Post Covid-19 Trade Association Strategic Imperative: Build Core Strengths Beyond Federal-level Advocacy, Representation, and Legislation

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A groundbreaking survey among 117 trade association executives surfaces new and significant opportunities for Trade Associations in a Post Covid-19 world. Actionable data about how organizations can build their strategic imperative and position for long term growth and success is uncovered through a collaborative survey conducted by Arlington, Virginia based Potomac Core – Association Consulting and Edge Research. It showed the need for trade associations to be nimble, a member resource, industry promoter, and collaborator with stakeholders within each industry.

Trade Association CEOs perceive Federal-level advocacy, representation, and legislation as a top priority to industry professionals and they rate their associations highly on this key metric. Anyone familiar with trade associations should have expected that result.  At the same time, they see opportunities for industry professionals and industry growth that trade associations can build upon:

  • Serving as a top resource for information, updates, and trend reports.
  • Flexibility/nimbleness to meet new challenges.
  • Raising public awareness/Improving public perceptions of the industry.
  • Expertise on key issue areas and market trends.
  • Regularly engaging with/taking the pulse of members to understand & center their needs.

As one participating CEO noted “The disruptive nature of the pandemic forces a redefinition of member and industry value. Moving forward, organizations have opportunities to improve alignment with emerging member and industry expectations. Essentially, this research opens the door to a new strategic imperative for trade associations and CEOs.”

CEOs took action to address or meet challenges brought on by Covid-19. Nearly nine in ten (88%) said they made changes, of those 31% said they made significant changes and 57% made some changes CEOs completing the survey provided insights into the actions taken on behalf of the association and the members they serve:

  • Significant Changes (31%)– Very proactive association, including Listening closely to members, adapting to a virtual environment, and making financial decisions to maintain the association’s financial viability.
  • Some Changes (57%) – More deliberative changes including Thinking through new approaches to member engagement and aligning staff resources around the future.
  • Not too much Change (12%)- Staying the course and not seeing much impact from Covid-19.

When it comes to the trade association’s work environment today, CEO’s report that 69% of staff are working from home, 26% have some staff working at home, and 4% with all or most staff working in the office.

At the other side of Covid -19. more than one year into the pandemic, and taking into account financial conditions and market factors, Trade Association CEOs describe better market conditions for the Industry.

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(51% better) they represent than for their own Association’s situation (34% better). However, looking ahead five years, CEOs are optimistic for their Industry (76% more successful) and for the Associations they lead (83% more successful).

The research study also identified non Covid – 19 trends impacting Associations during the past year. CEOs offered their perspectives in four key areas:

  • Technology/Communication – Zoom, video, and social media enabled higher levels of senior level engagement at companies
  • New Administration and Congress – Change from republican to democrat control drove higher investment in government and regulatory affairs activities.
  • M&A/Industry Consolidation – The trend continues, it presents greater challenges on revenue models, in some cases drives organizations to provide more international resources, and results in corporate travel budget cuts.
  • Social Issues/DEI – Trade associations report different responses with one discontinuing public policy and reallocating funds to diversity and another intensifying the association’s focus on DEI and how to address racial inequities in society.
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Jon Kulok

 “Thanks to the impressive vigilance, determination, and guidance of our Strategic Guidance Lab CEOs. We’ve been surfacing and working through these issues for the past year notes Jon Kulok, Principal at Edge Research. Some of the issues identified through the SGL were validated in our research, especially as CEOs look ahead and identify the capabilities needed to build or transform the trade association of the future”:

  • Flexibility – Many acknowledge the need to better anticipate industry changes and have the capacity to move more quickly to adapt to challenges and opportunities.
  • New Revenue Streams – Revenue diversification to help organizations steer away from large conference revenue dependence.
  • Better Education Offerings – Offering a wider variety of training and education resources to support members and industry segments increase the skills of the workforce.
  • Understanding Member Needs – Utilizing research to better understand evolving priorities and have the ability to focus on member roi.
trade association

Dan Varroney

Potomac Core President, Dan Varroney notes “Through this research and other client research, we’re learning how essential it is for organizations to build beyond their robust advocacy foundation. These results reflect a new call to action for trade association CEOs. It’s about delivering value plus offerings  helping members deal with a rapid pace of change and uncertainty.”

Survey Methodology 

Interviews were conducted among 10 Trade Association CEO members of the Strategic Guidance Lab.

The online survey conducted April 7 to April 30, 2021, among C-level Executives leading professional, trade, and industry associations has 117 completing the survey: 115 CEO/President and 2 Other C-level, e.g., CMO, CFO, & COO.

About Potomac Core – Association Consulting

Potomac Core’s end-to-end process develops market research, strategic assessments, Go-to-Market plans, and roadmaps that transform organizations into essential investments. We help implement new strategies that align the right strategic initiatives to reach the right audience, identify the right growth opportunities, and energize industry and member engagement. For more information, please visit

About Edge Research

Working in partnership with you, we’ll get to know your world and your specific objectives, and then develop a tailored research approach. We provide partner-level attention throughout the process and deliver reports that tell a clear, actionable story and embolden your organization to make data-driven business decisions. We help clients of all sizes uncover the insights needed to make their products and programs successful. For more information, please visit

About the Strategic Guidance Lab

Launched at the start of the global pandemic (April 2020), the SGL, engages 47 CEO members through monthly pulse surveys to remain current in new and emerging trends, brown bag lunch zoom calls, and a private Slack Channel. Daniel A. Varroney serves as Moderator, and is assisted by Jon Kulok, Principal of Edge Research in Arlington, Virginia, and  Dr. David Rehr, Research & Advocacy Consultant and Professor & Director of the Center for Business Civic Engagement at Schar School of Policy and Government, George Mason University in Arlington, Virginia.

Request Copy of the Survey Research Report

Copies of the report are available to Trade Association Executives. Please send your request to Make sure to include your name, organizational email address, name of the organization, and phone contact information.