Shifting Your Association to a Digital Presence

August 18, 2022
Written by
Isabelle Perreault
Founder and CEO

Like many, associations are shifting to a digital presence. They are seeing a demand for online services and technologies. Up until this point, most have only dipped their toes into digital strategies – digital marketing, donor and member management, e-commerce, to name just a few. The next horizon for digital adoption in the association world is how we can harness technology to create new value for those you serve or to re-imagine how you deliver that value via digital channels in support of the impact you strive to make.  

We recently caught up with two Differly experts on associations, Steve Johnston and Jen Batley, and we asked them how associations and non-profit executives can position their organizations for success in a digital economy.

You can watch the interview here.

They talk about:

-       What is the most common challenge and/or opportunity for this sector?

-       What are some of the gains and benefits that occur when digital adoption is done well?

-       What to do if you’re feeling overwhelmed with the thought of digital adoption?

It is predicted that the next decade will bring tremendous progress and change through technological advancement. If I could leave you with just one thought it is this: technology doesn’t disrupt – people do!  


If you’re thinking about how to lead this change in your association, email me directly at to explore how we can support your organization through a Digital Adoption Strategy!  

Full Episode Transcript

Lisa Strangway:                

Hi, everyone. Welcome to Differly Channel. Today, we're going to talk about how associations and nonprofit executives can position their organizations for success in a digital economy. And I'm so lucky today, because we have two experts from Differly to walk us through this subject. So, I'd like to welcome Jennifer Batley and Steve Johnston. Hi, guys.

Jen Batley:                        

Hi, Lisa.

Steve Johnston:                

Hi, Lisa. Thank you.

Lisa Strangway:                

Before we dive in, why don't you each tell us what your area of expertise is?

Jen Batley:                        

Sure. I can start. So my background includes about 20 years of experience in customer experience consulting, really wrapped up with operational from the business experience. So for Differly, that means I bring a customer lens to all of the strategies and tactics that our clients are using as they look at really shifting to a more digital experience for their customers to drive growth.

Lisa Strangway:                

Alright. And Steve?

Steve Johnston:                

Yes, on my side, I'm an engineer by education, and I have a Master's in Project Management and an MBA on the education side. On the real life side, I'm a serial entrepreneur in the high tech world, so my expertise is to bridge a gap with what the association's executive team and the staff, what they need in terms of projects and objectives, and bridge the gap with technology available in the market and vice versa. So I can help them to speak the IT language and I can help the IT staff to speak the business language, so it's kind of a translation work that I'm doing and I bring this to the association.

Lisa Strangway:                

Excellent. Well, thank you very much. Thank you for both being here today. Let's start with you, Jennifer. The Differly team has worked with dozens of associations. What is the most common challenge and/or opportunities that you've seen across this sector?

Jen Batley:                        

Yeah, it's a great question. And when we think about a lot of associations, these are groups that have been running really just fine for years with established processes. What they're faced with now is they're finding themselves caught a little bit behind. Because of this digital shift in the world, everything is moving online. That's been happening for a number of years, but the member needs are shifting. And especially over the last couple of years, we're seeing a really rapid evolution of the demand for online services and technologies, so that this kind of digital interaction, it's no longer kind of a nice to have for associations it's becoming a must have, as their members just won't accept some of the old ways of interacting. So they find themselves stuck a little bit because they are a bit behind.

A lot of these groups also have a social purpose, and they're trying to serve different kinds of needs, so they've really got to find a way to balance the goals and the purpose of their organization with these emerging demands of the membership base, and find a way to really sit these competing priorities in a way that plays well with each other.

And so, one of the opportunities and the response to this kind of challenge is really to help them optimize for today, so how can they identify some of the high impact, incremental, quick wins that will help them step into the digital space and serve their members the way they want to be served, while still planning a longer term view so that they can shift how they deliver value in a more holistic way as they're able to invest in the process change and the technology change that will help them adapt.

Lisa Strangway:                

Thank you. Steve, so why don't you add to that a little bit, and tell us what some of the major gains and benefits you've seen when digital adoption is done well in this sector?

Steve Johnston:                

Yeah, I think it goes in line with what Jennifer said, where the members are seeing the value of the associations, obviously, but the staff is producing even more value than the members are seeing. So with the technology, with the digital adoption optimization, they can bring this value in front of the members a lot more easily. And for the members, they want more. They are used to platforms that are easy to use and with social media platforms or any other tools. So I think that what Jennifer said is, in terms of being behind, this is what we're bringing. We're bringing the new tools. The value is there. What they do, they do it well, but it's a bit hidden or on papers or on PDFs. It's hidden somewhere, so having a way to display that, that brings value to members. It shows that the staff is doing what they should do.

