The Threatening Thirties: Part III

By Jeff De Cagna, AIMP FRSA FASAE • December 12, 2023

AUTHOR’S ATTESTATION: This article was written entirely by Jeff De Cagna FRSA FASAE, a human author, without using generative AI.

In Part II, I presented a stark and unwelcome picture of how myriad social, technological, economic, environmental, and political (STEEP) factors and forces are gathering to shape the 2030s as a threatening decade for the association community. The final part of the series this month will consider what boards, CEOs, and other decision-makers can do over the next 12 months to begin addressing the challenges facing their associations, stakeholders, and successors in the decade ahead.

The Next Twelve Months Are Crucial

With 2024’s arrival now just weeks away, association decision-makers have one more year before the second half of this decade begins. These next twelve months offer a crucial window for both defeating the damaging constraints of our root cause orthodoxies and taking meaningful action to try to set our organizations and our community on a pathway toward a different and better future. It is important that we use our limited time wisely.

As I have sought to communicate in this space over the last two months, I continue to monitor the accelerating and intensifying threats we face, and my disquiet about what they portend is growing. I am also concerned that our options for action will narrow significantly once the second half of this decade begins. The first four years of The Turbulent Twenties have been painful beyond measure and the deep toll of this collective suffering is real. Unfortunately, there is much more upheaval ahead, and many more tough decisions yet to make. None of this is exaggeration for effect. We have received multiple warnings, and it is now time to heed them.

Taking Action in 2024

At first glance, the three recommended actions below may not seem sufficiently bold given the high stakes outlined in this series. Upon further reflection, however, I believe most association decision-makers will recognize these steps for what they are: compelling and positive-sum actions that can be implemented without delay and with an immediate beneficial impact on themselves and their associations.

  • Make intentional learning the top priority—When it comes to plausible futures for their associations, the vast majority of boards “don’t know what they don’t know.” This statement is not offered as a criticism, simply as an acknowledgement of reality. As I wrote in a recent LinkedIn article, “[i]n a world of seemingly endless cognitive demands and digital distractions, human attention has become finite, fragmented, and fragile. Nevertheless, to prepare themselves…boards and CEOs will need to overcome these constraints to pursue to a disciplined, rigorous, and sustained process of intentional learning.” Across our community, we must increase our commitment to and focus on supporting our community’s boards as they work to become fit-for-purpose [PDF] and fully capable of navigating a world in polycrisis.
  • Listen with extreme care to the association’s youngest stakeholders—To gain deeper insight into the futures they are responsible for shaping today, association boards and CEOs must identify every available opportunity in the next year to connect with their youngest stakeholders, including stakeholders who are outside of current membership. It is critical for decision-makers to listen deeply and with extreme care to what these young people say (and what they do not say) about who they are as human beings, and how they make sense of the world and their futures. In addition, before entering into these personal exchanges, association decision-makers must open themselves to learning by letting go of the detrimental preconceived notions of generational orthodoxy.
  • Decide on the significant sacrifices the association will make today on behalf of successors—2024 is the time for association boards and CEOs to have open and honest dialogue about what their associations will sacrifice in the present to help secure a better future for their successors. The primary focus of these long-term conversations must be on identifying what decision-makers will do to safeguard the humanity of the people who will arrive in their organizations throughout the 2030s and beyond that they will never know personally. Any sacrifices today’s boards and CEOs identify must be real and tangible in order to free up and redirect both financial resources and organizational attention, energy, and time toward additional steps to de-risk successors’ futures.

Looking Ahead

Next year will mark the ten-year milestone of the board’s duty of foresight, which I first wrote about in Associations Now in 2014. Throughout 2024, I will share my thinking about the importance of this milestone and the implications of the duty of foresight for associations as we look toward the rest of this decade and beyond. For now, please enjoy the holiday break. My sincere thanks for your continued support. Please stay well.

About The Author

Jeff De Cagna FRSA FASAE, executive advisor for Foresight First LLC in Reston, Virginia, is an association contrarian, foresight practitioner, governing designer, stakeholder and successor advocate, and stewardship catalyst. In August 2019, Jeff became the 32nd recipient of ASAE’s Academy of Leaders Award, the association’s highest individual honor given to consultants or industry partners in recognition of their support of ASAE and the association community.

Jeff can be reached at [email protected], on LinkedIn at jeffonlinkedin.com, or on Twitter @dutyofforesight.

DISCLAIMER: The views expressed in this column belong solely to the author.