The Why of Professional Associations

what is the answerThe traditional description of a professional association is a membership-based organization supporting a closed community and offering member-only services. Historically, because forming and maintaining a professional network and finding and accessing relevant information could be challenging, membership fees and value could be justified. However, the rise of the Internet economy and online professional networks has changed the landscape for professional associations. These reasons are no longer strong motivators for an individual to pay membership dues.

The value an association offers has transformed. Adapting to this change requires a reimagining of more than marketing or services offered. Professional associations must rediscover their purpose, and infuse it into everything they offer and all of their relationships. This means a shift away from the members-only perspective, towards purpose-driven stewardship of the entire community. Putting the community first – ahead of the association itself – is a key step to making the association succeed.

This shift has many implications. Perhaps the most striking is a redefinition and expansion of the categories of membership, to include many relationships with many stakeholders. For example:

  • Traditional Members—Practitioners, Students, Academics
  • Affiliates—members from peer associations
  • Corporate Members—some or all practitioners in an organization
  • Managers—Employ/Hire Members; services promote hiring, advancement
  • Channels—Consultants, Training Providers, Headhunters, etc.
  • Guests—Interest in profession; work with professionals

The stakeholders who employ, manage, or support traditional members deserve new focus because of their contribution to the size, health, and reach of the entire market for practitioners. They increase the relevance of the profession, increase the market for professionals, and increase the influence of the association.

What do associations offer? Why is this important? How is it accomplished?

In the short term, professional associations need to shift their communications, engagement practices, and services to include all practitioners, members or not. At the same time, preparation should begin to transition revenue streams from individual memberships to organizational memberships, to offer premium services for a fee, and to strategically monetize high-value transactions in the community.

Advocate for the Profession
Increase Recognition, Appreciation, Respect, Use
  • Outreach to employers, governments, and other supporting stakeholders
  • Targeted advertising online and within publications
  • Pursuit of traditional media exposure (interviews on radio, TV, newspapers)
  • Creation of Job profiles and career progressions / alternatives for hiring managers and HR professionals to use
Define and Formalize Individual Performance Standards
Drive consistency of understanding, language, and application of generally accepted practices and/or best practices
  • Develop and support Individual Standards
  • Develop and support a practitioner Body of Knowledge
  • Develop and support a practitioner competency model (skills, behaviors, and knowledge required by the practitioner to be effective)
Recognize Practitioners
Establish a baseline of performance
  • Raise perceived value and expectations of the role
  • Differentiate between levels of competency and quality
  • Develop formal recognition programs (e.g., Certification, Certificates)
  • Support opportunities for professionals and academics to publish
Educate Professionals
Increase knowledge, improve abilities, and raise levels of practice
  • Provide on-demand information (webinars, podcasts, online library, discussions)
  • Host Conferences
  • Create and assess others’ course material
  • Support volunteering
Govern Organizational Practices
Establish baseline capability and assess consistency of execution
  • Develop organization maturity models
  • Conduct assessments or practices within organizations
  • Accredit suppliers, corporations, and government bodies who are aligned to established standards
Promote and develop the community
Build cohesiveness, encourage ongoing growth, and support improved capability and contribution of professionals, academics, and organizations
  • Host professional conferences; participate in and/or recognize other events
  • Promote chapters, using them as a “store-front” for outreach into the community and to provide a “face” to the professional association
  • Engage Volunteers in professional association activities
  • Develop special interest groups / communities to further focused growth
Assess Suppliers
Assess alignment to and support of practice standards
  • Review, recognize, and publicly support continuing education, accredited courses, and training aligned with industry standards or accepted practices
  • Review, recognize, and publicly support other professional and industry conferences
  • Review, recognize, and publicly support tools to enhance performance (software and physical)

These products may not drive any individual professional, academic or corporation to join the association. Instead, by becoming a platform for the community, they encourage all stakeholders to participate and support its growth and success.

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