Benefits of Joining a Professional Organization – Given the number of responsibilities we have to juggle daily, joining a professional association is unlikely to be among your top priorities. Which businessperson, after all, has the time for more meetings and activities after spending a whole day on them? But thinking this way may cause you to miss the various benefits a professional association membership can get you. Whether you join a national-level organization, an industry-specific body, a neighborhood merchants’ association, or a special focus group like women entrepreneurs, or small business owners, you can make valuable professional contacts and get access to a wealth of information.
What is a Professional Organization?
There are many numbers of associations that label themselves as a professional organization or body. Most of them are usually charitable or nonprofit organizations that seek to further the importance of a specific profession and their members.
There’s no uniform constitution that defines a professional organization. Many associations dedicate themselves to the interest of the members, to a point of being registered trade unions, like the United Steelworkers in the US. Others could be societies that purely function to standardize, unify, monitor quality, promote research, further education, along with updating the skills of practicing professionals. A major role of a few organizations is to control the awarding of professional qualification certificates, and even issuing the license of practice. Yet others take up a more disciplinary role for members in that particular profession for maintaining ethical standards.
The differences in the work of a professional organization often create confusion in people’s minds. A common misunderstanding is that awarding a “fellowship” or “chartered” status always means a specific professional competence. However, this is not really true, and the honors bestowed upon individuals may be given for several reason. Also, we often hear people complaining about competence of a practicing individual in the profession, to the professional organization, unaware of the fact that the power, leave alone the eagerness of the association to mediate in such a case, is greatly limited.
It will be unwise to preempt the role of a professional association sans investigating its constitution carefully.
Basic benefits of Joining a Professional Organization
While each organization has its own advantages, most associations offer some of the following common benefits.
Exclusive online resources
Websites of most professional organizations have a “members only” section that provides access to a variety of message boards and databases. There are also listserv subscriptions that notify you via emails about all special activities and upcoming events that are usually not open to the general audience. Some features have a variety of topics like advancing your career, running a business, or enhancing your technical expertise.
When you join a professional association, you can deepen your existing business relationships and forge new contacts regularly. The networking is usually not restricted to the exchange of business cards. You can attend periodic meetings, be an active member in a subcommittee, or take up a more prominent role. You can make lasting ties with other professionals in your trade having common interests or similar concerns. The relationships are mostly rich, and an ongoing source of ideas and inspiration.
Professions like nursing require accredited and ongoing education to retain the license. In several careers, training and certification on the mastery of some particular skill, helps members to increase their earnings. Professional associations often offer these courses free of cost or for a subsidized fee for their members and do the work to establish the acceptance of continuing education credits by the licensing board. Newsletters and journals published by the association give an opportunity to members to polish their communication skills and learn about the advances in their field. Access to research material and industry information is another reason behind joining professional associations.
Many professional organizations offer members to upgrade or refresh their knowledge of trade and business expertise or acquire new skills in workshops, seminars, conferences, and even online courses. The typical subject matters may run the gamut from funding of small businesses to tax tips, and advice on recruitment and employee management.
Discounted or free publications
Membership to a professional group includes free subscription to the organization’s magazine, newsletter, and other publications. Some organizations offer members free copies and discounts on journals, CDs, video tutorials etc.
Seminars and conferences
Members often get priority registration for any event held by the organization. They may be offered on conference fees, special rates on related expenses, like car booking, room reservation etc.
Beyond the basic advantages
Depending on the particular professional organization, there could be several additional benefits. Some associations, for instance, extends capital to members who want to grow their business. Following are some of the added benefits.
Graduates, just fresh from college, have limited or no work experience. A professional organization could be a great resume builder for such people. If you are an extremely active member of the association, you may even get a chance of internship that will earn you valuable work experience. Your peers, not involved with a professional association, may lack the valuable experience in their career. Even for a person who is employed and doesn’t need a new job, a professional association can provide its members with opportunities to build his/her resume as well. Established professionals may build their resume by obtaining a leadership position, like being on a board of directors committee, or articles published in the journal of the organization.
Most professional organizations have job boards. Members can use them to land a job of their choice. They can also submit their resumes so that recruiters and employers can see them while searching for new talent. Hirers scan professional association job boards even for recruiting mid-level managers. Besides, you can get a chance to attend industry events that expands your connections.
