The Age of Continuous Connection

The Age of Continuous Connection | MCI United States | EN

I recently applied for a visa to go to Brazil for a short work trip. I dutifully submitted my information, struggled to find both an appropriately blank wall and include enough of my shoulders to “count” in the selfie I needed to upload, paid my fee and… I am waiting.

We wait for things a lot, but I realize we are in a new age of waiting. When I was young, I remember begging for the approximately 15 stamps I needed to affix to my York’s envelope so I could send my film away to be developed. By the time the photos were returned, I would often forget I had sent it off. Now when I order a pizza or sushi, I immediately get a little tracking map and helpful push notifications to my phone (“Your order is being prepared!” “Your driver is on his way!”). I recently signed up for FedEx notifications (I wanted to track two lilac bushes) and now I get alerts about ALL FedEx shipments arriving at my house. I often complain about too much information, but this visa-waiting made me realize how dependent we have become on real time updates about everything.

So what does my trip to São Paulo and my order of lilacs have to do with associations? A lot. For decades I have noted that improved design, user experience, and online customer service have raised a de facto bar for associations. Although one may logically understand that, for example, the Gap and the Psychiatric Rehabilitation Association have different resources they can allocate for transactions and service, our expectations continue to increase around all of these aspects.

This has led to things such as far more frequent website refreshes and redesigns than we saw 10-15 years ago. It also means that, whereas we used to judge association management systems (AMS) largely by how they held and reported member data for internal purposes, they now are measured by the comprehensive online customer experience.

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A recent article in the Harvard Business Review, The Age of Continuous Connection”, really resonated with me around missed opportunities we may have with association members. The article outlines the human behaviors that allow organizations to connect with their stakeholders, with the underlying principle being that we all mostly “Buy What We Have.” Most of the stuff we purchase, from travel to toner cartridges, is largely driven by either past experiences or purchases. When you have a handle on this (and most associations have excellent data on past purchases), you can:

  • Respond to Desire: Basically, provide what people want as quickly as possible. My ability to buy a book on my Kindle while I am waiting for the plane door to close is a great example of this opportunity via Amazon. I read a lot of books, don’t mind paying for them, and usually realize I need reading material when I am stuck on the tarmac for two hours. The ability to send a member the digital or streamed version of what they need, immediately, is increasingly an expectation.
  • Curated Offering: This happens in the magical time when people realize they have a need but aren’t yet decided on how to solve it. Personalized recommendations are critical here; this is in part why we emphasize the importance of board members and volunteers touting their participation and experience with an association via LinkedIn, testimonials, etc.
  • Coach Behavior: This is my new favorite term for essentially being a know-it-all nudge. If we know, for instance, that someone’s certification is coming up for renewal, we gently and continuously remind them that the clock is ticking. This can be a challenge for a lot of for-profit entities because it means customers must share a lot of data – but associations have an edge here due to our insight into everything such as years in the position, promotions, and CE credits consumed. (When I read this, I immediately thought of the now-defunct Babies ‘R Us flyers arriving at my house JUST in time for some critical milestones – solid food, developmental toys, etc.)

The article concludes by noting that we are moving firmly into the zone of automatic execution – if we are increasingly comfortable subscribing and saving, what could this mean for membership renewals or annual campaign contributions? In many ways, the investments that associations and nonprofits will need to make to serve these new needs will also yield more predictable revenue streams and higher rates of renewal, which feels like a win-win.

It is interesting to consider how predictable our behavior is and what this means for risk taking. As the article says, “the costs of mistakes are small.” I look forward to working with a number of our client partners on how we can apply this thinking to their organizations.

That is, as soon as I am back from Brazil – my visa finally arrived yesterday.

Erin Fuller is the president of association solutions for MCI USA, and her need for immediate gratification makes her the world’s most loyal Amazon Prime customer.


Erin Fuller

Erin Fuller
Erin Fuller

Erin Fuller leads MCI USA’s team who focus on nonprofit management and consulting, and assesses business development and partnership opportunities that advance MCI’s mission and model while supporting a culture of creating thoughtful growth and strong career pathways.

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