3 Trends Associations Should Focus on in 2020

By • December 16, 2019

Not only are we closing out another calendar year, but we’re heading toward the end of a decade. Such a demarcation in time calls for reflection upon where we’ve been and, more importantly, where we’re going.

2019 has been a year when many organizations seemed to embrace a return to lower-tech ways: Phone calls over texts, printed newsletters over emails, in-person meetings over virtual gatherings. But the tech pendulum has not swung entirely in the direction of smoke signals or carrier pigeons. Just as many associations are embracing tech even more, but in ways that put humans first: Ensuring everyone can enjoy a video no matter their capabilities, finding a balance between the desire to work remotely and the need to build solid staff/member relationships, using social media to encourage one another in the pursuit of healthy living.

We’re predicting more smart use of technology in 2020 that will allow for more diverse voices to be included in associations’ initiatives and strategies. With the goal of a more inclusive membership experience for all in mind, here are three trends associations should focus on in 2020.


Carmen Collins headshot
Carmen Collins, senior social media & talent brand manager, Cisco

Another rising trend that shouldn’t be a trend, but instead a gold standard practice, is a focus on making association programming accessible. Carmen Collins, senior social media and talent brand manager for Cisco, realized how much of our online communications aren’t optimized for people with visual, audio or physical impairments when she broke her elbow last year. “I had to use voice-recognition software to type because I couldn’t efficiently type with my hands,” she explained. “That’s when I delved into the array of tools those with visual or hearing disabilities use to consume social media, videos, and general online content, and found that most organizations aren’t doing a great job of making their communications easy to enjoy for those with disabilities.”

Making your association’s communications more accessible is easy enough if you know what to consider. Collins suggests using descriptive alt text on images, captioning on videos, and cap (capital) case or “camel case” with your hashtags. Limit your use of emojis because automated text readers translate emojis quite literally and will read the descriptor for each and every emoji your social media coordinator places in a caption. Be aware of how your color schemes might be seen by those who are colorblind, and use a variety of colors in your brochures, infographic and images to make them more understandable to that cohort and more interesting to all.

Above all, Collins recommends that associations design content to be mobile-first. According to Hootsuite, 94 percent of the 3.5 billion people worldwide who use social media are accessing their preferred platform on a mobile device. Designing your content for a mobile audience – with large fonts, image sizes that match a given channel’s specifications, and alt text and captions for images or videos that don’t always load thanks to spotty Internet connections – can make a big difference in the level of engagement with your material.

Brian Henderson
Brian Henderson, Naylor Government Affairs

Increased accessibility can make or break your association’s success in the advocacy arena as well. Brian Henderson, state policy manager for Naylor Government Affairs, reminds us that members’ judgement of their ability to participate in association-sponsored advocacy activity is really just a matter of perception. Everyone’s time is limited to the same 24 hours in a day, and there are many professional and personal responsibilities clamoring for an individual’s attention. But associations are in a unique position to make political action an activity within reach for the average member because of the relationship they’ve already built and the level of trust they bring to that relationship. An association wanting to engage in advocacy can make their plan more accessible to members by:

  • Helping members get in touch with their representatives through suggested communications or assisting with in-person appointments,
  • Hosting or producing events featuring key policymakers, and
  • Hosting a lobby day at the state or federal capitol with a guide for members wanting to get their issues in front of a multitude of legislators.

Using these methods to build a foundation for future advocacy efforts will help make your association and membership credible sources for making tough policy decisions. Make visits and discussions a habit rather than a response to an emergency. Getting members more involved in advocacy requires relationship maintenance and consistent effort.

Increased accessibility benefits everyone whether they realize it or not. Think of the time invested in your communications or advocacy plans as building a ramp up to a door. Ostensibly, the ramp’s for people in wheelchairs. But, when a ramp is present, parents with strollers also have an easier time entering the door. People who are temporarily on crutches also make it into the doorway with more ease. People who are just plain tired have an easier time! Better accessibility to your association’s programming benefits everyone no matter their disability, history of experience, or lack thereof.

