“What is the association's role in a transitioning society?” Rohit Talwar asked the general session audience at ASAE & The Center for Association Leadership's annual meeting at the San Diego Convention Center in August. While he was specifically referring to the environmental scan he authored as part of the organization's Association of the Future program, the question was central to most of the topics covered at the event.

The transitioning of American society from majority Caucasian to majority non-Caucasian is one of the changes that need to be addressed, said journalists Cokie and Steve Roberts, who moderated a seven-person panel discussion on diversity and inclusion at the opening session. The panelists seemed to agree that diversity isn't something to embrace just because it's the right thing to do; it's also just good business practice. The business benefits of increasing diversity include acquiring and retaining minority members, and building brand equity within diverse communities, panelists said. As Steve Roberts said, “It's not a question of fairness or quotas — it's about doing our job better. [The problems come when] people feel pushed into [diversity initiatives] instead of doing it because of self-interest.” Although, said Steve Hanamura, president of Hanamura Consulting, “before you even get to the business argument, we have to get to human respect. You have to see us.” This is a point Patti Digh, co-founder of The Circle Project, expanded on, saying that it's important to have diverse people in on the decision-making processes, and to see how the organizational structure and culture itself may or may not be welcoming to minorities. “We are looking at this from a superficial level.” ASAE announced plans to follow up the panel with a diversity summit to be held December 11-12 in Baltimore. Global Hyatt Corp. has provided ASAE & The Center with a $500,000 grant to support its diversity initiative activities.

Talwar, chief executive officer of Fast Future Research, included demographics in the 10 “key patterns of change” he pulled from his study, Designing Your Future: Key Trends, Challenges, and Choices Facing Associations and Nonprofit Leaders. “Growth in Asia is becoming bigger than that of North America and Europe combined,” he said. More people in developing countries are moving into the middle class, and into the upper economic echelons. Is your organization changing as well? Now is the time to do an internal demographic scan to see how well your products and services line up with your membership, he said.

He also noted that demographic and economic changes drive political changes, and that the U.S. has more competition globally both in influence and in products and services than it used to. The rising importance of science and technology, increasing life spans, changes in education and training needs, the way people are reaching out more globally now through the Internet, and natural resource challenges all are things associations will need to take into account moving forward.

“Determine what you would do if faced with different possible futures,” he advised.

As for ASAE & The Center, the present looks pretty good. This year's annual meeting drew more than 6,200 people, at least half of them association execs. While not a record-breaker, it was a good showing given that so many of its members are located on the other side of the country, said ASAE & The Center president and CEO John Graham at a press conference. He said future plans also include expanding ASAE's online programs to the point where half of all education will be offered online within two years. Another project in the works is what Graham called the “incubator project,” which would be about modeling innovation for associations. In addition to the diversity summit in December, the organization also plans to follow up its Social Responsibility Summit, held earlier this year, with a virtual summit October 12-14. Next year, the organization plans to roll out SR tools and resources, as well as a Web page where associations can share best practices.

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