By 2025, non-profit/membership groups will look quite different than they do today. Spurred by the far-reaching impact of the 2020 pandemic, here are ten trends leaders of relationship-based organizations should not ignore.
About a 10 minute read
Making risky decisions has never been comfortable, but the pandemic has forced many organizations to become quite adept at making a few nail-biting decisions. And not just the decisions involving whether to wear pajamas or shorts to a Zoom meeting.
Now more than ever, running a relationship-based organization requires an entrepreneurial spirit. It takes a mindset to look ahead, assess your organization’s strengths and weaknesses, and make decisions based on sound business intelligence. It has always been a challenge for leaders to know which trends to embrace and which trends to ignore. How do you know which changes to prepare for, and which ones will have the greatest impact on member engagement, acquisition and retention?
In no particular order, here’s my list of the ten most important trends that will impact relationship-based organizations in the next three to five years:
1. The mandate for organizational innovation
Successful organizations are all based on an innovative idea. Big corporations are the same. But as any organization grows, there becomes an inverse relationship between their size and their ability to innovate. Big organizations become risk-averse, top-heavy and bureaucratic, limiting their agility to transform themselves to the needs of their members/customers, and other market forces that demand change.
Like it or not, consumers now expect more and more from the organizations they associate with. Especially as Millennials and the Gen Z audience become a more dominant force in the marketplace. Their loyalty is proven to be quite fickle. Which is why you must always be laser focused on delivering compelling value. Otherwise, they’ll churn in a hot minute. Count on it.
If your organization isn’t innovating new revenue streams or finding better strategies for member acquisition, retention and engagement, you’ll be putting your entire organization at risk.
2. The great workforce shortage
The Pew Research Center predicts that as Baby Boomers reach the age of 65, a whopping 10,000 Boomers will retire per day until the year 2030. That equates to a staggering 31% of the U.S. workforce who will be retiring in the next decade. To complicate matters,
- The pool of new employees will likely be significantly limited in the not-too-distant future, as the U.S. Census Bureau expects resident population growth to continue its decline.
- The number of people joining the workforce will also continue to decline (defined as the Labor Participation Rate). Today, roughly 40% of the eligible “non-institutionalized” population are NOT employed, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics definition.
- Eventually, immigrants will account for a larger percentage of the workforce, lending much-needed diversity to many organizations. However, it will likely take some time for many immigrants to catch up academically for professional-level jobs. But how well organizations adapt to the growing migrant workforce may be the secret to success in the coming years. The Bureau of Labor statistics predicts that by 2050, 82% of population growth with come from immigration, and just 18% from births. (As a reference, in 2020, births account for 52% of population growth in the USA, and immigration 48%.)
What does it all mean? For organizations it means a couple of things.
First, a substantial brain-drain will occur when Boomers begin to retire, losing decades of irreplaceable institutional knowledge, and leadership skills. Replacing those skills will require considerable planning and preparation. Without a meaningful transition plan in place, your organization will be at risk. But a transition plan is more than just having a leadership succession plan. It also means clearing a path for young workers to advance, and doing more to keep them engaged with your organization. That includes investing in education, job function cross-training, offering meaningful employee benefits, allowing for flexible schedules, job sharing, etc.
Second, the significant decline in eligible workers will force employers to fight even harder to keep their best employees. But, like any good membership professional knows, retention is cheaper than acquisition. It’s much more cost effective to retain a good employee than to go out and recruit, vet, hire, train, and hope to retain a new one. Employee benefits and growth opportunities are critical.
3. The gig economy
In the coming years, most organizations will be flatter and leaner. Having too many management positions will be seen as old-school, making the organization top-heavy and less agile. Freelancers will become the norm for tackling an increasing number of important tasks like accounting/bookkeeping, IT, graphic design, email marketing, writing, social media. The list of valuable freelancer skills to choose from will be (and is) vast and varied.
Organizations will continue to need skilled and dedicated professional services, but as sad as it is to contemplate, in the new world, hiring a full or part-time person will become more challenging and less common. Hiring freelancers will give organizations the flexibility to hire for the skills they need, without making a long-term financial commitment.
It will also mean you don’t have to hire people based on their ability to physically sit their butts at a desk in your office. You can hire a freelancer from any location, as long they’re within a time-zone or two of yours. It also means the pool of available talent will be more skilled, increasing the capacity of your organization as well.
4. Organizations will serve deeper, not bigger
Successful organizations will understand the need to go smaller and deeper, rather than bigger and wider. Organizations have often measured their success by the rate of increase in the number of members/customers. This mindless focus on growth typically comes at the expense of delivering quality services and compelling member benefits that can make a true impact on their mission and the lives of their constituents. Growth for the sake of growth will no longer be the true measurement of success. Organizations that figure out how to truly serve their members at a deeper level, will generate more consistent revenue, and have make a bigger impact. They’ll also enjoy longer lasting relationships than organizations that are blindly focused on short-term revenue, or growing the organization bigger and bigger.
5. Fewer F2F meetings
While most organizational leaders tend to prefer meeting physically with as many key contacts as possible, it will become less and less feasible. Leaders at relationship-based member organizations will eventually be forced to abandon their preference for face-to-face meetings.
Most leaders tend to be extroverts, and as such prefer to meet personally with key constituents. But the stigma will be removed that a technological solution is somehow sloppy or lazy. In the future, more and more board meetings, brainstorming sessions, mixers, and even gift solicitations and stewardship visits will occur via technology.
