Market to Market: A Snapshot Of The Association Market

Where there’s an interest, there’s a dedicated association or professional society for it. Or, at least it seems that way. There are more than 180,000 professional associations in the United States alone, according to Virtual, an organization that works with associations and professional societies.

Whether professionals work in architecture or aviation, health care or horticulture, education or engineering, they can gain access to support and resources from an association or professional society specific to their field.

There’s nothing quite like collaborating with a consortium of like-minded professionals to take your career to new heights. Beyond networking, members of associations and professional societies enjoy many perks through membership, including continuing education, job boards, mentoring opportunities and public policy influence. Members can also keep up with the latest industry trends and research through journals, newsletters and publications like this one. 

With more professionals working remotely, associations play an even greater role in professional development. Nearly one in five employees around the world work remotely full time, according to research from Owl Labs, and more than half (52 percent) work from home at least once a week. While these workers enjoy flexibility, they miss out on the engagement that comes with being in an office environment.

Associations can fill this gap by allowing members to connect with others doing similar work. From large-scale conferences to local, informal gatherings, associations and professional societies give members a chance to collaborate, network and avoid some of the pitfalls that sometimes come with working in isolation. Associations also enhance the lives of members and employees alike through important safety and security initiatives, volunteerism and disaster relief efforts.

While trade associations typically attract companies as members, professional associations and societies often recruit individuals. Both provide their members with an important competitive edge. By joining an industry’s professional organization, members gain the tools they need to become better at their jobs and take active leadership roles within their industry.

Promotional products allow associations and professional societies to engage members at every step of their journey, from the first interaction through their years (and years) of membership. From awareness and recruitment to engagement and retention, promotional products can help inspire professionals to join the club—and stay.

Trade and professional associations, along with fraternal and religious societies and similar organizations, rose from ninth place to sixth place in 2018 in a ranking of the top industries buying promotional products. In the most recent data from PPAI’s Annual Sales Volume Study, distributor sales in the nonprofit category generated 4.6 percent, or $1.13 billion, of the industry’s $24.7 billion in 2018.


Over the past five years, associations have continued to grow in terms of membership, revenue and staff. More than half (53 percent) of associations have experienced a surge in membership, with the median increase hovering around 13 percent, according to the 2018 Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report conducted by Marketing General Incorporated.

Most associations (62 percent) have also enjoyed a revenue boost, with a median increase of around 15 percent. When it comes to employees, nearly half of all associations (47 percent) have increased their staff size by a median of 15 percent.

These numbers show that professionals in all fields continue to find value in joining associations and professional societies. Professional organizations as a whole topped $25 billion in revenue in 2018, according to an industry market research report from IBISWorld.

Some of the biggest drivers of growth in this market segment include growing employment numbers, which increases the potential pool of members, and higher profit margins for companies, making them more likely to allocate a portion of their budget for employees’ professional development.

While growing numbers reveal that companies and individuals continue to see relevance and value in membership, associations and professional societies still face challenges. Most organizations are seeing the average age of their membership increase, indicating a need to connect with a new generation of professionals while still serving more experienced members.

Many associations and professional societies also grapple with technology advances, such as artificial intelligence (AI) and blockchain, which have the potential to transform member dynamics and disrupt entire industries.


Trade associations – These organizations are established by
specific industries with the sole purpose of allowing businesses
in the same industry to connect with and benefit from each other.


Philanthropic organizations – These groups, such as the American
Heart Association, give or receive support from money allocated for
humanitarian purposes.




Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) – These groups, such as
the YMCA, are neither a part of a government nor a for-profit business.
Instead, they’re usually set up by citizens and may be funded by foundations,
businesses and governments.



Professional associations – These groups are established to further specific
professions and the interests of those who work in them.


Source: American Society of Association Executives


Mail-boxers – These members simply want access to information. They desire the benefit of staying generally informed about what’s going on.

Shapers – These members want to influence the association and the industry. They want the benefits of participating in strategy and policy decisions that impact their relevant world.

Intelligencia – These members want to be on the leading edge. The benefits they seek include intellectual stimulation, thoughtful leadership and advanced learning.

Networkers – These members like to spend time sharing their interests with others. They desire the benefits of community, new friends, conversation and business deals.

Source: American Society of Association Executives


  • Membership organizations employ more than 1.3 million people in the U.S. alone and generate a payroll of more than $55 billion.
  • Nonprofit organizations’ share of GDP is more than five percent.
  • Trade and professional membership associations generate $116 billion in combined revenue.
  • Nearly 63 million Americans volunteer through membership organizations.



