Digital transformation in the association industry: How is technology changing associations today?

5th Sep, 2018

If there’s one thing that we can say about digital disruption, that has to be that we will not stop it. The transformative force changes organisational structure, the customer journey, and the design of products and services. In this article, we discuss common challenges faced by healthcare organisations, not-for-profits, and associations due to the digital revolution, and how technology can help leaders develop and use strategic tools to make the digital transformation work for their organisations.

Digital Disruption In Healthcare

According to Forbes, healthcare is one of the industries set to become the top digital disruptors of the future. However, many organisations involved in healthcare struggle with issues like data overload and duplication of information due to the unfortunate lack of integration across different IT systems; and confidentiality breaches.

Health information technology can facilitate data management and patient engagement, helping organisations plan strategically to stay at the forefront of healthcare innovation. The benefits of new technologies go from improved reporting and monitoring to accurate prediction and simulation models, actual data and performance analytics, and stronger security.

New Technology And The Not-For-Profit Sector

Digital transformation trends have not overlooked the not-for-profit sector, yet according to a survey, only half of the non-profit executives believe disruptive tech will impact the non-profit sector.

The practical use of innovative technologies can help not-for-profits become more efficient, transparent, and collaborative. Digital transformation processes can help not-for-profits rise to everyday challenges, such as:

  • Accountability issues: donors and members are increasingly demanding detailed information about the real impact of their contributions. Traditionally, not-for-profits have struggled meeting this need as data was not easy to extract, but new technology is changing the landscape with a wealth of data that makes it easier to track and analyse all kinds of information.
  • The requirement for a close relationship between the organisation and its stakeholders: organisations need to be approachable and serve as online communities that generate a sense of belonging.
  • The growing importance of peer-to-peer influence when it comes to funding, as opposed to traditional fundraising campaigns.

Digital Transformation In The Association Industry

Digital transformation in the association industry brings many opportunities as well as challenges, including:

  • Difficulties in attracting Millennials to exclusive membership models so prevalent in professional associations, which face increased competition from the social network or virtual communities.
  • A conflict between providing gated access to information and a shift towards the democratisation of information.
  • Tools or resources to handle large amounts of data from an international membership base are often under-utilised.
  • The rapidly growing incorporation of digital technology in event and conference planning.

Overall, professional associations today need to become agile and adaptable in an environment that demands a flexible and personalised approach one of the cornerstones of digital transformation in the association industry.

Trends And Tools For An Effective Digital Strategy

The following trends and tools play a crucial role in today’s changing digital landscape, so organisational leaders and executives should become familiar with them to streamline the management of their resources and operations.

  • Experiential marketing, an aspect of digital marketing that involves the design of events and/or experiences whose purpose is to offer a memorable customer experience. Since the monetary benefit is not the driving force, experiential marketing lends itself well to be used by associations involved in the not-for-profit sector.
  • Linked to the above is experiential event planning, which puts audiences at the centre stage and delivers value beyond expectations. Key strategies include the use of branded hashtags, live-streaming events, using event apps for critical operations like registering, checking in, finding speaker information, and networking with other attendees. Moreover, data-driven event design can facilitate the personalisation of the customer experience at events, and help gain critical insights to improve future events.
  • Cross-department collaboration, a trend where digital teams no longer operate in isolation but alongside executive, management, risk management, and IT departments. Doing so can help break silos, which are traditionally a structural part of professional organisations and not-for-profits, and instead focus on how to best use technology to favour the cross-pollination of ideas.
  • Emerging technologies like Big Data and artificial intelligence. One of the main advantages of incorporating these technology trends is a quantitative and qualitative improvement in data analysis. These technologies allow devices and systems to be configured for smooth data integration, fewer redundant information, and more efficient operations.

Big data has already shown its benefits at a large scale. For example, since the implementation of Big Data and machine learning applications in 2015, the NHS has reduced its expenditures by nearly £600 million. Integrated data analytics and the resulting insights have proven invaluable when offering improved patient care, so the benefits are not only financial.

In addition, mHealth (wearables and health-related mobile apps) is expected to be one of the fastest-growing trends in the healthcare market. Apps and wearables provide end-users with valuable and personalised information that can complement the association’s strategy and mission.

  • Social media is a crucial digital marketing tool that can help organisations embrace tech-driven transformation due to its inherent ability to create engagement. Not-for-profits have a tremendous opportunity to boost the effectiveness of their campaigns using social media, as digital content has the potential to go viral and reach global audiences at virtually no cost. Overall, social media is both a place and a tool to deliver an enhanced digital strategy, which should nowadays be an integral part of every organisation’s global communications strategy.


Association leaders and executives need to take the initiative in embracing the digital disruption, learning how it can benefit their sector, and not being afraid to experiment and leverage the tools provided by disruptive technology. This type of technology is naturally suited to the creation of global strategies, and so it can help organisations become more efficient, have a more significant impact, and generate lasting positive impressions. Why not start creating your roadmap to success in the digital era today?

This article was provided by the IAPCO member Congrex Switzerland. Congrex Switzerland is an internationally operating agency delivering integrated solutions especially for non-profit clients. Author Frank M. Waechter.


Congrex Switzerland Ltd.

Silvano Schaer, Head of Sales & Marketing

Phone: +41 61 686 77 77

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