top of page
  • Writer's pictureESAE

Tips to future-proof a Large Trade Association

Updated: Nov 30, 2020

Forty-five ESAE members working in groups addressed the challenges of four fictional but representative association case studies at ESAE's October 2020 workshop "From short-term Recovery to long-term Sustainability". We gathered the main ideas and tips for Organisations planning to pivot in order to adapt to our age of disruption and we are happy to share them with our Association Community.

CASE STUDY: Large European/international trade association in renewable energy

Membership: Associations, companies, and individuals - 24 countries in the European Region

Employees: 14 people on their payroll (incl. CEO, office manager, 4 in policy, 2 in events, 1 in community management, 2 in communications and 3 in project management)

Budget / Revenue Streams: €5M - 25% membership fees, 40% Conferences and Trade expo, 5 % Training, 30% EU funded projects

Main Activity: Conference/Expo, Advocacy, Campaigns, Research Project

Case Study Scenario

Our Association's 2019 strategic plan had already foreseen the need for digital transformation and during the pandemic managed to respond to the unprecedented circumstances. Their signature international event took place in February 2020 and was therefore not affected by travel restrictions. The Board is enthusiastic about the performance of the Association and so are the members. Their optimism is reinforced by the EU Green Deal, Recovery packages. But the Board is also feeling the pressure to seize the moment and further grow the association.

On the one hand, their current discussion is focused on the 2021 conference and trade expo and on the other hand, on the business model of their digital training offer. Some demand a more aggressive approach such as expanding to more countries world-wide and acquiring associations with a niche position in the renewable energy sector.

ESAE Community Tips

The Association needs to focus on adapting and optimising their delivery of products, services and events and enhancing its capacity (resources and skills) to foster growth in the future. It could use scenario modeling to identify plausible scenarios and their potential impact on their existing key revenue streams.

While the Asssociation was fortunate enough not to face some of the main challenges that others had to cope with, the main event in 2021 will not be taking place under the same format, therefore the Board will have to review their strategies if they wish to remain successful.

The focus needs to remain on protecting their primary source of revenue whilst seeking ways to enhance their main event and digital offerings in order to meet their long-term aspirations of global growth. The fact that the annual conference makes up for 40% of the Association’s income makes it crucial to put in place new financial and sponsorship models for a suggested hybrid format.

Appealing to new audiences online requires a different approach, and the same applies to the financial strategy - “They cannot expect to address a new audience using an old business model and product offering". The Board might need to consider whether they will need to seek external expertise to help in the delivery of digital and hybrid events. They could run a hybrid meeting in 2021 with live hubs in different regions around the world in order to expand globally in an engaging manner.

Investing in and capitalising on digital education is a good way to go but a revenue model should be put in place first. It is crucial to contemplate ways to boost its membership offering through an enhanced digital training offering attached to a trademarked certification programme.


Many thanks to Chloe Menhinick and Angela Guillemet for moderating this discussion. ESAE members receive a full report with the advise of thought leaders and the recording of the session. Stay tuned for the rest of the case studies and join ESAE to be part of the dialogue!


bottom of page