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Tips to future-proof a small Professional Society

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: Small professional society based in Brussels with European scope

Membership: Individuals/ 85% Belgium (Brussels) – 15% other European Countries

Employees: 1 full-time

Revenue Streams: €80K/60 % Membership – 40% Sponsorships

Main activity: Seminars and networking events

Case Study Scenario:

During the last two years, the Association has managed to rejuvenate and almost triple its budget with a significant increase in both membership and sponsorship, creating a descent reserve. During the pandemic, the Association reacted quickly, digitizing its offer and successfully addressing members’ needs. Its successful response to the crisis raised the Association’s significance in the respective markets and re-positioned it against direct competition.

Nonetheless, the evolving competition in e-learning and its rapid growth are challenging the current business and governance model. The Board is considering investing 30,000 euros in new technologies and projects to diversify the offering of association.

ESAE community tips

Where should the 30,000 euros be invested? What kind of project could be implemented?

The Association should focus on and thoroughly plan its next steps instead of diluting its value proposition and stretching itself too thin, especially considering the one-person Secretariat. A wise next move would be to make key collaborations and partnerships to increase its outreach and market share.

The Association should maintain a niche attitude and leverage its current position in order to become global-leading. The Association must focus on making good use of the data it already has, while making improvements as far as digitalization is concerned (e.g., an online library for members).

The shift to a virtual format, and the process of adapting technology to the new strategy, needs to go hand in hand with retraining the personnel and employing new skills and resources. Volunteer work from the Board and members is an essential element for growth, as a one-person Secretariat is too fragile and has a lot of weight to bear, especially when the nature of the work is constantly changing.

A new governance structure is necessary to foster quick decision-making, flexibility, and good communication.


Many thanks to Ioannis Pallas 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!


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