Are you a member of a club? A professional association? A community non-profit? If you answered yes, fantastic! This column might give you ideas to pursue that you haven’t considered. If you answered no, I’ll explain some of the many benefits joining an association of any kind can bring. For the benefit of generalization, I’m going to refer to professional associations, clubs and community organizations together as associations, although each one will offer unique benefits that the others don’t.
Obviously the most widely-known benefit of joining an association is the networking opportunities they present. Through your membership, you have a connection with everyone else in the association – an opportunity to share experiences and discuss opportunities. There is a natural inclination to build relationships and offer opportunities to those you already have a connection with. It’s the original, benign version of the “who to know” phenomenon. Your affiliation with an association also serves as a simple way to portray certain characteristics or an expertise with the outside world. If you’re a member of a professional association, employers will know that you have some knowledge in that field. Membership in a non-profit indicates your support for a particular cause or project. In this way, it also serves as a passive network, making it easier for others to determine if they want to approach you with a job offer or to invite you to collaborate on a project.
Joining an association also opens the door to resources and expertise that would be otherwise very difficult to find or develop. Members may help to develop training resources that cover a variety of topics. Often the best way to get an answer when you’re faced with a unique new problem is to go straight to your association’s resources – it’s guaranteed that somebody else has faced the same (or a similar) problem before, even if it’s only a once-in-five-year occurrence. Take advantage of those resources and encourage your associations to build them. It’s a lot easier for a group to bring knowledge together.
On the topic of resources, associations also often provide valuable learning opportunities. If you want to add that cutting edge to your skills or knowledge, joining an association can often mean accessing training that goes beyond the general foundational knowledge in your field. Whether its workshops and webinars or a full-on accredited professional designation program, these kinds of training opportunities can expand your skill set and open more doors for you in your career. They can also be the key for breaking a deadlock on how to move forward on a project or taking the next step in your career. Investigate the training opportunities available in the different associations that interest you and you might be surprised at what’s on offer.
There are many other benefits for associations, all depending on what you’re looking for. Many professional associations operate exclusive job boards for their members and offer career development services. Leadership opportunities and social events offer you the opportunity to test out skills or stretch professional muscles that you might not be able to in your daily routine at work or school. Partnerships can mean discounts on everything from clothing to insurance and many associations provide various supplemental member services.
Associations of all kinds offer incredible opportunities. As students, we should all be considering how we want to connect in our communities and in our careers. Many associations have cheaper student memberships and cater some of their resources directly to students, which sweetens the deal even further. Whether it’s a professional association, a club (on campus or off) or a community non-profit, they all offer something that will help you grow as an individual.
– Nicolas Brown, Issues Editor