How Associations Are Embracing Digital Transformation

Bill Rowan | 03.30.17
Topics: CIO - Digital Transformation - IT Maturity

When you think of digital transformation, what comes to mind? Association executives around the DC region came together at ASAE on March 23, 2017, to discuss that very topic at Association Palooza V. Here are a few of my takeaways.

Digital transformation isn’t jargon—it’s a mindset.

According to DelCor CIO David DeLorenzo, CAE, “Becoming digital first is a long, hard process.” Many organizations have “digital reactions,” rather than digital strategy. Yet, digital touches every part of your organization.

A digital strategy that supports your mission, vision, and goals is the first  step toward digital transformation. Get started with our Digital Strategy  Toolkit.

What does a digital culture look like?

There are no silos. Initiatives and responsibilities are shared, not owned—collaboration is notable, and noticeable, in a digital organization. Strong governance and leadership buy-in provide structure. Training is ongoing, planned, and budgeted. Staff and board members understand the strategic value of digital investments.

How do you know if you’re ready to transform?

For starters, you might say it’s “more than meets the eye”—because you’ll first want to assess the cultural readiness of your organization for such change. Ask yourself these 5 questions:

  1. Is our decision-making process rooted in the wealth of analytics and insights provided by the digital universe?
  2. Is the brand experience we create always available to our audiences?
  3. Is the product or content we are developing intended for digital use, and perhaps later adapted for other channels (versus the other way around)?
  4. Are we dedicating resources to staying at the digital forefront?
  5. Are we recruiting the talent that will be able to move the organization into an interactive, digital future?

If you can’t answer “yes” to all 5 questions, you might not be ready for a complete overhaul of the status quo—but you needn’t sit around and wait, either. Several associations presented examples of incremental changes in their organizations. Mused one, “If you can’t change the culture, change the climate.”

how associations are embracing a digital mindset IRL:

  • NACUBO took a digital approach to its conference attendee management system, tying registration, badge printing, and CEU tracking into one seamless experience for attendees.
  • AAOHNS streamlined 15 different newsletters, delivered separately to member segments, into just one! How? They used personalized content, so each member gets only the content relevant to their interests.
  • IAM’s 2-pound annual meeting guide was expensive to print, and already out of date before the opening session. They moved everything to an app that can be updated in real time. Attendees who still want the printed guide can buy it separately.

Other associations like MBA and NQF are embracing FANG (Facebook, Amazon, Netflix, Google), because the personal technology people every day is shaping their professional expectations, too. DelCor President Dave Coriale asked, “What is your one-button experience?” to get attendees thinking about simplifying a process, making it easier for the member, and meeting their FANG expectations. In other words, stop over-complicating things (like the 37-question survey one presenter told us about)!

A common gripe among attendees was, unsurprisingly, their website. Remarked one, “Everyone said our website was terrible, but no one wanted to own it.” In a digitally driven culture, goals and guidelines are in place—and everyone owns it, understands its value, and makes sure it works for members rather than staff.

Data drives the member experience.

Associations have lots of data, but often don’t know what to do with it. Embrace your analytics, because you’re going to need them. Digital and personalization aren’t the wave of the future—they’re here and now.

You don’t have to be big to be digital.

Would it surprise you to know that small organizations just might have an advantage to going all-in on digital? Here’s why:

  • Technology’s impact on small associations is greater—they can’t throw people at a problem.
  • They’re quicker to adopt new software, like marketing automation, because they aren’t mired in a legacy structure.
  • Realizing they don’t have the expertise in house, smaller organizations are more likely to outsource.

Embracing digital transformation may seem overwhelming, but if you don’t have the overarching view or expertise [yet], Palooza participants proved that association staff can start small and make a big impact.

Looking for a place to begin? Start by downloading our free Digital Strategy Toolkit to put your association on the path toward digital progress.


Digital Strategy Toolkit for Associations and Nonprofits  Lay the foundation for digital transformation with a digital strategy that  supports your organizational mission, vision, and goals. Download the Toolkit


Disclaimer: Association Palooza V was sponsored by DelCor, Results Direct, Expo Logic, and HighRoad Solution.

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