It can be hard to say goodbye. After all, your team invested significant effort into creating, implementing and maintaining that association program - and now there’s talk of sunsetting it.

The reality is every association program follows a natural lifecycle. They grow, mature, and yes, eventually decline.

For associations, the critical question is what to do with those programs in decline. When do you opt for updates and when do you bid it farewell?  Associations often choose the former says Jay Blankenship, SVP Revenue Strategy and Operations for MCI USA.

“I think we’re often guilty of putting on too many of those face lifts and paint jobs,” Blankenship says.

Updating your declining association program may be the best choice, but you can’t be sure unless you take a strategic approach to the decision making process. Analyzing the revenue, engagement, resources and variables of each program will help your association decide if an association program should stay…or, go.


Revenue is the lifeline of our associations and a good place to begin when analyzing an existing program. 

Brittany Shoul, SVP Revenue Strategy and Operations for MCI USA, says it’s important to look at overall sales, budget and hard costs of the program in question. 

“I’m always surprised when I talk to some associations that have various products and programs and they are expecting the sales team to generate revenue,” Shoul says. “There’s no budget, there’s no target, there’s no forecast, there’s no goal that people are going after. It’s just, ‘Well, we want more sales.’”

Additionally, Shoul says to consider the staff time required to build, manage, and maintain the program. If a program is performing well from a budget perspective but requires valuable staff hours to succeed, it may not be performing as well as you anticipated. 

"The revenue picture may not be as rosy as it seems once you dissect the various components,” Shoul says.


Among the areas of program resources that should be looked at closely are technology and marketing support.

Consider the technology resources your association has in place to support the program. Do you lack technology, are you using the wrong kind of technology, or are you over purchasing technology?

“Technology is a helper, it’s not the solution to the problem,” says Jay Blankenship of MCI USA. “It should help you get form point A to point B, but it’s not the solution piece.“

When it comes to marketing and communications support, Blankenship says the marketing and communications team is an important resource to consider. Look at the type of communications plan the product is utilizing beyond the initial product launch.

"You need a Marcom resource plan and strategy to support all of your products and programs, regardless of where they are in their life cycle,” Blankenship says.


Associations are tasked with engaging two distinct audiences: members and partners. Shoul says understanding how a program or product engages both of those audiences is the key to revenue success.

“Take into account the needs of both of those audiences, analyze engagement and put that together to build a long-term successful product and program strategy.”

In order to do this, it is critical for associations to collect engagement data. This can come from member data, surveys, feedback, and sponsors. Tangible metrics like registration data from conferences, lead generation data and website analytics play a crucial role.

One caveat according to Shoul: revenue isn’t always the most important outcome when analyzing this engagement piece. Sometimes a program might not generate substantial revenue but aligns with your mission and resonates with members - and that’s okay. 


The final area to consider is something all associations understand: variables. Market trends can have a profound impact on your program's viability, both positively and negatively. 

For instance, Shoul says a client experienced significant revenue increases during the pandemic due to its role within the healthcare industry. That is an important variable to consider when analyzing the product's future performance.

Deciding the fate of any association program involves a comprehensive analysis of revenue, resources, engagement and variables. It's about finding the right balance between financial sustainability, resource allocation, community building and adaptability to market dynamics. 

One final tip: If a farewell party is in the best interest of the program and the association, communicate the decision to your members and stakeholders.

Watch the Virtual Workshop

For more on the product lifecycle and how your association can analyze programs and products, watch the full virtual workshop.