Members of a professional organization can take advantage of formal coaching or mentoring relationships with experienced businesspersons and can learn from their useful insights and guidance. Even on an informal basis, these contacts are often a valuable source of information and solution when you face a challenging situation in your business. Also, the feeling that you have a support system would boost your confidence, if there’s a problem.
Large national-level professional organizations usually have committees that track federal and state legislative developments that impact their particular industry and business. Such organizations wield significant political influence than that of individual members. When you join such an organization, you can tap the group’s political clout and resources.
As a businessperson, you are unlikely to have the resources or time to sponsor some charitable event, partner with some institution, or participate in community development activities. But if the professional organization is active in philanthropic activities, you can get involved in many worthy projects.
Finding your passion
There can be no faster pick-me-up than involving yourself with something that you are passionate about. It could be helping sick children, rescuing animals, or making people aware of the environment. For instance, service organizations like Lions Club or the Rotary, meet monthly to raise funds for a particular cause. These meetings give access to mingle with like-minded businesspersons and allow you to serve the community.
Other organizations like homeless shelters, environmental groups, hospitals, daycare centers etc need volunteers for their activities. They usually require people to work on weekends. Time commitments are usually flexible. Getting involved with such organizations exposes you to people from various walks of life. These people, in turn, know others. Forging a relation could lead to further contacts and referrals. It also looks great on your resume. But you must have honesty of purpose to join such an organization. Only then you can feel enthused. Joining only to exploit contacts won’t take you much far.
Health insurance and others
A major benefit of a professional membership is that larger organizations can get discounts on things you need to offer, than what you have could have got on your own. For instance, The Association for Computing Machinery, offers health insurance to its members. The plans are specifically designed for them and their families. They are not meant to cover a business or its employees and can see an entrepreneur through in the early days of starting a company.
In the US, the Affordable Care Act has made health insurance easily accessible to entrepreneurs. But professional membership is still one of the easiest ways to avail some types of insurance. This includes life insurance, and even auto insurance. Sometimes you may be able to get liability insurance through a professional organization.
Membership to a professional association may allow you specific benefits in some places, like hotels, clubs, gyms etc. This gives an added scope to interact with professionals from other industries, further building your list of contacts.
But if this is the only reason you want to join a professional organization, check beforehand regarding the clauses, and whether they weigh heavy on you. Most organizations make available at least some basic information and are usually open to discuss the membership details and privileges.
How to choose a professional organization?
A businessperson can join multiple professional groups. But how do you select which one will be the most beneficial for you?
The process can begin by evaluating the primary objective of each organization. Here, evaluation means whether the objectives are aligned with yours. If they are not following the same path you had planned, it doesn’t make sense to join the organization. There are some intangibles involved here, like the carrying out a research on whether the organization is using its funds properly, and that it’s following all the applicable laws. It should have a moral fiber which agrees with yours. You may also want to know what it does with your personal information.
Ensure that the association is recognized and well established within the industry. But that doesn’t mean you must avoid a new association. If it’s new, the research becomes a bit difficult. Also, chances are that in places where you want to name the organization as a reference, may not consider it in high esteem. It’s important that a professional organization at least has a regional presence, if not national. A national-level organization can increase its membership and can remove all ideas of biasness towards any particular region. Even with a wide scope, it’s imperative that the organization has local chapters, or an office which you can attend at ease. While a global organization can bring knowledge diversity, a local chapter can deal with the more micro issues. Remember each area, right down to a specific city, has a material difference that varies within the profession.
The professional origination must have a regular publication system. It’s fine if there’s an only online reading system. But the print media is equally important. The frequency of publication is important as well as the distribution. Peer process review, good editing, quality content, original researches and established authors, can make a professional journal worth its name. Distribution of knowledge is a primary aim of joining a professional organization. A solid focus on its publication process is thus very important.
The events of a professional organization is another important factor. A well-planned and properly executed primal event—like an annual congregation—is important for all associations. The quality and worthiness of an event and the way you can involve yourself is crucial. Local meets, besides the primary event, is a plus point. Many associations organize webinars to connect with members from geographically far off locations. But only webinars may not serve your purpose. Meets that require physical attendance are the ones that will help you build contacts.
A professional association must have sanction of the government or from the competent authority to award certifications. In many cases, only the certification awarded by such organizations is considered to be industrially valid. But this is admittedly rare in most organizations. But a national-level organization should wield considerable clout in the profession.
Choose your professional organization wisely. It can help you further your career and steal a mile over competition.