What is the future for membership organisations within our networked society?

If you’ve read any of my earlier posts about the future of fundraising and the importance of understanding how relationships between consumers and brands (both commercial and non-profit) are evolving, then you’ll already have come across the concept of the ‘networked society’. Where consumers are free, in ways unimagined by previous generations, to choose their own personalised networks of connections and influences in place of traditional sources of information and authority.

The internet is clearly a key facilitator of this, but the societal changes that underpin it actually began long before we had the World Wide Web – resulting from the new wealth of opportunities and expectations that came with the dissolution of traditional social constraints such as class, gender, and ethnicity; along with the richer world view that came with global media access, increased education levels, and widening opportunities for travel.

With these changes has come significantly increased consumer sophistication and, as a result, increasing mistrust and cynicism with regard to traditional marketing and fundraising communications. Consumers are increasingly looking for alternative sources of trusted information to help guide their purchasing and donating decisions – equipping themselves with personally tailored networks of friends, family, and other non-traditional information sources to help them navigate the baffling range of brand choices now available.

The overall impact is that, while most brands continue to try to engage with their target consumers in much the same ways as they have for well over a decade, our networked society consumers are increasingly refusing to play along.

Directly related to this, but addressing an area that I hadn’t previously thought that much about, I recently came across a very interesting ‘open source’ project initiated by folks from the RSA and NCVO Third Sector Foresight Unit – exploring how networked society consumers may engage with membership-based non-profits in the future.

Co-ordinated through a multi-user blog at commonspace.org.uk, anyone with an active interest in the subject can share their thinking and collaborate on the consideration of such questions as what the impact on membership subscriptions might be now that Web 2.0-savvy consumers can get information and share ideas without the need for a traditional mediating organisation.

It’s early days for the project yet, but well worth a look if you’re interested in this subject – and if you’re from a membership organisation of any kind then you should be!

For a quick primer, take a look at the post by Megan Griffith on the underlying trends driving the future of membership.

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