Once upon a time, I worked in the professional association world as a membership development professional. While I may no longer be working in nonprofits or this particular field, I do continue to promote the value of joining and participating in a shared community of professional practice. As Barbara Safani mentioned a couple of days ago at the Career Hub blog…if you’re looking to jumpstart your professional goals this year, consider finding a professional association.
There’s a professional association for you…no matter what you do.
Some professions have easily defined associations (think accountants (AICPA),
lawyers doctors (AMA), and realtors (NAR)). But if you think your profession doesn’t have an associated professional community, think again. By some estimates, there are around 70,000 professional societies, trade associations, and chambers of commerce in the United States alone. To find an association devoted to your profession, visit the American Society for Association Executives and search their Gateway to Associations. I guarantee you’ll find something (and if you don’t, contact me and I’ll help you locate one).
Don’t be afraid to think creatively about joining an association. There are some exceptional niche associations that address specialty areas within professions. And if you’re considering making a career leap, think about taking a small step in that direction by joining an association for that particular career. Associations have member resources such as listserves, newsletters, and networks which are great ways to learn about the possibilities and challenges facing you as you think about that potential new career choice.
So, you joined an association…now what?
Once you find and join an association, immediately sit down and sketch out what you want to achieve through your membership. Your membership is an investment in your professional future…take responsibility for nurturing that investment. One of the most frequent mistakes made by new members is not fully thinking about how they want to get the most from their membership. While most associations have a new member orientation program, only you know where you want to go. If growing your network is important, volunteer for a conference or join a committee. If building your prestige is important, write an article or submit a conference presentation proposal. The return on your investment will ultimately be what you’re willing to put into your membership experience.
Play around…see what works for you…then do it.
Take advantage of everything you can. Read the association’s publications, research their website, and contact the association’s staff to learn all you can about the features of membership. You might just find that there’s a little publicized member feature that fits your needs or discover a new feature in the works that will benefit your career. Don’t make the mistake of joining and then forgetting your membership. This isn’t an investment that delivers a return if ignored…you have to actively manage it and take action to see results.
Finally, care for your association staff…and they’ll care for you.
This is my shameless plug for all the hard working folks who make association management their careers. Just like others in the nonprofit world, they usually don’t do it for money, they do it for love. They love their members and love what their members do and they love being able to have an impact on their members’ industry. When you find them doing great things, tell them. If you find ways to improve the association, tell them. Foster a caring relationship with the staff and they’ll be far more likely to think about you when seeking a writer, speaker, or volunteer.
I’d love to hear about your experiences with professional associations. Have they been beneficial to your career?