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2021 Predictions: Africa's Top Leaders Share the Future of Associations


Feb 02, 2021

Last year, organizations took a sudden pivot from face-to-face interactions to online activities due to social distancing and lockdowns. In the face of economic setbacks and fear of the unknown, they eventually adapted to the new way of doing things.

Associations became more flexible, transitioned to online activities, and held successful virtual events. They collaborated, acted as the voice of the industries they serve, and adopted new business models. These are just some of the lessons that association leaders learned in the new normal.

However, these lessons do not make us future-ready. As we reflect on the year that was and speculate on the year ahead, how can associations prepare themselves for the new year? Here’s what the associataions leaders from around the region said during our recent webinar, (Africa) Outlook 2021: Preparing Your Association for the New Year.

Leaders will become more strategic in engaging their members

Associations that respond to their members’ needs will grow. Leaders must realize the importance of being visible, of being in touch with their constituencies. Our members belong to different segments and are looking to satisfy different needs from associations. It is not us who can solve them, but we can point them in the right direction. The best thing we can do is help members network among themselves. The way we engage with members online will change. Short targeted online events that engage different segments of members will replace the large online events that we are used to. Associations that maximize their online activities will attract new members far and wide.

The Rise of the Millenials

Associations will structure themselves to mirror this demographic. We will see a transition in our memberships' profile–from the Baby Boomers and Generation Y to a younger generation of Millennials. Maximizing on online activities presents an opportunity to attract younger members who are already used to and thrive on online activities.

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Increased Collaboration Between Businesses and Associations

I see a lot of mergers taking place between associations active in different fields. I see partnerships forming across the board to help each other get what they need to remain sustainable. I see associations and organizations becoming stronger due to this collaboration, and there is an opportunity for them to speak on behalf of the industries they serve in a united voice. This will also help to curb the proliferation of associations, a challenge I foresee in 2021.

Virtual and Hybrid Events Become the Norm

The most notable change that we will see in events is that we will veer away from running large events. People are not going to participate in an online conference that runs over two or three days. They drop in, drop out. Associations will instead run several smaller events over the year. This will allow members to engage on specific subjects relevant to narrow topics. I also see more hybrid events where associations will engage both live and remote audiences.

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Associations will Adopt For-Profit Business Models

We will see new business models come up, especially in terms of how associations make their money. Leaders need to look at their expenditure and see where they can minimize unnecessary costs. In terms of revenue, we need to posture ourselves for-profit by finding out our members' current and future needs and if they are willing to pay for it. By adding value to the services that we otherwise offer for free, we can begin to put a price on all our activities. Additionally, collaborating with other organizations through profitable partnerships, mergers or acquisitions will help associations acquire the resources they need to remain sustainable.

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Technology Will Drive Associations

Technology is the key thing that will drive associations in 2021. Once properly deployed, technology will definitely produce effective service delivery and reduce resources deployed to serve members. I see additional extensions so that we can produce technologies that will allow more personalized and intimate communications with members and other stakeholders. This is crucial to associations retaining their members.

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The Recipe for a Succesful 2021

So what do associations need to do to thrive this year? Maximize your online visibility and find innovative ways to engage your members. For example, spotlighting your members is a great way to keep them interested.

Host smaller targeted virtual events on subject matters relevant to your members. Hybrid-webinars are a fun innovative way to engage both your live and remote audiences. Create new revenue streams outside membership dues while keeping a close eye on your costs. Form partnerships that will create economic value for your members.

Lastly, adopt technologies that will help you interact closely with your communities. For example, with Glue Up’s Speed Networking Tool, your members can build relationships and network regardless of their location or where in-person meetings are not possible.


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