Association demographic trends for 2012 (and what to do about them)

Association DemographicsAssociation TRENDS released a snapshot of the current demographic state of associations at the beginning of February 2012. Comparing data from the 2011 and 2012 National Trade and Professional Association directories, Association TRENDS found significant changes in associations by industry as well as an increase in association headquarters across the majority of the United States. When it came to association leadership at the executive level, the change was less significant. Take a look at the break-down of information below. Does the information seem to jive with your own association demographics?

Association headquarters

Washington, D.C. and surrounding areas still lead as the highest population of association headquarters. There are 1,1225 association headquarters in Washington, D.C. alone, up 13 percent over last year. The top 10 states for association headquarters in 2012 include:

  1. Washington, D.C.
  2. Virginia
  3. Illinois
  4. New York
  5. Maryland
  6. California
  7. Texas
  8. Florida
  9. Pennsylvania
  10. Ohio

All but four states in the U.S. showed an increase in the number of association headquarters. Iowa, Nevada and South Dakota all dropped down one; Indiana dropped two.


Men still dominate as CEOs and chief staff executives within associations. According to NTPA, there was no change in C-Suite leadership when it came to women from 2011 to 2012. Only 38 percent of the 13,733 for whom NTPA has gender information for are women (approximately 5,218 women). Additionally, NTPA was able to list more gender information (by 387 individuals) in 2012 compared to 2011.

Of note, women did overtake men when looking at associations’ staff female-to-male ratio, though only by less then one percent.

Industry change

The top five industries by association numbers include: Education (900), medicine (611), manufacturers (595), government-related associations (335) and law/law firms (242). The biggest increase, by industry, was in education associations. These organizations saw an increase of roughly 13.5 percent. Additional gains in the number of associations, although not in the top five industries, included banking/finance/investments (172) and business (186).

Overall, association headquarters are growing, though the initial synopsis of the report does not directly mention membership and retention rates within these states or individual organizations. As I point out in my book, “The End of Membership As We Know It,” increasing competition makes associations more vulnerable. While additional associations are popping up, the existing associations still struggle to survive.

Beating the competition

Associations looking to overcome the competition struggle must provide a valuable commodity and eliminate their competition. What once worked in the past is not going to work for your future, but survival is still possible. Consider the following monopoly must-haves for rebuilding your association:


Stop trying to be everything to everyone. It’s not going to happen. Determine your target market–you niche. Niches are what all successful products and services have in common, without exception. There is money in niches! In a world with more access to information and competition than ever before, your association needs to be the go-to resource for one audience. You need to set yourself apart as the “experts,” provide ample resources on your area of expertise, thereby making it easy for those who need you to find you and find value in joining your association. This isn’t a one-size-fits-all world anymore. Seek to be meaningful to someone – not everyone—and the money will follow.


Culture makes a significant difference in how effective your association is at recruiting and retaining members and generating revenue. In many ways, culture is like personality. It’s the values, beliefs, underlying assumptions, experiences, and habits that create your association’s behavior and ways of working together.

And here’s why culture matters: Because younger generations are driven by personal happiness. They refuse to engage in anything negative, challenging, or draining of their time and energy. They will also refuse to engage in a culture that isn’t open to them. Your association could have a great culture as it relates to customer-service, but fall short on technology or engaging young people as board members and committee leaders.

Bottom line: You must eliminate the negative and accentuate the positive to engage your next generation membership.


From here on out, associations will constantly answer the question “what’s in it for me?” You’re being tested. You need to prove your worth. So, how do you prove valuable membership? Ask yourself and answer (honestly) the following questions:

  1. What does your association do?
  2. What is a key benefit for joining your association (hint: it’s not networking)
  3. How does your association add value?
  4. What would happen if your association was gone tomorrow? What happens then?
  5. What is your cost-to-value ratio? Can you point to ROI (return on investment)?

If you are reconsidering your dues structure, it should be because you want to make it easier for prospects to join, to acquire members in new audiences, to enable better service, or to correct unprofitable equations, not to increase short-term cash flow. Doing this will miss the mark to build long-term relationships and remain sustainable.

So yes, while associations may be increasing in headquarters and organization numbers, we are still at a point of much-needed sustainability and growth when it comes to membership. How will you eliminate the competition and create your monopoly must-haves?

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3 thoughts on “Association demographic trends for 2012 (and what to do about them)”

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  2. “What once worked in the past is not going to work for your future…”

    Couldn’t have said it any better. It seems like every week we’re presented with new mediums to express ideas and get the point across to prospects. Good read, thanks!

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