Why Culture is at the Heart of Association Success

Written by Jamie Notter on February 26, 2016

It’s time to up our game, associations.

So join me in a year-long exploration of culture and association success.

So I am embarking on a fairly ambitious writing endeavor: one full year’s worth of content focused squarely on the role that culture plays in driving the success of associations. For those who know me, you’ll recognize that these are not brand new topics to me—I’ve been blogging about both for more than ten years.

But I haven’t brought the two together in a truly focused way, until now. And I’m not talking about just an occasional post. I’m going to be writing here every single week—for a year—covering topics like culture and strategy, culture and governance, staff development, member engagement, and hiring and recruiting. In fact, this is pretty much the only place you will see me writing online that is specifically focused on associations.


Because I think the association community is at a critical choice point. We must choose, as an industry:

Are we going to be part of the future of leadership and management, or will people start referring to us as a “legacy” industry?

Are we going to be attracting the top talent, or are we going to settle for people who maybe couldn’t cut it elsewhere?

Will people look to us for inspiration, or will they look at us with a kind of frustrated pity?

How those questions get answered depends very much on the choices we are making right now about how we run our organizations.

Leadership and management is going through radical changes right now. Just look at the Zappos experiment with Holacracy. That’s a billion-dollar-company that just got rid of its org chart in about one year. Associations must learn to adapt to this new reality if they want to thrive. I have to be honest and say that a large number of people in our community are not likely to jump on this train. They are NOT going to adapt. I think a large number of associations are going to cascade into irrelevance by clinging to outdated practices.

I’m writing for the rest of us.

And for those who do choose to lead this change and join this movement, it’s important to recognize that organizational culture is going to be at the heart of the choices we need to make. Where a strong culture used to be considered a luxury for associations (and other industries, for that matter), now it has become a necessity. The future of leadership and management will be defined by the organizations that have figured out how to create strong cultures and align their culture with what drives success.

So come join me—and Maddie—in this conversation. Maddie Grant will also be writing here, sharing insights and inspiration from other sources in our networks and from across the interwebs, accessing smart people both from within the association community and from the broader business world. Let’s figure out what culture really means for associations, and let’s identify what we all need to start doing in order to elevate not only our own organizations and missions and members, but also the status of our association community as the leaders and innovators that we should be.

Image credit