By Bob Bauer
Members of the non-profit world who don’t belong to their local or national professional association, I’m about to let you have it. To be quite frank, it’s hypocritical. How can you defend making your living in large part due to members that join/support your organization and not join/support the association(s) that exist(s) to help you do your job better?
That’s a rhetorical question. As a long-time member of the MASAE membership committee and the NJSAE before that, I’ve heard all the excuses. They’re the same ones your potential members give you when they don’t join – not enough time, no money in the budget, etc. No money in the budget, really? We all have to spend our resources wisely but how can people, whether staff or volunteer leaders, running a non-profit say it’s not worth the money to participate in a non-profit designed to improve the efficiency of its members?
I belong to MASAE and ASAE. I rely on MASAE for my local needs – seminars, etc. When I attend MASAE sessions, I learn a great deal from the speakers; I also learn a great deal from my counterparts in the room, through questions asked/comments made by them during and after the sessions. I’ve made a great number of contacts over the years and I’ve reached out to several with questions. Their help has been of great value, further enhancing the return on investment of my membership dues. There are quite a number of people I look forward to seeing when I attend MASAE events.
I rely on ASAE for more global needs. It offers a great deal of resources for all of us. I’ve accessed things online and through the ASAE staff. Since its meetings are rarely held locally, I don’t normally attend them but I’m fortunate to have MASAE as an option for that aspect of things. MASAE puts on quality educational programs. Getting back to ASAE, at our association’s annual conference seven or eight years ago one of my board members asked me if there was a nationwide annual convention in my industry and whether I attended it. I said there was but I had only been once – when it was in Philadelphia. He encouraged me to attend it more regularly and now I attend every year. The expenses have never been questioned by any board member because they see what I get out of it.
(Spoiler Alert – There’s a Tip Coming Up)
One thing they don’t see is how energized I am when I come back from an MASAE or ASAE event. There’s something to be said for being in a room with people who do what you do every day. It gives you a sense of belonging, a sense of being a part of an important industry. It motivates me to try to improve my performance when I get back to my office. I try to structure events at my association’s meetings to ensure our attendees get this feeling as well.
The MASAE Annual Conference and the ASAE Convention include “fun” activities as well – and what’s wrong with that? What’s wrong with celebrating what we do as an industry? The evening reception at the MASAE Conference is something attendees look forward to. It’s a fun event with great food, drinks and those people, again. Yes, the people who do what I do every day. We renew acquaintances, meet new people and even learn from one another – all in a relaxed atmosphere. It’s the same at ASAE. The events at the convention are great and though it’s harder to develop the level of friendships you can with fellow MASAE members, you can’t help but meet (and hopefully learn) from a whole slew of people.
Here comes that tip I mentioned: Even within my office, I know there were people who questioned the benefit of me attending and participating in association events. So I created a document that gets updated after I or anyone else on the staff attends an education session. Upon returning, we go through our notes and add to the document the points we think could be helpful to us and others on staff going forward. We review the document every six months or so to see if we can incorporate more of what’s listed into our operations.
Of course, there’s another reason we all should support our industry organizations and it’s a reason we all mention to our prospects. Theodore Roosevelt said it best: “Every man owes some of his time to the upbuilding of the profession to which he belongs.” We all know there’s strength in numbers. Many probably think there aren’t issues impacting non-profits. Not true. For example, after the widely seen reports on the extravagant events hosted by some government agencies, policies were changed to limit federal government employees from attending industry meetings. Legislation was even introduced that called for a limit of one representative from a government agency per year to be allowed to attend functions held by an organization. We had a meeting last year attended by several representatives from the Food and Drug Administration. One was a high-ranking official who was our invited speaker. He brought along someone working closely with him on the proposed regulations that were the topic of the meeting and he had several representatives from a local FDA office attend so they could be brought up to speed on the new regulations and, along with their two bosses, interact with our members to answer questions, hear concerns and get a better picture of how our industry works. I was happy to attend ASAE’s American Associations Day to make visits on Capitol Hill to speak about the two-way value of participation by government personnel at industry events.
I’ve also been happy to volunteer with MASAE (and before that, NJSAE). Like all of our members, there have been times I could participate more than at other times. My job requires a lot of travel, so I can’t always make the meetings/calls. But I do what I can.
At last year’s MASAE Conference when my term as a member of the MASAE board expired, I said part of the reason I volunteer is somewhat selfish – I do it in part to learn from the people around me and from the tasks we are performing. The return on investment has been great.
I know some people won’t be able to spend what I can spend on association involvement (though don’t lose sight of that return on investment), while others can spend a lot more. Start out small by simply joining MASAE or, if from another area, another local association. The investment is less than $200 per year. Quite frankly, if your association can’t afford that, you should be concerned. Read the information you receive. You’ll no doubt find something you can implement. Then tell your board about it and get more money put aside toward professional development. You are one of your association’s most crucial assets and your board has to be willing to invest in you!