Association Strategy

Association Strategy Definition

Association strategy makes it possible for your organization to escape the confines of your current position and take new ground.

It is the game plan that brings stakeholders together for a common set of goals, whether it’s reinventing your organization, repositioning for greater market penetration, shifting to seize opportunity, accelerating growth, fortifying your position as the leader in your space, or moving past a competitor. A good association strategy provides the roadmap that makes it possible for your members, partners, and staff to work together. It lets everyone know what’s important—and by omission, what is not.

All men can see these tactics whereby I conquer, but what none can see is the strategy out of which victory is evolved.
— Sun Tzu, Military Strategist

Strategic Planning for OrganizationsSeth Kahan

Since 2002 I have had the opportunity to work with over 100 association CEOs. In my work I have seen every variation possible when it comes to a leader’s orientation to strategic planning, from those who won’t operate without a plan to those who hate them and won’t go near one. While there may be great variance on what a good strategic plan is, I have never seen an organization mobilize its constituents without a common approach that is documented, making it possible for others to understand the organization’s priorities, plan for achieving its most important goals, and most importantly contribute to their achievement.

Getting Association Strategy Right. This two-hour class (which you can digest in short chunks, on your time) covers the foundation of success, the building blocks of a powerful strategy, and how to create your strategic plan.

Approaches to Strategic Planning

There are as many ways to approach strategic planning as there are definitions for the word strategy, which is to say a lot! I judge success on two fronts:

  • An easy-to-digest result that provides a high-level game plan for the organization’s efforts to realize more than it does today
  • A process that engages the most valuable constituents, especially the board of directors, in ways they find rewarding because of the result it achieves and the process they go through

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The Core of Association Strategy - in which I lay out the seven elements of association strategy and how they work as a whole.

Strategic Objectives and Goals

Strategic objectives are the goals that once achieved will make your strategy a success. They are critical contributions to your organization’s success.

Tactics are the operational activities used to achieve the strategic objectives. They are the responsibility of the CEO, not the board. Tactics are always negotiable. If a particular tactic fails, it can easily be replaced by another as long as it leads to the achievement of one or more of the strategic objectives.

The leader at the center is the CEO. That person may go by a variety of titles—executive director, senior vice president, and so on—but I use CEO to mean the chief executive of the organization. This person drives the business strategy planning process. It is the board that is responsible for the final product, but the CEO makes sure it all goes smoothly. This is because this is the one person who liaises with the chair, board, members, vendors and partners.

Life moves so fast. You gotta document the good times, man.
— Big Boi, Rapper and Record Producer

Association strategies and strategic planning techniques vary by organization

Every organization has its nuances and these should be taken into account to produce the best possible strategic plan. With a solid strategic plan you will be able to grow your association membership, increase market penetration, grow sustainable and profitable revenue, and lift your mission and association members up to their highest aspirations. Strategic planning is a process that makes it possible for so many to work together on behalf of your mission and vision. Invest in it as if your future depends upon it—because it does.

To explore how this can be adapted and put to your work in your organization, or to schedule a private conversation, email

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