Monday, June 23, 2014

Nonprofit Organizations as Facilitators for Economic Change?

By Steven Worth

In the first quarter of each year over the past three years, surveys of US-based association managers conducted by Plexus Consulting Group, LLC (Plexus) have consistently shown a level of optimism for revenue and membership growth that clearly was out of sync with the overall economy.  Nevertheless, these predictions have been largely fulfilled each year.  According to Plexus survey results this year, once again, US-based association leaders are predicting growth well in excess of the 2.1% growth now projected for the US economy for 2014 by both the Federal Reserve Board and the International Monetary Fund.

Initially these findings perplexed us as we had assumed the financial health of the association community was simply a lag indicator of the health of the US economy; but these survey findings indicate a different kind of relationship.  Rather than being directly dependent on the economy, it would appear these trade associations and professional societies are helping professionals and companies to adapt to changing economic trends—so the more the economy is challenged the more professionals and companies turn to these associations to help them adapt.

But performance is not uniform.  The associations that are doing the best are those that offer products and services that are helping students and professionals find better, higher paying jobs and helping companies realize their missions more efficiently and effectively.  There are differences also in the sectors served, with healthcare, the Internet, and the energy sectors usually outperforming other sectors.  But the key take-away from this survey data is that top performing associations are helping to define their markets rather than trailing them. 

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