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Taking the Pulse of the Association World - Part 1 of 3

News, Business

Sharing a good cup of coffee is a great way to really learn from your fellow conference-goers.

Last month, I had the good fortune of attending the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) Annual Meeting in Columbus, Ohio. As a relative newcomer to the world of associations, I’d met many people in that sphere and had frequently heard that ASAE's annual meeting was a vital part of my education. The advice to attend was absolutely correct. ASAE brings together association executives to learn and share best practices that hold true for non-profits across the diverse sectors they serve.

conversations over lunch ... offered the most food for thought

At this conference I came to better understand why associations continue to be deeply relevant to any professional that was serious about growing their career. I learnt what motivated members to continue volunteering their time and energy to promote their associations and I found the experience to be humbling and thought-provoking.

It was the conversations over lunch which offered the most food for thought [pun intended]. ASAE's event setup included free food and tables close by in the exhibit hall. Here, attendees had time to take a breather, mingle, grab a plate and sit down. Here was the mental space available to absorb information, to talk about what we’d learnt with one other. Here, conversations flowed easily and every exchange without exception was interesting because there is such variation in the business of associations that you’re bound to learn something new. Since association people usually have long experience in the sector and like what they do, every lunch conversation felt like a capsule master class of a profession.

I saw how hard association members were working to remain relevant

You might have heard of the saying "Business people make a profit, association people make a difference". The people I met at this meeting proved this to be true. Everywhere at ASAE, I met association people who were engaged and engaging. Their motivations were clear – they’d reaped the professional benefits of membership and wanted to help younger professionals gain those advantages through joining up and involvement in their associations. Yet I also saw and heard firsthand how hard association members were working to remain relevant to the next generation of professionals that want a curated, tech savvy customer experience and so, are hooked into LinkedIn and other digital communities for their career management. In a way, this is an age old problem – How do the experienced stay relevant to the next generation? What does relevancy in the association world look like? I left in the evenings mulling those two questions.

What’s your perspective? What did you think of ASAE's 2019 annual meeting? Email me at