Is your association evolutionary or revolutionary?

What does innovation mean to your association?

Recently, we asked association executives what one word or phrase comes to mind when thinking about innovation. Key phrases that stood out were “Finding different ways of thinking” and “Create new products.” It’s clear that associations think innovation requires serious effort.

However, this isn’t necessarily the case. We have found that innovation exists on a spectrum from evolutionary to revolutionary. When asked, the majority of association executives (54%) leaned evolutionary in their assessment of their organizations:

Associations that are evolutionary innovators make smaller advances over a longer period of time. One association executive recently said that “Associations grind slowly but finely” in response to the prospect of introducing change to their organization. This describes evolutionary advances well – that change does take place, just over time.

Evolutionary innovations might look like moving to an online dues payment system, upgrading marketing messaging, switching to a different AMS, or creating content in a new form.

On the other side of the spectrum, associations that are revolutionary innovators invest in more significant advances. During the COVID-19 pandemic, many organizations were forced to be more revolutionary as they had to move events that had historically been in-person events to virtual meetings.

Other examples of revolutionary advances may look like creating new positions within the organization, designing new programs (such as new member onboarding), moving from spreadsheets to an AMS system, investing in an LMS, or changing how Board members are selected.

Whether your organization is evolutionary or revolutionary in how it innovates, it is important to make it a part of the association culture. When innovation is a part of the culture, associations are more likely to reap the benefits of their work.

To access the report on association innovation and learn more about the importance of investing in innovation, visit

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