Barriers to Entrepreneurship in Associations

even if we go beyond the dictionary definition and look at entrepreneurship as being broader than the pursuit of profit, associations seem to have more than our fair share of hurdles in thinking innovatively and breaking free of tradition. What are the barriers? And how have some associations broken these barriers, to truly add value — to their members and to society.

An entrepreneurial mindset does not come naturally to long-standing associations to which members have unquestioningly paid dues for years. Often, it takes a crisis — loss of membership, market upheavals, dwindling revenues — or a visionary leader who questions the status quo — to shake things up.


A group of association executives has been having online conversations about the road to entrepreneurial thinking. I had the privilege of pulling some of us together recently for a live exchange on this topic. We christened ourselves ACE — Associations Catalyzing Entrepreneurship — and devoted our first meeting to identifying the barriers to entrepreneurial thinking.

As we shared experiences and affirmed the need to think like businesses, five key questions emerged:

  • Do we have a BHAG and foresight?

  • Are we really listening to our members?

  • Do we try to do too much?

  • Do we have the right people on the bus?

  • Are we leveraging technology and data?