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ASAE's NextGen Association Summit – Gain Insight from Young Professionals

Stephanie Bruno, CAE, Account Executive at Stringfellow Management Group (SMG), had the opportunity to engage in meaningful conversations about the unique needs and perspectives of young association professionals at ASAE’s NextGen Association Summit in Columbus, Ohio, from September 21 to 23, 2022.

NextGen Scholars represent future industry leaders, the most innovative and disruptive young professionals under 35 who continuously seek ways to make an impact within the association community.

At the event, the group addressed many critical issues facing associations today and how this will affect the future, including responding to individual and organizational change. They also explored how associations can leverage change through the power of community.

Over the course of an immersive three-day experience, Bruno and her colleagues discussed emerging trends and key themes that resonate with young professionals in the association community.


Organizational leaders must acknowledge the rapidly changing landscape in which associations operate and identify the external forces that could impact future success. The NextGen Association Summit focused on disrupters of change and emphasized the importance of establishing a culture of foresight within associations. This involves analyzing trends and equipping staff with the necessary tools to respond and adapt to change. Examples of disrupters include politics, demographics, economic conditions, workforce, and data and technology. Identifying and understanding these drivers of change is crucial for effective leadership within the association.

During the Summit, Bruno shared how SMG already takes an anticipatory approach to foresight thinking by exploring the ASAE Foresight Works program. SMG encourages candid and collaborative discussion among association executives and professionals at all levels to manage industry disrupters and prepare for change.

For instance, SMG’s Think Tank Groups foster a collaborative environment to explore ideas and enrich the dialogue about aspects impacting daily life. Through this initiative, SMG aims to transition from a linear mindset to a predictive one, enabling rapid movement toward exponential change. While incremental change focuses on what to change in the future, exponential change delves into industry change that an organization can capitalize on. With this mindset, SMG recognizes the value of foresight and proactively plans for the future.


NextGen Scholars placed a strong emphasis on the topic of technological advancements. Technology evolves rapidly, and associations must be ahead of the curve with membership management and marketing tools to reach members. It is crucial for an association to update its marketing strategy regularly based on trends in the industry, diversity of members, and technological developments.

“One of the key takeaways from this experience was a better understanding of how technology is driving the emergence of exponential growth curves, which requires predictive and anticipatory thinking,” stated Stephanie Bruno, CAE, Account Executive at SMG. “To thrive in this new, fast-paced, and ambiguous environment, leaders must be resilient, collaborative, and strategic in their approach to new opportunities and challenges.”

Associations can consider hiring new staff or repurposing current roles to keep up with changes. Another practical approach is to run coordinated campaigns that use member data to create personalized messages based on interests, location, and past event history. Social media marketing is a great starting point, but it is important to avoid a repetitive experience across all channels. Instead, associations can utilize their marketing platform to coordinate messages that build upon each other, creating a cohesive strategy that moves members through the sales funnel and encourages conversions. For example, a coordinated campaign might start with a social media post promoting an upcoming event, followed by tailored emails to members who engage with the post, highlighting the event and providing detailed instructions on how and when to sign up. Another opportunity is investing in a marketing platform with automation capabilities, such as alerts and reminders, easy report compiling, and immediate email follow-up. This can free up more time for the team to focus on other essential tasks.

With strategic planning and keen attention, associations can harness the power of ever-changing technology to enhance their operations, programs, and activities. This will enable associations to serve their members better and successfully attain their goals and objectives.


The concept of resiliency has gained prominence in associations due to the challenges that life often presents. Unfortunately, today’s employees seem to lack the same level of resilience as previous generations, with many opting to leave their jobs after only one or two years rather than remaining with a company. This could be due to burnout among employees and members.

Hence, it is critical to prioritize empathy and resilience by finding ways to support the emotional, mental, and physical well-being of everyone involved in the association. Strengthening the organizational culture among staff and members can create a solid support system in times of disruption. In addition, implementing responsive support mechanisms, reskilling programs, and advocacy strategies can also aid in promoting resilience.

“At the summit, we examined resiliency and risk management strategy,” Bruno said. “It is important to recognize the fear of being wrong and encourage taking risks in a disruptive environment that could inevitably lead to innovation.”

By taking this action, your organization will be better equipped to thrive, even in difficult situations, and enhance its overall resilience.


Summit participants have emphasized that associations must possess flexibility, foresight, and empathy in a world reshaped by COVID-19. Evaluating the significance of your organizational model, necessary protocols, and productivity standards is vital. Don’t be afraid to shift away from traditional practices, embrace new perspectives, and actively seek out fresh tactics that align with the future goals of your staff and members.

Transparency in salary expectations and flexibility in work-life harmony are two key factors that resonate with people seeking employment in today’s workforce.

Another takeaway Bruno had during the program was reframing the concept of work-life balance to work-life harmony and understanding how to harmoniously incorporate both work and life while achieving professional and personal goals in each.

Achieving work-life harmony means seamlessly integrating work and personal life, resulting in overall happiness at home and in the workplace. Adopting flexible working arrangements can positively impact employee morale, resulting in higher job satisfaction and reduced fatigue and stress that might otherwise lead to decreased productivity. Recognizing employees’ contributions, accommodating their needs, and acknowledging their impact on the company’s success can boost enthusiasm, particularly in today’s work environment experiencing the effects of the “Great Resignation.”

Many organizations, including associations, are adapting their recruitment procedures to accommodate the trend for a more flexible work environment. By being open to this change, associations can attract prospective employees for years to come.

SMG is an excellent example of this, as the organization can retain and recruit talent nationwide with its hybrid model. Constantly finding new ways to collaborate and support staff and clients, SMG even offers hub and spoke meetings from a central meeting location, with remote participants able to join from different areas, a necessity when prioritizing engagement and belonging with a hybrid workforce.

About NextGen Association Summit

The NextGen Association Summit aims to invest in the community’s emerging leaders. The exclusive program provides 25 aspiring leaders an opportunity to enhance their professional skills and gain the necessary tools, visibility, and network to impact the broader association community.

To qualify for the program, candidates must be ASAE members who work full-time for an association or association management company (AMC), are aged 35 or younger, have at least three years of professional experience, aspire to executive leadership in the association community, have the support of their current employer, and provide a letter of recommendation.

“This was the best experience I’ve ever had, and I’m so thankful to have been accepted into the program,” Bruno added. “NextGen Scholars is such a supportive community; we even have quarterly catch-up Zoom meetings.”

ASAE only accepts a select few candidates each year. Bruno was fortunate to be one of them, having submitted an essay on remote leadership and professional cultures prioritizing work-life harmony, a central component to ensure that she has meaningful engagement with her family and professional life.

To learn more about the NextGen Association Summit, visit https://www.asaecenter.org/programs/leadership-development/next-gen-association-summit.

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