Professional Associations Blue Paper

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Putting Them to
  Work For You

The lowdown
Professional associations have existed in varying forms for centuries—two of
the oldest and most well-known in the United States are the American Dental
Association, founded in 1859 1, and the American Bar Association, founded
in 1878 2.

Today, there are hundreds of local, national and international professional
associations serving professionals within varying industries. These associations
exist, in part, because of the benefits they provide to members. If you are
seeking to expand your professional and personal networks, grow your skill set
or knowledge base, or become accredited within your industry, membership in a
professional association should not be overlooked.

Dick Knapinski, public affairs director for the Experimental Aircraft Association
(EAA), a professional and enthusiast association for those in the aviation industry,
says that what’s true of EAA is often true of most professional associations,
“Organizations serve as the catalyst that allows members a way to find
information and to share experiences.” 3

He adds, “Just to know that there is someone else out there with shared interests,
experiences, questions … that’s a huge benefit to members.”

There are many other benefits—both to individuals and businesses—to becoming
a member of a professional organization, including:

         1.       N
                  An immediate benefit of membership in most professional
                  associations is the opportunity to grow personal and
                  professional networks or your business’s client base.
                  In-person events and online interactive forums create
                  ideal situations to be introduced to and interact with
                  like-minded industry professionals or businesses. The
                  connections made can lead to exciting conversations that share
                  ideas, strategies, tactics and trends. What’s more, these connections
                  often lead to advantageous business relationships, mentorships,
                  friendships and future career opportunities.

1 “About the ADA.” American Dental Association. American Dental Association. Web. 19 Aug. 2009.
2 “History of the American Bar Association.” American Bar Association. American Bar Association. Web. 19 Aug.
  2009. <>.
3 Knapinski, Dick. “Professional Association Interview.” Telephone interview. 31 Aug. 2009.

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2.   Professionalcertification
     Many professional associations offer training and certification within
     their industries. Members can receive varying levels of support and
     preparation leading up to certification and, once certified, members
     may be regarded as proven and qualified experts in the field. For
     example, the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), a professional
     association for public relations professionals, offers classes and
     accreditation in public relations—called an APR. To become accredited,
     members have to prove competency in public relations and knowledge
     of PRSA’s code of ethics by taking a difficult exam. Some public relations
     agencies require employees to have this accreditation or are willing to
     pay a higher salary to an employee with such credentials.

3.   Expansionanddevelopmentofleadershipskills
     An active member of a professional association will likely serve on
     volunteer committees and have the opportunity to assume a leadership
     position throughout membership. Working in this collaborative and
     hierarchical environment provides a fulfilling venue to exercise and
     perfect leadership abilities and styles that can be applied to other
     aspects of current careers and future aspirations.

4.    iscountsonservices,products,conferencesandprofessional
     Instant gratification for professional association membership
     comes in the form of discounts. Associations often reduce or
     waive fees to professional development events and annual
     association (or sponsored industry-related) conferences and
     many offer discounts from anything from association swag
     to industry software licenses to life insurance. Members of
     associations also sometimes offer their services at
     discounted rates to other association members. Sometimes
     these discounts alone return the investment of
     professional association membership fees.

5.   AccesstoassociationWebsites,joblistings,forumsandpublications
     Often times the best place to find industry information and job listings
     is through resources offered by professional associations exclusively
     to members. These resources are by the experts, for the experts.
     Additionally, members have the opportunity to submit their own work
     for publication or posting.

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Broadly speaking, most professional associations exist to help members succeed in
their industry or profession. Amy M. Risseeuw, an attorney with Peterson, Berk & Cross,
S.C., believes that benefits like seminars, publications and knowledgeable peers, make
membership in the Wisconsin State Bar Association worthwhile. “It makes me a better
attorney. And that helps my firm.” 4

Like many things in life, you get what you give. These benefits can only truly work for you
if you put them to work. Continue reading to learn some great tips, candid insight and
useful resources to make it happen.

