10 ways to get more value out of joining a professional association

25th, Sep 2019

The New York Law Journal (NYLJ) has been publishing a series looking at the declining membership of bar associations. Older members are retiring while too few millennials are joining. This isn’t only a problem with bar associations. Many other professional associations are having the same problem, hence all the NextGen/Young Professionals committees.

As a Generation X-er who is active in several associations, I am involved in the struggle to demonstrate the value of membership and encouraging others to take advantage of the opportunities. If you are a potential or existing member of an association, here are some suggestions:

1. Join a committee. Committee meetings are smaller so it can be easier to meet and get to know members than if you go to the big events or programs. Also, if the group brings in speakers or invites guests, it is an opportunity to engage with others outside the committee.

2. Go to most meetings. Even within committees, many members don’t show up consistently. The more you go, the more likely you are to meet everyone and build relationships with the regulars.

3. Ask the organizer/chair to introduce you to others. You can be specific or more general about your request depending on your interests. For example, ask to be introduced to someone who does certain type of work, is on the board, or who is new to the organization. By the way, the membership chair and committee members should be adept at doing this so you should not be embarrassed to ask.

4. Volunteer to help with a charitable endeavor. Many organizations give back to the community in some way – a fundraiser, walk/run, pro bono work, etc. This is a great way to do something worthwhile while also getting to know other people.

5. Find out who is attending. More organizations are starting to allow people to see who else is attending an event and connect via social media or otherwise. This can help you identify other individuals you want to meet and learn about them before you are introduced in person.

6. Participate in the group’s social media, listserv or other communication channels. You may not have time to go to many meetings, but you can still get to know and engage with other members. Pay attention to what is being posted, like and comment on posts, respond to questions, and share helpful information.

7. Become a speaker or writer. Although you may not get to present a program for the whole membership right away, some committees struggle to get speakers giving you an opportunity to show you are capable. The same is true with respect to writing. Chapter newsletters can be easier to write for than statewide journals. Speaking and writing, especially if you do it regularly, gets your name out to others and builds your reputation even among those you have never met. It also helps you establish credibility that can get you speaking and writing opportunities with other organizations and publications.

8. Shop around. Typically, there are several different organizations that serve your profession. There may be state and local chapters, specific associations for women and various ethnic and racial groups, or in the case of lawyers, organizations for those in different practice areas.

9. Follow up. A group setting is not the place to really get to know someone. Connect afterwards and repeatedly to make the most of your new connections. For example, send them an email, set up a call or meeting, send a LinkedIn invite, add them to your email database, make an introduction to someone else, and ask how you can help them.

10. Speak up. If you think meetings are at an inconvenient time or topics are boring, say something. But also make your own suggestions. It’s easy to complain, but hard to be the one trying to come up with something that others will like.

For associations, consider these complaints from those interviewed by the NYLJ

“Dues are too expensive. The events aren’t cool. Everyone in the room is twice my age. No one listens to me. I don’t feel like I’m part of the clique.”

I am on the board of a professional association (PRPLI) and a past committee chair and member of other organizations. I know there is a limit to cutting dues because it is hard to find enough other sources of revenue to support the organization, but we do what we can. That leaves trying to address the other issues, which boils down to providing more value. I don’t know that any group has found a perfect solution. We try to test everything – different times, locations, types of programs, etc. to encourage greater attendance and a more diverse crowd. I also think employers should play a part. The Legal Marketing Association consistently fills the room with its programs, but many of the employers seem to pay for employees’ membership. However, many other employers don’t pay employee dues to save money, but don’t consider that employees are losing educational opportunities and networking connections that could be very valuable to their business.

If you are considering joining or you are minimally involved with an association, give it another try. It can be a great resource. Maybe you can make it even better.