Yes You Can: Introduce Futures Discussions Into Your Association

Posted by Sue Pine, CAE on Jan 31, 2019 3:22:15 PM

As a Baby Boomer who spent her entire career in the world of membership-based nonprofit association management, you can just imagine the changes that I have experienced during my almost 40-year career. During my self-introduction when delivering any presentation, attendees chuckle when I share that I’m old and “B.C.” – (Before Computer!).

In all seriousness, the rate of change continues to accelerate. It is true that we can’t predict the future, but we can certainly be better prepared for what might be in store for us. The objective is to help your association work toward a preferred future.

Back in 2008, I was an active volunteer involved with the development of a book produced by the ASAE Foundation’s Research Committee. The title was “Facing the Future” and the book provided the top 50 trends that would impact the nonprofit community. It was my engagement in that project coupled with the changes that I had personally experienced during the prior 30-years of my career that really highlighted the importance of futures discussions with volunteer leaders.

Looking beyond the traditional strategic plan that was focused on changes that would occur over the next 1 to 3 years was critical. If volunteers want to see their association flourish well beyond their term in office, they need to flex their foresight muscles.

In early 2018, ASAE released their new ForesightWorks Research initiative. The project engages with futurists who provide evidence-based research and trends that will drive change in the association community.

The Challenge:

When I mention foresight or futures among association account executives, CEOs, or volunteer leaders, I’m often met with a feeling of being overwhelmed or not knowing how to integrate one more thing into their overflowing to-do lists. The goal of this short article is to provide confidence and tips to help you see that “Yes, You Can!” introduce futures discussions into your association. It just isn’t that difficult.

The first step is to remove the word “can’t” from your vocabulary and the discussion. Work on changing your mindset and committing to taking just one small baby step.

Action Steps to Consider

I’m proud to be the Senior Director of NAPO (National Association of Productivity & Organizing Professionals). As someone passionate about the futures topic, I started to drip articles tied to the importance of foresight to the NAPO Board Members. This simple step helped to get everyone on the same page regarding the topic and the importance.

ASAE has made this research brief free to members and non-members: Why Associations Need Foresight. The brief introduces the program and suggests ways to think about and apply intelligence about drivers of change and conduct future-focused scanning on your own.

NAPO has taken the following concrete steps to further integrate the foresight into the association:

  1. The NAPO Board has reviewed the summaries of the ASAE ForesightWorks Action Briefs and identified the topics of greatest interest. This was a quick 10-minute request.
  2. At the Annual Conference in 2018, the Volunteer Leaders engaged in a discussion about their top Drivers of Change during their Leadership Forum (training session for all committee chairs/co-chairs and Chapter Leaders = about 100+ volunteers). This was a 1-hour session.
  3. NAPO has assigned a Board Member to serve as the champion for the NAPO Pathway to 2030 initiative. The champion has identified a small group of about 6 members who were interested in further engaging with the futures topic. The group was titled “NAPO’s Pathway to 2030.”
  4. At the NAPO Annual Conference in 2019 - I will co-facilitate a foresight session with the Board Champion. This session will be open to all attendees. This will be a 90-minute session.
  5. The Board Futures Champion has launched a discussion on NAPO's online community about one of the Drivers of Change. The first post generated feedback and discussion for about 20-members. The plan now to is to continue to post monthly discussion topics on the top Drivers of Change.
  6. The NAPO Information & Research Committee has been asked to synthesize the member input on the Drivers of Change discussions. This information will feed into a summary document that the NAPO Board will reference in preparation for their Strategic Planning meeting in June 2019.


There isn’t one clear path to jump into futures discussions. The list above outline steps that worked for the leaders of NAPO. You need to build your own plan based on your Board’s readiness. My suggestion is to start slow. The key to building a culture of foresight within your association is to just get started.


Topics: board management, Foresight