Jeff De Cagna

Executive Advisor

Foresight First LLC

Jeff De Cagna is executive advisor for Foresight First LLC, and respected contrarian thinker on the future of associating and associations.

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Associations Boards of Directors Governing Business Models Innovation Foresight Strategy Future of Associating Thinking and Acting Beyond Orthodoxy Non-Profit Organizations


Jeff De Cagna FRSA FASAE is executive advisor for Foresight First LLC, located in Reston, Virginia, and a respected contrarian thinker on the future of associating and associations.

Jeff is an author, speaker and advisor for associations and non-profit organizations across North America and around the world. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts (UK) and a Fellow of ASAE: The Center for Association Leadership. Jeff served on the ASAE Board of Directors from 2007-2010, serves as immediate past chair of ASAE’s Key Consultants Committee and as a member of the ASAE 2020 Centennial Task Force. He also served on the RedRover Board of Directors from 2011-2013, including terms as both board chair and vice chair during that time. Jeff recently was elected to serve on the Hugh O’Brian Youth (HOBY) Virginia Board of Directors.

A graduate of the Johns Hopkins and Harvard universities, Jeff has pursued executive education at the MIT Sloan School of Management, Oxford University and Harvard Business School. He holds the BoardSource Leadership Certificate for Nonprofit Board Chairs, and has completed Foresight Practitioner training at the Institute for the Future.


The Johns Hopkins University

Bachelor's Degree

Harvard Graduate School of Education

Master's Degree

Concentration in Learning and Teaching

MIT Sloan School of Management

Executive Certificate in Strategy and Innovation (executive education)

Oxford University Said School of Business

Oxford Scenarios Programme (executive education)

Harvard Business School

Governing for Non-Profit Excellence (executive education)


Leadership Certificate for Non-Profit Board Chairs

Institute for the Future

Foresight Practitioner Training




Specialization, Design Thinking and Innovation

University of Virginia Darden School of Business
July 2016 - present

What do you do when it is clear that your aging CEO is not physically/mentally able to handle the job (frail, poor memory, can't understand basic association concepts) but doesn't have any plans in the foreseeable future to resign?

I realize you can't go to the Board. If you approach him about shortcomings he is defensive and argumentative. The Board is not going to terminate (he is one of them). Is the only course of action for staff to leave?

6/8/2016 3:04:28 PM,
Jeff De Cagna replied:

This is an important and highly sensitive question to which I would like to offer a response. To be respectful of all concerned, however, I would prefer to share it directly with the person who posed the question. Please email me at jeff [at] principledinnovation [dot] com so we can figure out the best way to make that happen.

6/8/2016 3:03:29 PM,
Jeff De Cagna replied:

This is an intriguing question that should be investigated further. At the moment, however, I don’t have any data (anecdotal or otherwise) to offer a meaningful response.

6/8/2016 3:02:51 PM,
Jeff De Cagna replied:

The obvious case is when an association’s financial resource limitations make it impractical to maintain a standalone physical location and/or staff. The more interesting opportunity is when an association can develop a serious strategic advantage to its business model, through the cost savings created by multiple management, through the use of technology and through the application of the unique knowledge and expertise of the association management company.

6/8/2016 3:01:57 PM,
Jeff De Cagna replied:

This is a really interesting question! Since I don’t do predictions, let me reframe the question to offer an idea for a position that associations can create today to prepare for the future. I think associations would benefit enormously from the role of “chief foresight officer.” Through this role, associations would be able to build a deeper capacity for foresight at all levels of the their organizations. The focus on foresight would help manage risk while accelerating the pace of value creation through innovation. The chief foresight officer would work with the board on the duty of foresight and with the CEO and C-Suite peers to ensure they can better understand plausible futures for the association and the field it serves.

6/8/2016 2:22:29 PM,
Jeff De Cagna replied:

Yes, I will be presenting a full-day pre-conference workshop at #ASAE16 on “Building Your Association’s Capacity for Foresight,” on Saturday, August 13, 2016 from 8 am-4 pm. It is going to be an excellent session, and you will receive a certificate for your attendance. You can use promo code JEFF10 when you register to receive a discount.

You can watch a preview of the workshop at

Do Executive Directors generally feel that Associations are in the fight for their lives?