Associations can boost membership and event attendance by bringing in new voices to generate fresh ideas, find new solutions and improve decision-making. Here’s how associations feel about diversity and inclusion:


of associations focus on diversity and
inclusion because they believe it is
“the right thing to do”

don’t have a formal diversity and inclusion

say they believe it makes “great business

don’t have an action plan to implement
diversity and inclusion initiatives



believe it is “helpful to our profitability” 


Source: Vetted Solutions


  • Of the 57 million adults in America who take formal work-related courses or training each year, 9.7 million (or 17 percent) receive that training from a professional association.
  • Associations account for more than 315,000 meetings held in the U.S. each year, with 59.5 million participants in attendance.
  • Most associations (88 percent) sponsor an annual meeting or exhibition, with a median attendance of 803 registrants.
  • More than half (52 percent) of associations report holding other regularly scheduled meetings on specific topics throughout the year.

Sources: IRS Data Book 2016; NAICS (North American Industry Classification System), U.S. Census Bureau


Source: American Society of Association Executives These stats are rounded estimates only and do not total 100 percent.


Use these free online resources to find professional and trade associations, and professional societies by location, size and other qualifiers.


The most common problems that associations are facing today include:

  1. Strengthening the value of membership and making it relevant to members
  2. Creating awareness for membership benefits and features
  3. Recruiting and engaging younger members
  4. Surviving outside forces, such as technology or societal shifts, that are disrupting industries and the associations that serve and support them
  5. Understanding members and what they want


Ideal for all kinds of events, the all-over dye-sub table cover fits a standard eight-foot table, covering the top and three sides. It’s washable, flame-resistant and easy to store and ship.

Beacon Promotions, Inc.  /  PPAI 113702  / 


Association members are ready to traverse a trade show with the KAPSTON™ Pierce Tote-Pack, a tote and backpack in one. Features include a side water bottle pocket, adjustable padded shoulder straps and a zippered main compartment with a padded laptop sleeve.

BIC Graphic NA  /  PPAI 114187   / 


The Spinner Key Chain with assorted beads makes a useful giveaway at association events. Choose from a colorful selection of beads to coordinate with a custom imprint.

The Allen Company  /  PPAI 113879  / 


Perfect for trade shows and outdoor events, the SPF 15 lip balm is made in the USA and is FDA-approved. Pick from a range of tempting flavors such as strawberry shortcake and passion fruit and print a custom message on the retractable dispenser.

Chocolate Inn/Taylor & Grant/Lanco   /   PPAI 111662  /


When association members are attending a conference or continuing education class, they can keep essentials handy in the Trapezoid tri-color junior notebook. This spiral-bound notebook features pockets for storing agendas and business cards, 80 lined pages and a twist-action ballpoint pen with a stylus.

Logomark, Inc.  /  PPAI 110898  /


Thank association volunteers or welcome new members to a professional society with the Glacier copper vacuum tumbler. Packaged in a premium gift box, this stainless steel tumbler makes a statement with bold angles and compact design.

Leed’s  /  PPAI 112361   /


A large financial trade association that was exhibiting at several conferences and holding professional development seminars wanted a promotional piece that attendees could use in the classes and easily carry. The product also needed to be well-made, contemporary and budget-friendly for a quantity of more than 50,000.

The group decided upon the Javalina Shimmer, a pen affordable enough for the organization to order twice the original amount. This allowed members to distribute the pens in the communities where they had public outreach programs.

The campaign was successful in spreading the message of good will in the underprivileged areas where their members ran financial institutions and offered affordable housing, while marketing free educational programs to community children and adults.

Source: Hub Pen



The decision to join an association or professional society is often linked to value. Professionals want to join organizations that provide useful connections or help them advance toward their goals. Distributors can help their association clients recruit and retain members by suggesting promotions and campaigns using promotional products to:

Highlight membership perks. Members want to know what they get with their membership dues. Don’t let benefits go undiscovered or unused; enlist promotional products to announce new offerings or shed light on current benefits.

Celebrate member achievements. Many associations highlight members’ successes and accomplishments through awards programs, such as the PPAI Awards and Recognition Program. Organizations can use promotional products to honor the industry’s stand-out professionals and inspire others to strive for excellence.  

Make events more memorable. From luncheons and trade shows to seminars and group dinners, associations and professional societies can amp up any event with promotional products that carry out the theme and provide useful reminders of a great membership experience. 


Audrey Sellers is a Dallas, Texas-area writer and former associate editor of PPB.

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