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Association Demographic Trends For 2012 (And What To Do About Them)

Association TRENDS released a snapshot of the current demographic state of associations at the beginning of February 2012. Comparing data from the 2011 and 2012 National Trade and Professional Association directories, Association TRENDS found significant changes in associations by industry as well as an increase in association headquarters across the majority of the United States. When it came to association leadership at the executive level, the change was less significant. Take a look at the break-down of information below. Does the information seem to jive with your own association demographics?

Association TRENDS released a snapshot of the current demographic state of associations at the beginning of February 2012. Comparing data from the 2011 and 2012 National Trade and Professional Association directories, Association TRENDS found significant changes in associations by industry as well as an increase in association headquarters across the majority of the United States. When it came to association leadership at the executive level, the change was less significant. Take a look at the break-down of information below. Does the information seem to jive with your own association demographics?

Association headquarters

Washington, D.C. and surrounding areas still lead as the highest population of association headquarters. There are 1,1225 association headquarters in Washington, D.C. alone, up 13 percent over last year. The top 10 states for association headquarters in 2012 include:

  1. Washington, D.C.
  2. Virginia
  3. Illinois
  4. New York
  5. Maryland
  6. California
  7. Texas
  8. Florida
  9. Pennsylvania
  10. Ohio

All but four states in the U.S. showed an increase in the number of association headquarters. Iowa, Nevada and South Dakota all dropped down one; Indiana dropped two.


Men still dominate as CEOs and chief staff executives within associations. According to NTPA, there was no change in C-Suite leadership when it came to women from 2011 to 2012. Only 38 percent of the 13,733 for whom NTPA has gender information for are women (approximately 5,218 women). Additionally, NTPA was able to list more gender information (by 387 individuals) in 2012 compared to 2011.

Of note, women did overtake men when looking at associations’ staff female-to-male ratio, though only by less then one percent.

Industry change

The top five industries by association numbers include: Education (900), medicine (611), manufacturers (595), government-related associations (335) and law/law firms (242). The biggest increase, by industry, was in education associations. These organizations saw an increase of roughly 13.5 percent. Additional gains in the number of associations, although not in the top five industries, included banking/finance/investments (172) and business (186).

Overall, association headquarters are growing, though the initial synopsis of the report does not directly mention membership and retention rates within these states or individual organizations. As I point out in my book, “The End of Membership As We Know It,” increasing competition makes associations more vulnerable. While additional associations are popping up, the existing associations still struggle to survive.

Beating the competition

Associations looking to overcome the competition struggle must provide a valuable commodity and eliminate their competition. What once worked in the past is not going to work for your future, but survival is still possible. Consider the following monopoly must-haves for rebuilding your association:


Stop trying to be everything to everyone. It’s not going to happen. Determine your target market–you niche. Niches are what all successful products and services have in common, without exception. There is money in niches! In a world with more access to information and competition than ever before, your association needs to be the go-to resource for one audience. You need to set yourself apart as the “experts,” provide ample resources on your area of expertise, thereby making it easy for those who need you to find you and find value in joining your association. This isn’t a one-size-fits-all world anymore. Seek to be meaningful to someone – not everyone—and the money will follow.


Culture makes a significant difference in how effective your association is at recruiting and retaining members and generating revenue. In many ways, culture is like personality. It’s the values, beliefs, underlying assumptions, experiences, and habits that create your association’s behavior and ways of working together.

And here’s why culture matters: Because younger generations are driven by personal happiness. They refuse to engage in anything negative, challenging, or draining of their time and energy. They will also refuse to engage in a culture that isn’t open to them. Your association could have a great culture as it relates to customer-service, but fall short on technology or engaging young people as board members and committee leaders.

Bottom line: You must eliminate the negative and accentuate the positive to engage your next generation membership.


From here on out, associations will constantly answer the question “what’s in it for me?” You’re being tested. You need to prove your worth. So, how do you prove valuable membership? Ask yourself and answer (honestly) the following questions:

  1. What does your association do?
  2. What is a key benefit for joining your association (hint: it’s not networking)
  3. How does your association add value?
  4. What would happen if your association was gone tomorrow? What happens then?
  5. What is your cost-to-value ratio? Can you point to ROI (return on investment)?

If you are reconsidering your dues structure, it should be because you want to make it easier for prospects to join, to acquire members in new audiences, to enable better service, or to correct unprofitable equations, not to increase short-term cash flow. Doing this will miss the mark to build long-term relationships and remain sustainable.

So yes, while associations may be increasing in headquarters and organization numbers, we are still at a point of much-needed sustainability and growth when it comes to membership. How will you eliminate the competition and create your monopoly must-haves?

Zs came of age in an era of disruption

In many ways, it’s symbolic that Generation Z is named after the last letter in the alphabet because their arrival marks the end of clearly defined roles, traditions, and experiences. After all, Gen Z is coming of age on the heels of what has been referred to as the most disruptive decade of the last century. America has become an increasingly changing and complex place.

