top of page
  • Renata Lerch

Associations Going Global: Common Oversights

Expanding any business globally is a big step that requires careful preparation. In order for the expansion to be successful, it is critically important to develop a thorough plan including objectives, market situation, entry strategy, financial and ROI analysis, goals and measurement. All this is very hard work, yet it comes with great opportunities for business growth, such as extending product life cycle, brand awareness, and the possibility of hedging your business by taking advantage of foreign exchange fluctuation and balancing revenue streams from different economies.

There are three critical pillars that help organizations promote and sustain growth: Branding & Positioning, Adequate Business & Community Models and Ecosystem Dimensions. In my experience with corporations and not-for-profit associations, although most organizations develop well organized market entry analysis and plans, few associations focus enough on these three important areas.

Branding and Positioning

The core of any organization is its brand, therefore closely monitoring its development is of great importance! There are key elements that require proactive management:

A powerful mission is a strong differentiator and can open a multitude of doors globally, for both business and community growth. It should concisely define what the organization is about and its impact in the world. Associations and not-for-profit organizations generally have powerful missions but don’t leverage them to their full extent, like many for-profit corporations would. Communicate it on all possible occasions, maximize your public relations efforts, partner up with organizations that complement and enhance your story!

Shift the organization’s focus from product to user experience. As thought leaders, most associations offer great products, but little focus is given to the experience, especially in foreign markets. Develop member and customer experiences that are locally relevant, dynamic and connected. Evaluate the user journey applying an ecosystem thinking rather than a siloed approach by product line. By understanding behaviors where user journeys typically start, stop and overlap, we’re able to visualize its non-linearity and prolong engagement through your line of products and services, resulting in a much stronger branding opportunity for the organization. Starbucks doesn’t have the best coffee, but the experience is remarkable!

Positioning nurtures brands. Do we want to be positioned as a local or a global voice? Do we have enough resources to compete with local associations? It may be wiser to partner with the locals instead. If you are positioned as the global voice, translations may not be a priority! Your training materials can feature global instead of local examples. Global or local, the right positioning aligns volunteers, product and membership teams to develop programs tailored to the right audience. This is focus!

Empower volunteers to convey the organization’s message. Associations often have several employees and an army of volunteers communicating their brands. By providing them with the right tools, the brand can be communicated at its best. Empower them to translate your brand and adjust it each local transaction! This can be as simple as templates, presentations, videos and other materials to support their interactions, while communicating the right branding message.

Business and Community Models

Business and community models define the frame of a global structure. Each country has cultural, social and economic differences. There are a variety of business models available to test and explore: partnerships, joint ventures, sales agents, contractors, regional and/or local representation, wholly-owned subsidiaries, just to name a few. Develop models that speak to each market, as no two countries are the same! The business and community framework should be connected to the market entry strategy. For example, depending on the market, you may want to focus on B2B initially, to then build the B2C gradually. In certain cultures, like Singapore, employees look for guidance from employers before engaging in professional associations. An organization’s framework should reflect its objectives and resources, as well as the market reality.

Community comes as an extension of the business model. Therefore, it’s important to support chapters not only on governance but also on strategy. Is the network growing geographically to the association’s full potential? Are the chapters connecting the dots between industry Subject Matter Experts and professionals? Are they providing real value to members? Support chapters with research data that reveals what future professionals want, preparing them for upcoming generations. While volunteers are community leaders, it’s the associations’ responsibility to support and nurture their frame of references for the future.

Ecosystem and its dimensions

Perhaps the most important point of all is developing a strong and systematic awareness of the organization’s ecosystem and its dimensions. I love drawing ecosystem maps because they allow executives to visualize the real interactions and dynamics among users, members, partners, volunteers and staff. Users’ needs, thoughts and experiences, before, during and after consuming products and services, can unveil several growth opportunities for organizations. Think through the dimensions of your current portfolio. Where are the opportunities for growth? Do you currently look across alternative industries? Can your current or new products eliminate problems across the users’ ecosystem? Would potential partnerships be able to serve current unfulfilled audiences? Can you build on current relationships, such as global accounts, from markets where you’re already successful? Many good opportunities may be revealed as a result, but remember that laser focus and strong financial analysis are key to strategy development. Fragmented tactics rarely add to something great!

Last but not least, technology is the backbone of your global structure, and is embedded in every aspect highlighted in this article, on both commercial and volunteer sides. In an era of Digital First, users are technology savvy, and expect nothing but the same from organizations that serve them.

About the author:

©Renata Lerch. All Rights Reserved. Renata Lerch is a global marketing and market development strategist with 20 years of experience in Fortune 500, advertising agencies and not-for-profit associations. Email:

This article was published by The BoardRoom


bottom of page