July 28, 2016

Association CEOs: How They Have Evolved

Association CEOs: How They Have Evolved

Today’s society has changed the way the association world is ran. From member communications to your association management software, things are bigger and better. What about an association’s CEO? It’s safe to say that their functions and responsibilities have shifted in this day and age. The association space has evolved, and that includes the role of the CEO. This is because associations aren’t focusing on the same set of issues they were once before. Advanced technology has altered the way associations operate, leaving the CEO with a new set of hefty tasks. One of the most important skills on their resume should read: Adaptable.

From Facilitators to Innovators


It’s obvious that one of the largest tasks CEOs take on is facilitating the operations of an organization. It’s their job to make sure things are working optimally and efficiently. If not, they are forced to make the tough decisions to shift the winds. That may seem sufficient, but it isn’t enough.

Association Chief Executive Officers must be visionaries. They need to take charge of the way their organization is perceived. Rather than being complacent, CEOs must be progressive. This may differ from their previous CEO responsibilities, but it is essential to ensure the association’s success and longevity.

Fact of the matter is: People don’t need associations like they used to. Networking is a breeze and information is easily accessible. This is where the CEO comes in. They have to transform the way their association communicates with prospective and current members. This could entail completely overhauling its sales and marketing initiatives- which is a hefty job. Rather than overseeing performance from a distance, CEOs must get their hands dirty. Many association CEOs do not have previous experience working with organizations that deal with memberships - and that’s ok. However, CEOs must shift their thinking and get into the minds of their members. It’s vital for them to understand their industry and listen to the language of their members.

How do our members think? What are their interests? How do they normally receive their information?

CEOs need to use context clues to effectively communicate and engage.


CEOs must learn to foster partnerships with their fellow senior leaders. Associations are expected to value innovation, this means the CIO should be their greatest confidant. Technology has taken over the association space and it’s important that the leaders of the organization are prepared to tackle it. The CEO and CIO should work hand-in-hand to ensure that their organization is using the right technology for them. Technology is a budget-buster and these leaders must coincide to make sure these efforts are cost effective, while efficient.

Last but not least: Millennials. Some people may not know how to handle them, but they aren’t that complicated. For many CEOs, they probably haven’t had to adjust their practices for a single demographic. However, when it comes to millennials, it’s a must. At the end of the day, millennials just want to be as efficient as possible. If something can be communicated quickly, go for that. If you can provide them with various options, do it. Millennials feed off of flexibility and doing things on their own terms. This doesn’t mean they don’t want to participate, they just want to do it when it’s right for them. CEOs must understand how millennials differ from other members and lead the charge in engaging them.

In the business world, roles are evolving every day. However, for association professionals, the space in which they work is constantly changing. Association CEOs must be vigilant of industry changes and remain adaptable. Associations will become a dying breed if they do not mold to the standards that are expected of them, and it’s the job of the CEO to ensure this doesn’t happen.

To learn more about the importance of association professionals, check out our blog, "Have You Thanked Your CIO Today?"