On the same, so this is more external, internally they don't know what's available yet. And it's the same thing in many organizations, associations, and companies. Once we are teaching them what's available, what's possible, and they learn and they know about these things, they just ask for more and more and more. And they come up with the ideas on how to bring more value to their members. It's not us. We are triggering this effect by starting to show them what's possible and try a few things with them, and they figure out what's best for their members. So we're not dictating what to do. It's not only one recipe. So we are working with them. We're really focusing on the people, to make sure that we're going at their pace and they understand everything, this way we can extract, or they can bring the most valuable things to their members. So that would be the two main things that I'm seeing very often in associations.

Lisa Strangway:                


Jen Batley:                        

I think, Lisa, if I could jump back in, I think one of the kind of advantages that these associations have right now is they can leapfrog over a lot of the learning that's happened in other spaces. So while they've got kind of these legacy systems and approaches, a lot of the learning on digital adoption and digital interactions and the kind of the tools has been done. So with the right help, these associations, they don't need to go through that learning process, they can kind of jump over that and land in a spot that really meets the member expectations and improves the efficiency and the delivery of the value.

Lisa Strangway:                

Excellent. Well, why don't I ask you each to maybe give a tip to an association leader who is maybe overwhelmed with the thought of digital adoption. So Jennifer, why don't we start with you?

Jen Batley:                        

Sure. Yeah. And maybe it's helps to say, "You're not alone, feeling overwhelmed. You're definitely not alone." One of the things that I think about a lot kind of in that context is to really advise people to take a breath and focus on your people first. So, when we say digital adoption, we think a lot about the tools. And the tools are definitely important. You need to make good choices there. But the tools are only as good as the people who are using them. So when I say think about people, it's partly think about your members and really center on their needs.

And this is back to my experience is centered around customer experience here, it's member experience. Really listen to the current needs of your member base. Don't get too attached to what they had before. Don't get too attached to your ideas of what they might want. Really go out and listen to them so that you understand how they want to interact with you and what kind of value they want to be able to get from you.

And think about your team. So this kind of shift in your association and how you work is going to affect everybody on your staff. So you really want to make sure you're engaging everyone that this is seen as not just a technology project, but really as a business project and a strategic project, and that you're getting input from them and being really thoughtful about how this change is going to impact them, because it's going to mean changes to how they're used to working, to the tools that they use, to how they interact with each other and with that membership base. So being really thoughtful up front about that kind of engagement, establishing clear leadership, clear communication, really over-communicating a lot of the times, just to make sure you've got that understanding and buy-in for the shift that's about to happen. And that you're really bringing in more voices, so that as the leader, you don't need to feel like you're in this alone. You should really be supported by and feel like you're supported by an extended team who's moving through this change with you.

Lisa Strangway:                

Well said. Steve, how about you? How about a tip?

Steve Johnston:                

Yeah. Many things to say and add to what Jennifer said. I would say first, you have to make sure that management is fully involved. Don't believe that the staff will do it. Don't believe that an external company will do it. It's really teamwork all along. It's a long process, and you need to play the long game. You need to think about what's going to be the outcome as Jennifer said, making sure that while you're doing it, and you need to eat the entire pizza one bite at a time. So you need to take the overall, the overall project, the pizza, cut it in pieces, and take a bite of each piece, and one bite at a time.

And if you have a partner who wants to push you to too hard on a few things or wants to rush things, that doesn't work. People have their pace. You need to judge that pace. You need to adapt to that pace. And you need to take care of them as Jennifer well said. So this way you are making sure that they will adapt, because at the end of the day, technology don't make the adoption. The people who are trained to it, the people who are involved in building the tools like meaning configuring it, even some automation process, they need to be involved all along, because it's really like a teamwork process.

So again, I can say many, many things around that, but again, based from the MIT Sloan Management School, 70% of projects failed because the management is not supporting the initiatives. And after that, they don't focus enough on people. So it's not about technology. It's not about processes itself. It's focusing on people and with the associations and mind, as Jennifer said, think about your members. What do you need to bring to them, and how you should bring it tot hem, and why you do that?

And if you need to take pauses along your project, take pauses, take a deep breath, make sure everything is fine, and move to the next step. And I would end by saying that having a plan, I'm an engineer, so having a plan right at the beginning makes total sense. And during that discovery phase and presentation phase of this plan, design, the associations, the executives, they will understand why the plan is useful. They will be able to evaluate the partner that they can work with in the future, and they will even more understand their members and their staff. So I think the IT roadmap is a good way to start, because there is no impact on staff, and you can learn what's going to happen, what's available in the market, and you can ask all the questions you want. So I think it's a good way to be involved without making changes too early in the process.

Lisa Strangway:                

Okay. Well, I have a feeling we could talk about this for a long time. You're both really experts at this, so thank you very much. Maybe we've given some association leaders some food for thought. And if you are an association leader and you want to discuss your digital adoption needs, you can find us at, and we're happy to start a conversation with you. So thank you again, Jennifer. Thank you, Steve, and have a great rest of the day.

Steve Johnston:                

Thank you, Lisa.

Lisa Strangway:                


Jen Batley:                        

Thank you, Lisa.

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