Human-Centered Design

As our devices and the software that powers them become more sophisticated, many fear that the humanistic side of business is fading away. But Garth Jordan, senior vice president and chief strategy officer for the Healthcare Financial Management Association, emphasizes that the only way to successfully move your organization forward is to involve the people it serves in your strategy and daily operations.

Garth Jordan headshot
Garth Jordan, senior vice president and chief strategy officer, Healthcare Financial Management Association

“Starting with your board is good,” Jordan said, “But that doesn’t include your staff, general member stakeholders and other folks. If you aren’t emphasizing with your customers/members, it’s going to be hard for you to create unique insights that allow you to serve your population in ways that delight them.”

Human-centered design means placing people at the core of a strategy, a program, an event, or any other business function. This qualitative-based research and planning method relies heavily on members’ stories about their work, their aspirations and their concerns. Going on a listening tour doesn’t require thousands or even hundreds of interviews or focus groups, Jordan points out. Conduct a couple of dozen, and you’ll start to hear common themes about how people in your organization perceive the current state of affairs and where those people in the trenches think your association’s work should go.

“[Associations] that collect transactional data like search queries or such aren’t collecting data about their [members’] work life,” Jordan emphasized. “You have to go meet them and observe them to discover where they’re at and where we can meet them, not where they can meet us.”

Gary Shapiro headshot
Gary Shapiro, president and CEO, Consumer Technology Association

Gary Shapiro, president and CEO of the Consumer Technology Association, agrees. At the 2019 ASAE Technology Exploration Conference, Shapiro commented that everyone has a unique skill set within their companies and communities. It’s up to organizations to ask what they can do better to draw out those skills and help everyone put them to use in a way that will move everyone forward. Ask your staff and board: What can we do better? How can we discover our members’ strengths and how those strength can make our organization a more comfortable place for everyone?

One human-centered answer is to embrace diversity of ideas more. “We need diversity for innovation,” Shapiro said. “Diversity allows us to develop a team that will innovate well. You don’t want to hire someone because they’re like you. You don’t want to invest in a project just because the person who suggested it looks like you. It takes a big step not to do that.”

A Focus on Now

Finally, as technology speeds up our pace of life, a third trend that associations should focus on in 2020 is living in the now. Collins’ team will be investing more time and money in live videos, live Facebook and LinkedIn updates, and more stories broadcast on Instagram and Snapchat. “Live media is the way of the future,” she says. “People want to engage with brands in real time, and live social is a convenient way to do so.”

Brian Fanzo headshot
Brian Fanzo, founder & speaker, iSocialFanz

Brian Fanzo of iSocialFanz echoed similar sentiments at Digital Summit Tampa earlier this year. Fanzo is the creative voice behind multiple podcasts who pointed out that this audio format is popular in part because people can listen to a podcast in multiple places with devices they likely already own. There’s a low barrier to enjoying a podcast. Furthermore, the nature of podcasting is more intimate than other forms of print or digital communications. “As you listen to a podcast – or an audiobook, for that matter – you can create personal visualizations for yourself,” Fanzo described. “People who listen to podcasts feel more connected to the host or brand behind the podcast because of that more intimate connection.”

While he admits that his first foray into podcasting wasn’t as polished as he would like, Fanzo still recommends associations try it. Taking action and improving your skills along the way is better than sitting still. “Podcasting might seem like too much of a time commitment to association professionals, or like something you’ve missed getting a jump on, but there’s still lots of opportunity to make your mark in podcasting, whether it’s for member resource sharing, highlighting member work, advocacy or industry education,” he said.  “Learn how to use a few basic, free tools, then press the damn button – just go for it!”

We may not know for sure what will affect association management in 2020, but no matter what events unfold, there will always be a need for members to connect with each other. Improving your association’s accessibility, centering your strategies around the human side of business, and focusing on the present are sure to help everyone make those desired connections, no matter your industry or ultimate goal.