For the individual:
Find a professional association that’s right for you
Professional associations serve many purposes and encompass many industries and niches
within industries. Before choosing a professional association, it’s necessary to determine
what exactly it is you are seeking from a membership and then find an association that will
help achieve these goals.

Word-of-mouth referrals from colleagues and mentors or conducting basic internet
searches are good places to begin your research. A few popular professional associations
for marketing and communications professional are:

         Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA)
         Public Relations Society of America (PRSA)
         International Association of Business Communicators (IABC)
         American Marketing Association (AMA)
         American Advertising Federation (AAF)

Additionally, quite a few local and non-industry specific associations exist as well, and
should not be discounted from your search. Examples of these include, Junior Leagues,
Toastmasters or a local rotary club. Often times your local chamber of commerce may host
or sponsor professional associations or be able to recommend other local associations.

As you research various professional associations, ask yourself the following questions:
         •        What are my goals of membership? Are they personal, professional or on
                  behalf of the company or organization that I work for?
         •        Do I want to grow my personal and professional network or increase industry
                  visibility for my company?
         •        What is most important to me in membership of a professional association?
                  Service? Learning or professional development? Networking?

4 Risseeuw, Amy. “Professional Association Questions.” Message to the author. 31 Aug. 2009. E-mail.

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         •         Do I want to participate on a local or national level, or find an association
                   that allows me to do both?
         •         Am I joining as an organization/company or as an individual?
         •         What are my organization’s/company’s guidelines for becoming a member
                   of a professional association? Will they allow me to leave work to attend
                   meetings? Will they reimburse me for membership dues? Will they
                   request that I serve on a certain committee?

Many professional organizations hold prospective member events or will allow
prospective members to attend events and meetings prior to committing to
membership. This will allow you to get a better grasp on the purpose and activities
of the association and to meet members in order to best decide if a professional
association is right for you.

Get involved
Once a member, it is best to begin involvement as soon as possible. Attend local chapter
meetings, national or international conferences, association events and socials. Be sure
to have a positive attitude, be outgoing, and bring lots of business cards to aid in your
         A few pointers for successful networking 5 6:
                   •         At least for your first few meetings or events, make a
                             conscientious effort to limit your time talking to people you
                             already know. In networking, the goal is to
                             expand your connections.
                   •         Take advantage of nametags. It will help you
                             remember new faces and will help them
                             remember you.
                   •         Be prepared to tell people what you do and
                             how it can be of benefit to them or their organization.
                   •         Ask questions.
                   •         Exchange business cards. Sometimes it helps to jot notes on
                             someone else’s card to remember a person or recall conversations
                             to reference in follow-up connections or future meetings.
                   •         Follow-up within in 48 hours of a new connection either by phone
                             or by e-mail. Nothing long, just remind them of the connection by
                             saying that it was nice meeting them and that you look forward to
                             the next meeting or event.

5 Spinks, David. “13 Tips for Your First Networking Event.” Brazen Careerist. Brazen Careerist, 5 Feb. 2009. Web. 25 Aug.
  2009. <>.
6 Hunter, Mark. “22 Tips To Use At A Networking Event.” WorkZ. WorkZ. Web. 25 Aug. 2009. <>.

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Another way to get involved is to volunteer for or ask to be placed on a committee. This
can get you involved in planning events, exploring new areas, or assist you in getting to
know the professional association and its members better.

When you begin to feel more familiar with the association and other
members, consider publishing an article or blog post for any relevant
association publications or blogs. Or, volunteer to present a relevant
topic you are knowledgeable about at a future meeting or conference.

Stay connected
Between meetings, events and other in-person professional association
activities, stay connected. Visit the national and local chapter Web sites
frequently and subscribe to any association e-newsletters, blogs or
publications that are of interest to you. If you are a social media user,
become a fan of the association on Facebook or follow it or fellow
members on Twitter and engage.

