National associations, a growing industry in this area, face rocky times, the head of the American Society of Association Executives said yesterday.

The biggest problem facing trade and special interest associations is money, said James P. Low. Associations also face a tougher time explaining to their members why associations are necessary, he said.

Low's assessment came at a gathering of representatives of the types of associations that have proliferated in this area during the past 10 years, including such organizations as the National Rifle Association, the National 4-H Association, the National School Boards Association and the American Wool Council. Low was named "association executive of the year."

"We're going to have less money because we haven't got the capability to get the money fast enough to do the job," Low said. Association executives should look hard at their dues schedule to see whether they provide as much as they might, he said. He also predicted harder negotiations with hotels over conventions and meetings. "We've reached the point where we can't finance the meetings we need," he said.

Low told the group there is more bad news "in the attitude of our members to us."

"Frankly they don't know us," he said. "We have not sold corporate America on the vitality and the need for associations."

Over the past five years, associations have moved to the Washington area at the rate of one per week, said Frank Martineau, president of a management consulting firm that publishes a weekly newsletter for associations. mThe rate has slowed, he said, but individual assocations are getting stronger. t