May 20, 2013
The world of associations is no different than the corporate world in terms of a constantly changing environment that requires associations and their leaders to look ahead. Among the choices that many associations and societies need to face is, are they relevant and viable as they are currently constituted?
There are several common scenarios that can precipitate discussions of merger (or acquisition) in the association community. In a trade association, the industry becomes increasingly mature and more global. The number of companies shrinks due to acquisition by other members or their inability to compete. The few companies that remain may be part of an international organization that doesn’t understand or have the same commitment to the US market. The association may need to find a partner or home in an adjacent space with another organization or it may need to become a vertical organization throughout the supply chain.
For organizations that depend on trade shows or conferences for a large portion of their revenue, declining attendance and exhibitors may require a rethinking of the financial viability of the organization. Has the field become more fragmented or has the demand for the industry services declined due to new technology (in a field such as travel agents, for example)? The society may need to find complementary organizations in the same area to provide a greater footprint and a more compelling audience to exhibitors and members.
The barriers to merging with or acquiring another association are enormous. The emotional aspect from long-time members is often the most difficult to overcome. People become attached to the name of the organization without realizing that name changes are only too common in today’s world. They become nostalgic about how the organization used to be or its previous accomplishments. These concerns are real but should not be barriers to a necessary, if difficult, decision.
And just as mergers and acquisitions in the corporate world can frighten employees, association staff may worry about what change might mean for their job security. Once a decision is made, communicate with staff or risk losing them.
As an association leader, you must always be thinking about the future if your organization is to survive and thrive. Reinventing or recreating the organization reinvigorates its purpose and will create its own momentum and enthusiasm. It is important for leaders to recognize the need for change before the marketplace makes the organization irrelevant, and if a drastic change becomes necessary, a forward-thinking leader can find the right path for the group.