Why companies do better to the world than associations? ..and why it should be the opposite…

Posted on August 30, 2010


As I have promised, I am starting to post about my findings on the Association Management Industry. Now that I am changing jobs and industry, I better get this out soon, or I will probably never do it!


I will start with my favorite subject, Corporate Social Responsibility!


One of the main reasons I am passionate for the associations world is for its capacity to gather industry leaders and influence the outcomes of a profession or industry group. This is in essence very beautiful, because the interests go beyond competition and market value and look into regulations, standards, education, ethics and so on…


CSR should just go along. Leaders on associations have the chance to be the thought leaders on the field, helping their industry in general to benefit of understanding how to bring CSR into the bottom line and how it can bring business to a new level of satisfaction, engagement, efficiency and profitability.


To make it short (or not so long) I grouped my thoughts in two lists:

Why Associations fail to be CSR thought leaders:

  • Associations tend to be slow and reactive to industry trends. Nowadays, CSR is already part of bottom line strategies of major corporations while associations are still trying to figure it out.
  • If associations are too big, often they are run as business, focusing on their products and services revenues, leaving aside part of the leadership it should have on professional trends, innovation and mission fulfillment. If they are too small, they will have little influence.
  • Lack of real decision making. Industry driving associations need to act in different areas to be able to make real influence: Standards, Professional development, lobbying and governance.


What could they do that enterprises can not to be the thought leaders:

  • Gather experts that are already renowned on their field to develop their profession as a whole. Many of those professional might be competitors on the business side, or professors and researchers that would have probably not had much interaction together… the association is a efficient way to put all this minds working together.
  • Create and rotate power hierarchies (specially of volunteers): This allows many different players, with different professional backgrounds, to make significant contributions in a short amount of time. On a structured, collaborative association, leaders have the ability to gather ideas, process them and drive them back to the other members and society as benefits.
  • Drive an industry ethically, set the moral and ethical boundaries of it.
  • Set rules, create standards, education and trainings based on a larger group of stakeholders that hold different interests.


Sustainability is the core element of any association from the beginning – it’s stated on their mission statement to be sustainable and relevant to society.

Thinking of that, it is just logical that they should be the basis for the industry/professional players to turn to and learn about CSR. But in reality, companies do not turn to associations to look into practices. Rather, they are in the driving sit, and associations run to follow it. Like Wal-mart, i.e., that basically is alone setting the standards for the retailers industry… of course they get many critics, as they defend their own company interest as well. We cannot deny their thought leadership and the value the company gained in the market.

If we would take the example of the meeting industry though, where most of the efforts are driven by the professional associations, like MPI, GMIC and others, changes are a lot more consistent because it represents a wide range of interests. We can see the speed (since they started to worry about sustainability) that they have developed standards and how those standards are quickly making their way into the market. The whole chain is involved, from suppliers, to meeting organizers, from AV companies to costumers.


Volunteer leaders on associations are the experts on their fields, no? We may ask so: What is the real relevance of associations if they are not on the driving sit of their industry/ profession?