs, it’s time to upgrade. Ensuring that you’re using the right management and collaboration tools won’t just improve your communication and coordination, it will also reduce the time your staff spends on repetitive or overlapping work.  
  • Conduct assessments of specific departments as needed: If some of your departments are particularly struggling with communication and agility, it’s a good time to conduct an assessment to understand why – and what you can do to improve them. Creating a game plan with clear metrics for how to optimize your org is key.  
  • Survey members and staff to identify pain points and fixes: You don’t have all the answers – but your members and staff do. Survey your staff and members to better understand what the problem is and what you might be able to do to fix it. That will ensure your new plans will have more impact.  

BONUS TIP: Hiring and retaining the best people will help your association flourish. Need some guidance for hiring in 2023? You best believe that we’ve got a guide to help you. You can check it out here.

Wrapping Up 

Ensuring your association follows current best practices and is hyper-focused on optimizing its offerings to align with membership needs is critical to navigating 2023’s challenges.  

But don’t worry, you’re not alone. MemberClicks, Wild Apricot, and Personify, all trusted names in the association space, are on top of the latest association industry trends and provide relevant and up-to-date tips on how to navigate the challenges organizations of all sizes face.  

Here are some resources that can help you prepare to tackle these trends – and whatever else 2023 throws at you.