The Top 8 Association Trends in 2021

The Top 8 Association Trends in 2021 | MCI | Events

December, 16 2020

In a world shaped by uncertainty and fast innovation, professional associations need to constantly adapt to stay relevant. Get ready for tomorrow with the trends that are affecting - and will continue to affect - associations.

The world has never been so educated, mobile and innovative, and trends reshaping our world have become more complex and intertwined. COVID-19 has been an accelerator for change and a catalyst for associations and not-for-profit organisations to rethink their relevance, way of working and business model.

But it would be wrong to see this as the only reason for associations to consider their future-proof strategy.

Like any other businesses, Associations have no other choice but to embrace the digital revolution and adapt to thrive in the new normal. Technology and digital solutions are enablers for associations to enhance their value proposition, member engagement and customer experience. 

At MCI, we have identified a number of drivers affecting associations as they grapple with this new era.  Among them, we distinguish those that are exogenous (innovation, technology, data…), which redefine opportunities for associations. And those that are endogenous drivers, over which associations have control and can change habits or perceptions.  

Among these drivers, we’ve identified 8 main trends that are affecting - and will continue to affect - associations: 

1. Technology 

internet of things

The Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) is characterised by the fusion of the digital, biological, and physical worlds.  

The collective force of technologies such as artificial intelligence, cloud computing, robotics, 3D printing, the Internet of Things, is transforming every aspect of our lives, businesses, societies and how we operate.  

Associations must embrace these technologies so as to offer their stakeholders (members, customers, partners, sponsors, etc.) a more personal, intuitive and engaging experience. 

2. Financial Impact 

financial impact

As associations review their financial status due to the pandemic, they need to consider the organisation’s greater eco-system and anticipate the potential knock-on effect, as funders or members are forced to protect their own interests.  

Innovation, new products and programs are critical to continue to engage the organisation’s community and ensure value and relevance. 

3. Privacy and Data Protection  

data privacy

Data is king and the monetisation of data is the lifeblood of many organisations, including associations. 

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) has created greater protection for individuals and limited the freedom of organisations. Technological advances will continue to produce workarounds and greater vigilance and demand for transparency will grow.  

4. Social Distancing  

virtual meeting

Social distancing due to COVID-19 is changing the way organisations and individuals behave, requiring innovation, new ways of working and new opportunities for digitisation.   

Virtual communications, virtual events and virtual learning experiences are here to stay. Hybrid (combination of physical and digital) is the New Normal for business and association meetings, conferences and conventions. 

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5. Sustainability and Environmental Development  

sustainable development goals

The UN Sustainable Development Goals provide a clear pathway towards a better and more sustainable future by 2030.  

The 17 Goals address major global challenges including poverty, inequality, climate change, environmental degradation, peace and justice. Associations are ideally placed to activate and advance the Goals. 

6. Ethics and Values 

generation z

The next generation of members and customers, Gen Z, is in high demand of ethical and value-driven behaviours.  

They do not form their opinion solely based on the quality of the service or benefits but on ethics, practices and social impact. They will choose to engage with those associations that are behaving ethically and doing good for the community. 

Good behaviour will be recognised and go viral, but equally fast poor ethical behaviour or bad customer service will result in rapid loss of reputation, interest and shaming. 

7. Online Reputation Management

online reviews

Shaping public perception of an organisation by influencing online information can be quite complex in our universally connected world.  

Organisations have less and less control over their communications. Whilst they need to be hyper transparent on their actions, positive or negative, they do not fully control their reputation.  

8. Equality and Diversity 

equality and diversity

Racial, gender, physical or mental, women, discrepancies between different groups and lack of diversity are movements that continue to gain ground with the acceleration of our world’s connectivity.  

Organisations will be increasingly judged by their ability and actions to reduce these discrepancies. The new generation of members and customers want transparency, equality and action. In that, associations can play a key role.  

In the end, transformation is all about human values and interactions. Perceptions matter, particularly in a highly viral, interconnected world. For this reason, now is the time for Associations to listen to their members and customers’ needs, expectations and values; and adapt.  

Is your association ready for tomorrow? F.A.S.T.© by MCI, is designed to guide you through a tailored road map for resilience and growth.

To learn more, visit or contact MCI’s Global Vice President of Association Management & Consulting Nikki Walker at 


karine desbant

karine desbant
Karine Desbant

Global Marketing & Communication Manager - Association Market

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