For example:

  • ‍Zs were born into a “modern family era” in which highly involved dads help out at home, and the nuclear family model (two parents, married, with children) represent only 46% of American households.
  • ‍Zs are the first generation to be born into a world where everything physical, from people to places to pennies, has a digital equivalent.
  • From the time they were infants, Zs had access to mobile technology. As a result, their brains have been trained to absorb large amounts of information, and Zs are especially adept at shifting between skills and subject matter.
  • Zs tend to have crystal-clear memories of sitting up for the first time at six months old because they can easily and quickly reference the photos and videos their parents shared on social media or saved in the “cloud”. 

Members of this generation have undoubtedly been shaped by crisis and disruption. This generation will largely be responsible for confronting the aftermath of the Great Recession, high youth unemployment, the effects of climate change, terrorism, energy sustainability, and more. These dark events have undoubtedly made this generation more cautious and pragmatic, but they have also provided this generation with the inspiration to change the world – and their grit will likely allow them to do it.

Coming of age during disruption means that most Zs will be comfortable being the disruptors. While Millennials tend to be collaborative and innovative, this generation tends to be sincere, reflective, thick-skinned, and self-directed, and will likely approach work in much the same way.

Zs were raised to be competitive

In the era following World War II, Boomers (1946-1964) were born and eventually became the wealthiest, most prosperous generation in history. Raised to aspire for the American Dream, this very large generation moved into positions of power and influence, and served as the workforce majority for 34 years.

With the American Dream alive and well, Boomers had no reason to teach their children, mostly Millennials, about competition. Instead, they taught them to focus on academic achievement and to be team players because if everyone works hard, everyone can win.

Enter Generation X (1965-1981). In contrast Boomers, Xers came of age during a time when change and economic and political uncertainty began to take root. They have lived through four recessions, struggled with debt and economic decline most of their lives, and watched the best educated and accomplished generation of all time (Millennials) graduate during the Great Recession and become the most debt-ridden generation in history.

Gen Xers can be defined by their independence and anti-status quo approach to life, and they have taught their Gen Z children to be competitive, believing only the best can win. They have encouraged their children to be realists, finding something they are good at and aggressively pursuing it.

Xers have raised their Zs with an intense focus on competitiveness -- in academics, sports, and other activities. This approach to parenting has many implications, but one stands out in terms of business: Gen Z is likely to lead.

Millennials in the workplace created and aggressively advocated for collaborative work environments. In fact, their aversion to leadership has been so strong, some Millennials sought out companies that boasted boss-free or team-managed workplaces.

In contrast, Zs have been raised with an individualistic, realistic, and competitive nature. They have been taught the skills to successfully defy the norm. This means we’re going to see the pendulum shift away from collaborative workplaces towards a widespread demand for, and pursuit of, leadership development.

Zs are career-focused.

While Millennials have been criticized for their “delayed adulthood”, Gen Z is showing signs of “early adulthood”. Educators and parents often describe this generation as being more serious and contemplative about the world. Zs are thinking about their career paths and exposing themselves to career training at an earlier age than Millennials. It’s probable that some of this early onset of adulthood is caused by parents, who are pressuring their children to be competitive and successful and to avoid the debt that plagued both the Gen Xers and Millennials.

The numbers from our global research found 46% of Gen Z said they know what career to pursue and 51% have taken a class at school focused on their career interests. Forty percent joined an extracurricular program (team, club) based on their career interests.

Zs are seeking financial security. 

Zs have been shaped by the aftermath of the Great Recession. They watched Millennials become debt-ridden and are concerned about falling into the same trap. XYZ University’s survey results show 66% of Zs said financial stability is more important than doing work they enjoy, which is the exact opposite of Millennial survey results.  Also, 71% of survey-takers have a paying job.

Zs value leaders who are positive and trustworthy.

When presented a list of leadership traits, Zs ranked positive and trustworthy the highest. While Millennials and Gen Zs both value trust in a leader, Millennials usually cite collaboration and vision as most important. In other words, Millennials focus on the outcomes leaders inspire, whereas Zs are more likely to consider leaders’ attitudes and personalities. To Z, what leaders encourage others to do isn’t as valuable as how they make them feel.


Zs want to be challenged.

Both Millennials and Gen Zs place a very high value on feeling challenged and appreciated in the workplace. However, according to our survey results Millennials rank appreciation slightly higher than challenge, whereas Zs rank feeling challenged slightly higher than appreciation.

Time will tell how Zs go down in history, but we know this generation’s influence on history will be unlike any other.


Does your organization have what it takes to engage the next generation? Take this quiz to find out.


Sarah Sladek is CEO of XYZ University. Our generational intelligence can assist you with engaging and retaining young talent and members.

Sarah Sladek

Concerned about declining engagement in our nation’s membership associations, non-profits, and workplaces, Sarah Sladek founded XYZ University, the nation’s first and only generations-focused training and engagement strategy company, in 2002.

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