Your constituents will also become more comfortable being on camera in a Zoom meeting, and will even come to prefer online meetings rather than F2F. That’s because they are more efficient, less hassle and less personal risk. If your organization doesn’t adapt to the new “Zoomafied” business landscape, you’ll be at a disadvantage. While F2F won’t go away completely, organizations that learn to be judicious about knowing who does and doesn’t warrant a F2F will be more effective in the end. Leaders will discover they can meet with more people, stay in touch with constituents more often, and be a better fundraiser and leader.
6. 5G will impact member communication
While 5G today has admittedly been over-hyped by the big wireless carriers, in the next five years it will live up to all the hoopla. If you’re not aware, 5G is short for fifth-generation cellular wireless communications. It will deliver greater ability to connect and manage our mounting desire for more member data. When phones, towers and the 5G infrastructure are all in place (btw…very little of it is in place now despite what AT&T/Verizon/T-Mobile claim), it promises network speeds 10-20 times faster than 4G. That means you could download a full-length, HD movie in a manner of seconds, or roughly at 1 gigabyte per second.
Plus today’s cellular towers require a significant investment because of their size. The new towers are the size of a minifridge. So towers could conceivably be at every intersection or lamppost nationwide. It will drive new technologies like robotics, self-driving cars, and desktop big data mining that is now mostly limited to large data systems with highly skilled users. The list of affected technologies goes on and on.
From a practical standpoint, most people won’t notice a difference on their phone and text messages. But for organizations, it will allow for greater marketing automation, better member services, enhanced simplicity through complex process automation, better IT security, more stable remote communications and enhanced collaboration between organizations and their members. Now is the time to get a transition plan in place.
7. Mobile is mandatory
The shift to mobile has occurred at relative lighting speed. For a little perspective, it took radio nearly 38 years to reach 50 million users. Television took 14 years. The internet took just four years. Mobile users reached fifty million in a little over two years. Consumers on average spend roughly 500 minutes a day on some type of device consuming media. That number will undoubtedly increase as mobile network speeds increase, and social media services dial-in on how to better addict us to their video content.
The Pew Internet Study reveals that 98% of college graduates now own a smartphone. The percentage of millennials and GenZs are likewise in the very high 90s. If your audience is heavy on millennials or college graduates, you’re organization won’t survive unless you have a mobile communication strategy.
And with that strategy comes video. Organizations will be hiring more people with video-editing skills, on-camera experience, and writers who can create fun and persuasive video scripts. Mobile-delivered videos will be everywhere. Before long, your mobile presence will make or break your ability to engage with your audience.
But beware of adding a mobile app for the sake of adding a mobile app. The fact is, less than inspiring mobile apps are a dime a dozen. The average person has upwards of 90 apps installed on their phone, but typically they use fewer than 25 of those apps in a given month. Unless your organization is offering a mobile app with real, meaningful value, you’re missing out on one of the biggest engagement opportunities to come along in decades.
8. Digital events will displace in-person events
The future is tentative for live events like awards banquets, trade shows, festivals, concerts, 5Ks, mixers, career fairs, etc. Given the social restrictions we’ve come to adopt during the pandemic, it’s anyone’s guess as to how many of these events will make a comeback. But it’s irrational to assume things will return to pre-pandemic levels any time soon.
And it’s not necessarily a bad thing either. Events are not only expensive and full of risk, they’re time consuming and labor intensive. More important, the payoff doesn’t always manifest itself in ways that translate to the bottom line.
Targeted online events that deliver unique value will replace many live, in-person events. Plus, digital events can be recorded for future access, thus expanding the value of the event, and broadening your audience beyond the local folks who are within driving distance. Events like ongoing education/training sessions, benefit introductions, product demonstrations, and advocacy orientations are among the many types of online events that will become more popular. You’ll also be able to connect with a new audience who can safely engage online and test the waters with your organization, to see if they want to engage on a higher level. For attendees, many of these big events will be a fraction of the total cost of a live event.
9. Transparency will prevail
We all demand honesty from the companies we deal with. Your members/customers especially so. One study reported honesty as the number one character a consumer wants from the organizations they deal with. Is it any wonder? With so much in the way of “misinformation” and “fake news,” members don’t want to interpret, infer, or presume to know what your organization will or won’t do.
Gone are the days when organizations were purposefully vague or misleading about how to cancel your membership. We're all tired of the games. Tired of the hoops we need to jump through just to get what we need. If you want to differentiate your organization from others? Be honest. Be kind. Be genuine. The future will place far greater value on transparency. So why not start now? Proudly reveal your data protection and privacy policies. Be transparent with pricing, benefits, and the rules of membership. Make transparency an honest to goodness value at your organization, not just a shallow buzzword.
10. Print communication (finally) going away
It has long been predicted that slick magazines and other printed materials will become obsolete as an organizational communication tool. Admittedly it has taken a while for print to actually “go away,” but mostly because of the emotional attachment leaders have for their beloved printed pieces. As cost demands and environmental concerns increase, and as the number of people who actually read long-form printed pieces dwindles, lavish printed pieces will (for the most part) become financially unfeasible. As organizational leaders of the pre-digital age finally retire (i.e. digital immigrants or the print generation), digital natives will assume the helm at most organizations and printed pieces will be but a distant memory. Just like the wall-based telephone cords that stretched from one end of the house to the other.
It might well be a fool’s errand to make such long-term predictions. But having the perspective of a few decades in the membership and loyalty space, I have at least a smidgeon of confidence in these projections. If I were smarter, however, I’d follow Winston Churchill’s admonition to “avoid prophesying beforehand because it is much better to prophesy after the event has already taken place."