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New Study Shows Growth of Younger and More Diverse Membership and Focuses on Building the Next Normal

Comprehensive findings reveal shifted member values and spotlight ways association professionals can adjust and move forward
September 27, 2021 — ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — If 2020 was the Wild West, then 2021 is just the start of the Gold Rush. Community Brands, the leading provider of software and payment solutions for associations and nonprofits, announced the upcoming release of Association Trends 2021: Building the Next Normal.

This uniquely positioned annual industry research study – and its accompanying webinar this week –spotlights the latest trends impacting associations, based on the perspectives of more than 1,000 professional associations members who shared their insights in July 2021. It highlights the many new opportunities for associations to better serve their members, evolve their business models, and ultimately grow their organizations while building for the next normal.

According to the report, association professionals are working harder, but they’re focused on implementing new strategies and tech to work smarter, too.

Many Pros report fresh initiatives aimed at enhancing key areas that Members say will drive the greatest impact, things like individual member benefits (continuing education, training, and networking) and industry-focused benefits (news, advocacy, and raising awareness). Pros also say they feel slightly more technologically prepared for the future than in last year’s study, but half admit to not actually feeling prepared. Plus, the Association Trends 2021 report indicates that Pros are working harder than ever, and to ease the workload 40% are planning on increased investments including business analytics and learning management systems. The Pros’ overall optimistic outlook bodes well for organizations in the next year – their predictions from 2020 proved mostly accurate – but the study highlights many untapped areas of improvement that members highly value.

And where there are disconnects, there are opportunities.

“Amidst all of the disruptions of the last year and a half, it is great to see that professional organizations have remained a beacon to their members, and have even grown in importance,” stated Jennifer Lee, Managing Director, Associations and Events, Community Brands. “This study confirms another exciting trend that we have seen with clients – the emergence of new paths for growth going forward. Hybrid events, new learning programs, online networking, and professional development are all areas of interest especially for younger members, and can provide new ways to drive engagement and revenue for associations.”

Additional key findings from the report include:

  • Hybrid events are the future. Members make it clear that they want both event attendance choices and added value benefits like better remote learning options and more adaptations via technology. After the 2020 pivots, 52 percent of Pros say their members interacted more, and 88 percent agree that virtual events allowed organizations to better engage. Looking forward, 75 percent of Pros say they will offer more hybrid events.
  • Members are younger and more diverse. While loyalty metrics remain strong, and younger and more diverse Members are increasing engagement, Pros must also acknowledge changing demographics by offering more of the value they seek. From updating Member data to ensuring the board is reflective of your membership, opportunities for Member retention and reengagement abound.
  • Future forecasts are more positive. Despite ongoing pandemic challenges, things are looking up and organizations are feeling more optimistic than in 2020. Majorities of Pros say they hope technology investments will help with the increased workload, and fewer Pros say they will lay off or furlough employees. Still, more than a quarter of (mostly younger) Pros say they will look for new jobs outside of their organization in the next 12 months, with 50% citing better compensation.
  • Focused on the bigger picture: With the world in flux, this year’s study shows that the most important areas of value for Members are industry news and information, advocacy, raising awareness, and code of ethics. Pros are mostly on the same page but continue to underestimate individual benefits like training and certification and over-value areas like representing interests and gathering feedback from members.
  • Members want more learning options. Employers and professional organizations continue to be the most popular sources of education and training for Members, but with other sources close behind (hello, YouTube and LinkedIn), organizations face big competition. Pros are focused on traditional conferences and courses (online and in-person), but Members are interested in a whole range of professional training opportunities and seek higher quality training and options to address evolving needs.

The full study – with a detailed look at findings and strategic ways to utilize the data – will be released Tuesday, September 28. As part of the release, a special CAE-credit webinar, co-presented by Tirrah Switzer and Tristan Jordan, will unveil and explain the study’s member engagement. After the webinar event, the full study will be available for download on a new association trends resource page.

Webinar Registration is currently open, and registrants will be among the first to receive the new study. Please save your seat for the webinar held on September 28, 2021, 12pm EST.

For press inquiries, or to schedule an interview with Tirrah Switzer or Tristan Jordan, contact Jessi Cape: or (512) 861-3012.

About the Report
Commissioned by Community Brands, Edge Research conducted an online survey of 1,018 Members (834 current Members and 184 who lapsed within the last two years) who self-reported they are at least 18 years old and a Member of a professional membership organization. Survey respondents were recruited through an online non-probability sample. The term “Members” refers specifically to those who were surveyed. A parallel online survey was conducted among 868 professionals (vs. 370 last year) who work in association organizations. The terms “Professionals” or “Pros” refers specifically to those who were surveyed. The surveys were conducted July 14-30, 2021.

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