Circuit: 20 For 2019

SmithBucklin presents a look at the trends that are shaping the association industry.

By The FORUM Magazine Editors

Circuit2019 Header Dot

SmithBucklin has released the 2019 edition of Circuit, their annual publication highlighting 20 trends, issues and developments in the association industry. This year, in honor of their 70th anniversary as a company, SmithBucklin asked 70 luminaries from all walks of life the following question: “Why are associations critically important?” Below, FORUM has selected a few key takeaways and quotes to share.

For the full report, visit

The Quotes:

“Associations give their members three huge advantages: greater strength, more information and deeper relationships. That’s why associations have existed since ancient Greece and why they’re more valuable than ever in today’s fast-changing world.” – Geoffrey Colvin, senior editor at large, Fortune Magazine

“Associations support industries and professions through innovation, advocacy, professional development opportunities, and more, all while driving economies—both locally and globally—and contributing to society’s greater good. That’s why I’m proud Chicago is a magnet for association headquarters and destination for their events.” – Rahm Emanuel, Mayor, Chicago

“In an age of information bombardment, coming together with shared intention is a necessity. It allows us to distill complex issues so that we can get things done and make a real difference. Associations bring out the best in all of us, ensuring we are driving our industries and society forward.” – Sherrif Karamat, president and CEO, Professional Convention Management Association

“One of the most important roles of associations is recognizing contributors. So many volunteers keep the wheels of commerce and charity rolling. Associations celebrate their contributions. Where else would non-celebrity, ordinary mortals get standing ovations?” – Paula Goedert, partner, Barnes & Thornburg LLP

“It’s no fallacy that some of the most significant institutions of social and cultural advancement were built by associations. We simply accomplish more when we work together. By the way, real friendships are a pleasant side effect of joining professional groups.” – Welz Kauffman, president & CEO, Ravinia Festival Association

The Excerpts:

The Benefits of Diversity and Inclusion

By taking the lead on diversity and inclusion, associations can help transform their own industries and professions by inspiring members to embrace diversity in their workplaces. A 2018 study from McKinsey and Co. found that companies with more gender diversity on their executive teams were 21 percent more likely to experience above-average profitability, while those with more ethnic and cultural diversity were 33 percent more likely to outperform expectations. “Associations have an absolute responsibility to help their industry or profession address diversity and inclusion,” says Jim Zaniello, president and CEO of Vetted Solutions. “It’s an important role that associations can and should play to help their industries and professions advance. I’m not sure anyone else is better positioned to lead the charge.”

The Power of Outrageous Fun

Sometimes, the outrageous fun can be a cultural deep-dive. The Research Chefs Association (RCA)—the leading professional community for food research and development—offered its attendees an unforgettable education experience that not only furthered RCA’s mission but also taught attendees about Savannah, Ga., the event’s location. Participants started their day with a tour of a local fishery. There they learned the important and historical role shrimp has played on local cuisines and what research is currently being conducted to ensure its continued vitality in the region. The sustainability talk continued over lunch, during which a prominent chef in the organic farming and sustainability movement led the conversation. Then, the group journeyed out on a shrimping boat to experience the sights and sounds first hand. They even had the opportunity to pull up a live catch, finding not only shrimp but also other interesting fish local to the area. It was an experience that participants will never forget and likely wouldn’t get anywhere else—except perhaps at the next RCA conference.

A Niche Focus

Niche marketing—a strategy that targets a specific, unique market segment with a highly relevant offer—effectively drives results for for-profit businesses, and associations are well positioned to help connect companies with hyper-targeted audiences. Associations are skilled at identifying and serving specific membership niches—a strength sponsors and advertisers can capitalize on.

Financial Health Check

A financially healthy association is building and executing long-term, strategic financial goals. Therefore, a healthy association should be budgeting and cash-flow forecasting on a rolling three-year cycle. This kind of long-term planning should be done when budgeting for the upcoming fiscal year. Ultimately, it provides additional strategic options. For example, if an association projects that a cash surplus will be achieved for the following year, the board may decide to pursue future-focused investments to help the association in the long run. Conversely, if a long-term forecast shows a cash deficit for the coming year, the board can determine if it is time to liquidate more assets.

Zoom in on Gen Z

Gen Z-ers want variety in all realms of life, including the workforce. SHRM notes that 75 percent would be interested in a situation where they could have multiple roles within one place of employment. What could that mean for associations? Be prepared for these future members to want to be involved in multiple facets of the association. Perhaps junior boards should be considered as an option to engage Gen Z-ers and give them an opportunity to impact many different areas.

Recruitment Tips from Higher Education

To achieve a more direct connection with prospects, schools such as Presbyterian College in Clinton, South Carolina, are reaching out to students with tailored notes via text messages. The personalized messages ask questions that directly pertain to the student’s background and interests. Presbyterian reports the program vastly improved communications with recruits who were hard to reach otherwise, as 74 percent of applicants opted into receiving texts. Associations should be creative but respectful with their delivery methods. Consider your membership demographics to ensure whatever you do won’t be considered invasive. (Baby Boomers might not be fans of unsolicited text messages.)

Content Diversification

Members of the Vacation Rental Management Association (VRMA) made it clear that they wanted content more frequently than the association’s quarterly print publication, Arrival, could offer. VRMA needed to change its content strategy to keep members up to date on the rapid changes in the industry, and used the opportunity to diversify its offerings, too. The association increased the frequency of Arrival from four to six times per year and launched a complementary online content hub where it frequently shares breaking news, podcasts, event information, member profiles, and more.

About the Author

Written by the FORUM Magazine Editors.

Related Articles

How Hybrid Work Continues to Shape the Workplace 

Association leaders discuss the post-pandemic workplace and how hybrid work works.

Work life balance vector concept. Business woman meditating on yoga mat holds laptop and flower in hand. Female character choosing between health relax and career. Dividing office vs rest illustration

The Cycle of a Successful Work-life Balance

How are association leaders promoting balance in their teams? And what can you do about...

Business man signing an official document, Lawyer, financial advisor, notary, insurance, customer concept

FTC’s Proposed Rule on Noncompete Agreements

Q: Is it true that the federal government has or will ban non-compete agreements?