A recent study of 17 industry associations (over 1000 individuals) yielded some interesting results. The exercise, conducted by Survey Matters Australia came to the conclusion that associations do indeed matter and fits with the ‘rise of the collaborative economy’.

Here are three things happening in the Third Sector of which we can be sure:

  1. Associations are struggling to engage young members
  2. Because of reason 1, Boards are ageing
  3. People are increasingly joining communities online rather than in-person

Knowing those three things, we were expecting a nonchalant response at best to whether or not industry associations matter in 2014 – and we were glad to find we were wrong.

Don’t get us wrong, not all of the stats are positive and there is certainly room for improvement. Areas for concern include…

58% of members are satisfied with their membership

Why is this? Results would indicate that members feel their association doesn’t understand what they need, and that the quality of information and events provided by their association aren’t up to scratch. Keys seem to be regularly seeking feedback and representing all members equally.

46% of members feel that their association has strong government contacts that benefit the industry

Much of the justification for the existence of organisations in this survey was based on advocacy. If their association doesn’t have the contacts to lobby on behalf of members, how can the association’s existence continue to be justified?

It isn’t all doom and gloom though, here are a few positive indicators for the future of the Third Sector…..

90% of those surveyed believe that the need for industry associations with either increase or stay the same in 5 years time

The feedback indicates that members still feel the need for an association to act as a unified industry ‘voice’, and to act as the decisive advocate for what is often a range of disparate members (from both small and large companies).

92% of members felt that the regular newsletters and communication updates on industry issues that their organisations provides are valuable

However, only 61% of members felt that the quality of the information received was at ‘good’ or ‘excellent’ level. Members are still receptive to receiving information from their association – so long as the quality is up-to-scratch.

47% of members rated the quality of events and resources provided by their association as ‘below average’ or ‘poor’

But wait, that sounds bad! Why is it listed under positives? Because 93% and 89% of members felt that “providing events and professional development resources are important or critical association functions.” (p.31) The appetite is there, people still rate conferences, seminars, and professional development, so long as it is done well. Much of the feedback mentions the inconvenience of getting to events held in big cities, regional members are seeking online alternatives to the traditional big city conference.

What can we take away from this? There is still a need for industry associations, members still feel that belonging to an association has something to offer. However, associations need to be aware of what is important to their members and what works for them to raise satisfaction levels.