Why Your Professional Association Needs a Strategic Plan…Right Now

Best Practices, Starting an Association : Article

Strategic Plans for AssociationsWhat’s an eight-letter word for association management? Strategy. And even though it should be the driving force behind your professional association’s agenda, strategic plans are often lacking in their most basic elements—including the imperative to stay current.

Meg Whitman once described the evolution of eBay’s strategic mission in observing that strategy meetings went from being held once or twice per year, to being necessary several times a week. While that level of planning may be overkill, there’s a strong case to be made for regular strategizing—quarterly planning is a good benchmark.

Why? Today’s professional associations are operating in a rapidly changing environment. It’s critical that you’re working toward a focused and specific set of goals, with metrics and accountability measures built in. Tapping into professional association management is one way to ensure your organization’s strategy makes sense. Meanwhile, here are some reasons to revamp (and regularly review) your association’s strategic plan:

Competitors are emerging faster than ever.

The Internet has changed the professional association space in immeasurable ways. One of its biggest effects has been the impact on association competition. Twenty years ago, many associations had geographic monopolies. If I wanted to attend a seminar, I had to limit my search to local groups hosting local events. Today, as education moves online, I can just as easily attend a webinar sponsored by a California-based association. And the same goes for everyday information gathering; Google doesn’t limit me to the resources available from the associations I’ve already joined.

New technology brings new opportunity.

Absent a strategic plan, technology will pass you by. Fifteen years ago, the conversation was all about, “should we have a web page?” Five years ago, it was, “do we need a social media strategy?” Today, associations are contemplating (or procrastinating on) the development of a mobile strategy. Absent a planning process, none of these opportunities will get addressed.

Missions change.

The March of Dimes was formed to stamp out polio. Dartmouth College was formed to educate the Native American population of Northern New England. It’s important to regularly reevaluate your mission, to make sure you’re still in the right business.

Two last tips: Be sure that your plan is sufficiently documented—that means incorporating formal goals and metrics. You should also consider the benefits of an outside facilitator, especially for web and technology management—someone who can be sure all the tough questions get asked and answered as part of your planning process. There’s huge value in working with fresh eyes.

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