A Strategic Approach to Association Memberships
Are you strategically managing your association memberships? Association
memberships can be expensive. Basic membership dues plus monthly dinners
plus the yearly convention can easily add to thousands of dollars per
year. The most important expense, however, is your time. It is easy to
squander precious time by joining too many associations and being
superficially involved in them. The result is wasted time, lost money, and
zero business opportunities.
What is the most effective way of managing association memberships? Why
Association membership can provide you with the following:
- A sense of perspective about problems in your industry or function.
For the consultant, that translates into understanding what is the "hot"
problem of the quarter!
- A sense of perspective regarding what is emerging as the "cutting
edge" in your profession. As a solo practitioner, it is easy to
loose sight of these issues. Industry gossip regarding organizations
that are good prospects for your services.
In return, you are expected to provide the association with money, time,
and commitment toward helping it achieve member goals.
Join at least two associations. The first association ought to be
industry focused. Examples include the Massachusetts Hospital Association,
California Software Council, Texas Bankers Association, or the New York
City Bar Associations. These organizations provide exposure to a variety
of colleagues from different functions who share similar concerns. If you
are not company in the industry, but serve the industry as a consultant
you may be able to joining as an associate member.
The second association might consist of people at the same level who
share functional responsibility. Examples might include the Boston Human
Resources Association, National Association of Corporate Directors,
Administrative Management Society, Association of General Counsels, The
Financial Executive's Institute, Young President's Organization. It is
common to have different associations with similar aims competing with for
your money. Picking two associations from the same category might not help
you as much as selecting the best association from the industry and
Commit in Advance
Association calendars usually are mailed to members at the end of the
summer of early fall. Jot down meeting times in advance on your calendar.
There is something magic about putting down the dates on the calendar in
advance. If you don't, you may find yourself taking the attitude that you
will attend meetings "If I Have The Time." And, of course, you
will not have the time!
The Cocktail Party
Association meetings often involve cocktail parties followed by a dinner
and a speaker. The pre-dinner activities may be the more important in
terms of generating new contacts.
If you are shy, try to arrive at the cocktail party fifteen minutes
before the scheduled time. In that way, when people arrive they will
gravitate towards you. If you arrive late, the clusters of people will
already have formed. You will be wondering how to break into the existing
The object in cocktail party chatter is to make 1-2 good connections.
Your goal is not to make a friend, a lover, a job lead, or even a sale.
Making connections is a two-way street. You are asking questions to find
out the type of work your new colleagues engage in. You are seeking to
find out what on-the-job problems they have. Starting the conversation by
focusing on problems related to the topic of the evening's speech is a
painless way to begin.
Try to get business cards from the two people you meet that night. Jot
down some key details on the back the card. The best details are those
that lend themselves to follow-up by you later that week.
Since the goal is to get good connections, do not waste time continuing
to chat with an individual once you've decided that there is little mutual
benefit. A business relationship that is one-sided is no real connection.
Paying dues and faithfully attending meetings is not enough. The goal is
to know industry leaders well enough so that you can tap into their
network of contacts if you need assistance.
Getting well known often involves volunteering for committee
assignments. The best assignments enlarge your external perspective.
Examples would be fund raising, government relations, membership
development, public relations, etc. Inwardly focused committee assignments
are less desirable. Examples would include panels to plan parties, draft
constitutions, present awards,etc. Inward looking committees tend to get
involved in association politics. Getting yourself deeply involved with
association politics generally is not going to advance your consulting
business. The politics can get very emotional and provide you with little
There are too many associations asking you to commit too much time and
too much money. Manage your association memberships strategically.
Dr. Laurence J. Stybel and Maryanne Peabody are co-founders of
Stybel Peabody Lincolnshire, Boston's oldest firm devoted to corporate
sponsored assistance to help senior executives be more effective. There
are twenty eight offices in three countries. They are also sponsors of The
Board of Directors Resource Center at www.stybelpeabody.com. Larry and
Maryanne can be reached by phone at 617/371-2990.