Hi Jeff:

Thanks for participating in this AMA session. Earlier this year I was involved in an email exchange with a long-standing association Executive Director that was considering an association branded ECN but decided to punt the decision to a later time. She cited the current economic climate and indicated: "We are simply not in a position to expand offerings that add cost. Associations continue to fight for their lives."

We have subsequently entered into royalty agreements with associations so that they don't incur any out-of-pocket expenses to launch an ECN under their banner and that seems to be going well. However, I was curious about the statement that "Associations continue to fight for their lives." Is that the general sentiment of EDs in the association industry? With so many innovative offerings and third party providers available to partner with associations, it seems that it could also be the best of times.  Thanks for your thoughts. 


6/8/2016 2:18:38 PM,
Jeff De Cagna replied:

Thanks for your question Brian. The story you share captures my attention for its bluntness and, quite honestly, the underlying fear it reveals. While I have not heard other association CEOs express themselves in exactly this way, it does not surprise me that some CEOs believe their organizations are in a struggle for survival. In some fields, that is almost certainly true.

 The powerful forces of societal transformation, including the disruptive impact of technology, will destroy some jobs, fundamentally alter the way many jobs are performed and create entirely new jobs. No matter how you look at it, this dynamic environment creates strategic challenges for associations for which many senior staff and voluntary decision-makers are not yet prepared.

6/8/2016 2:17:23 PM,
Jeff De Cagna replied:

The overwhelming majority of associations operate on “membership-centric business models,” which are business models that make the selling of memberships the centerpiece of value creation, delivery and capture. In these business models, the focus of organizational decision-making is always on membership sales and how to maximize them, and boards use membership metrics to evaluate the health of their organizations.

Among my concerns about membership-centric business models are 1) they focus almost entirely on optimizing one form of value, i.e., membership sales, to the exclusion of creating thicker forms of value that can help stakeholders solve their problems, meet their needs and achieve their outcomes, 2) they create unnecessary barriers to entry into meaningful value-based relationships with stakeholders for whom the membership relationship is not the right fit and 3) they typically require significant investments of human time, energy and attention for minimal return.

6/8/2016 2:15:42 PM,
Jeff De Cagna replied:

Dealing with orthodox beliefs is a great first step, and a second step is for boards to embrace what I call “the duty of foresight,” which is about making sense of the future on an intellectual level, making meaning around its implications for their organizations and making wise decisions to anticipate and adapt. When boards develop a consistent practice of foresight, the need for on-going innovation to drive new value creation becomes clear. 

Perhaps the most important type of innovation for associations to pursue is business model innovation. A business model is the rationale of how an organization creates, delivers and captures value, and business model stewardship is the most important expression of fiduciary responsibility for association boards. Through the work of business model innovation, boards and staff can put their stakeholders first by making new value creation their top priority.

Are association boards open to being challenged?

Are association boards open to being challenged? It would seem that your role as a contrarian wouldn't get you invited to many association executive management parties.

6/8/2016 2:13:59 PM,
Jeff De Cagna replied:

This response may come as a surprise, but in my experience, most boards are open to participating in processes through which they can challenge their own thinking, especially their orthodox beliefs. Orthodox beliefs are deep-seated assumptions about what their organizations are supposed to be and what they are supposed to do. Orthodox beliefs are the most insidious form of resistance to transformation because they are invisible, accepted as truth, and thus highly influential in the way associations conduct their business, often to their detriment.

When these conversations are conducted with care, most boards want to examine orthodox beliefs and understand how they may prevent their associations from thriving in the years ahead. The real challenge for association boards going forward is thinking and acting beyond orthodoxy. It is not enough for association boards to surface and maintain an awareness of orthodoxy. Boards must make a commitment to move their decision-making processes beyond orthodox beliefs to embrace new ways of thinking about the future.

What was your path to starting work with Associations?

What was your path to starting work with Associations? How long have you been advising association boards?

6/8/2016 2:10:57 PM,
Jeff De Cagna replied:

After working in a DC-based non-profit right out of college, I joined the meetings staff at Business & Professional Women USA (BPW/USA) in 1992. Less than a year later, I moved to the American Corporate Counsel Association (now the Association for Corporate Counsel). My work as an association staff person continued through 2001, when my last association job ended. I founded Principled Innovation LLC in February 2002, and I am now in my fifteenth year as an advisor to associations.