For the business
In encouraging your employees to become involved in professional associations, you
are making a quid pro quo investment—you are helping them to grow professionally
and personally, which will advance your business’s or organization’s knowledge and
experience base, and through them you will expand your business’s or organization’s
visibility as they connect throughout various industries and local communities.

First things first
When considering professional associations from the business perspective, the first
question you will want to address is whether your business will pursue professional
association membership as a business or organization or will your business or
organization encourage and support individual employee membership, or both. What’s
the difference? Gaining membership to professional associations as a business, while not
always available, means that membership and benefits apply to your entire organization
and that meetings are usually open to more than one representative of your business.
Often times this kind of membership is sought primarily for credibility within the
industry or simply for access to resources and support on an as-needed basis. Individual
memberships are just that—access to benefits, information, meetings and events that
are limited to the individual. While both options have pros and cons, it comes down to
your organization’s focus and how you wish to benefit from membership.

Also when considering professional association membership from the business
perspective, it’s important to note that you cannot require an employee to become
a member of a professional organization and that there are also some ethical

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considerations in expecting or asking employees to vote or act a certain way on your
business’s or organization’s behalf. For these and other reasons, your business or
organization may wish to consider adding policies or guidelines to your employee
handbook as a way to outline expectations and address privacy or confidentiality issues.

Things to address when developing such policies or guidelines:
      •       What procedure will you put into place for employees to make requests for
              memberships and who needs to have final approval?
      •       Will your business or organization reimburse employees (and up to what
              amount) for membership dues, event fees, travel to and from meetings and
              events, or other costs incurred by membership in a
              professional association?
      •       Where will funds spent on membership fees come from?
              If you are a nonprofit or government organization, check
              and double check that funds or grants allow this kind
              of spending.
      •       Will your business or organization allow employees to leave
              work or vary their hours to attend professional association
              events or meetings? Are they expected to make up these hours?
      •       Will you ask that employees set goals for their individual
              membership? How will these goals be tracked and measured?
      •       Does your business or organization have any privacy or confidentiality
              policies in place such as those involving client or proprietary information
              that should be applied and reiterated in the context of professional
              association membership?

Find a professional association that’s right for
your business
Should your business choose to pursue an organizational membership with a professional
association, identify one that will optimize employee participation and meet the needs of
your business or organization. Ask similar questions to those an individual would ask when
identifying the appropriate professional association:
      •       What are our organizational goals of membership? Are they visibility-,
              networking-, or social-driven?
      •       What is most important regarding membership of a professional association?
              Service? Learning or professional development? Networking? Industry
              recognition? Brand awareness?
      •       Do we want to participate on a local or national level, or find an association
              that allows us to do both? How much time do we have available to commit?

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Encourage employee involvement
Whether you choose an organizational membership or support individual
memberships, employees should be encouraged to get and stay involved.

Within an organizational membership:
       •       Attend meetings and events and give employees equal
               opportunities to participate.
       •       Volunteer or serve on committees.
       •       Get your organization together to present at a meeting or
               seminar, take turns submitting articles or case studies to your
               professional organization’s publication or blog.
       •       Offer to host events.

In support of individual memberships:
       •       Ask employees to keep you updated on their activities
               and advancements.
       •       Ask to attend meetings or events as their guest to get a
               better feel for what their professional association is all about.
       •       Share tips for getting involved and networking with employees.

The bottom line
Throughout your research of, and participation in, a professional association, remember
one thing: a membership in a professional organization can and will work for you and
your employer or employees—but it requires involvement and engagement on both the
employee and managerial level. It is what you make of it, so put it to work!

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Description: Today, there are hundreds of local, national and international professional associations serving professionals within varying industries. These associations exist, in part, because of the benefits they provide to members. If you are seeking to expand your professional and personal networks, grow your skill set or knowledge base, or become accredited within your industry, membership in a professional association should not be overlooked.