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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 join Associations?

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.
  • Referrals

In return, you are expected to provide the association with money, time, and commitment toward helping it achieve member goals.

Join Two.

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 function categories.

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 clusters.

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.

Committee Work

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 value.

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 Larry and Maryanne can be reached by phone at 617/371-2990.