How associations made the world fairer, smarter, safer

2 minute read

A century of association-powered revolutions. Plus, opportunities for (re)building community.

When passionate people gather behind a shared purpose, stuff gets done. Nowhere is this more evident than in membership organisations. To celebrate its own centenary, the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) has compiled a timeline of some of the most meaningful contributions associations have made to US history over the last hundred years. 

From votes for women to mapping the human genome, associations and their members have executed a thousand quiet revolutions. Each one has left our world a fairer, smarter and safer place.

Screenshot of the ASAE association timeline

Source: ASAE

Progress by association. It’s a refreshing way to look at the world, isn’t it? Scrolling through ASAE’s timeline, I wondered what shape it would take in other countries. How did non-profits and their members collectively shape each country’s national discourse? Or change its laws? Or improve its research conditions? 

Whether you’re working to amend legislation, or train the next generation, or amplify your members’ voices, it’s worth pausing, even for a moment… 

Because we’ve come a long way.

Opportunities for (re)building community 

We’re edging closer to a decade in which our political figures are set to become more divisive; our online and media-led conversations more toxic. With the resulting erosion of social cohesion, is there an opportunity for associations to re-unite groups that hold diverse attitudes and competing allegiances?

When approached with care, non-profits can offer members the space to keep lines of communication open and civil – both online and in person. “By encouraging open and frank discussion, while showing zero tolerance for ad hominem attacks, [associations] can become places for adults to remember what it was like to be an adult before Facebook turned adults into kidults,” says James Lancaster at AMI.

Rebuilding a strong sense of community isn’t just good for society, and for our progress as a species. It also has positive knock-on effects on your association-wide metrics like member retention and conference attendance. 

After all, being connected is the very definition of association.

Paul Killoran

Back when Paul was an engineering student, he didn’t even know what a conference paper was. Then he dipped his toe in the research conference world, realised how awful the software was, and decided to build Ex Ordo. Sometimes, life can be funny like that.