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Vision & Value: Professional Associations

Vision
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According to the IRS, “an association is a group of persons banded together for a specific purpose,” which is sufficiently vague enough of an umbrella to encapsulate groups of a very wide variety.  Most common are trade or professional associations – according to the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE), there were 90,908 trade and professional associations in 2009, or roughly 7% of the nearly 1.3 million philanthropic or charitable organizations with 501 designation.

What makes a successful professional association?  PMA believes it comes down to a solid value proposition and a vision for the future:

Value Proposition

Since professional associations typically require members to pay some form of dues, they also have to provide some form of value in return.  That may come in form of professional development programming, networking opportunities, or advocacy on behalf of the sector as a whole.  Associations with waning membership find themselves in a catch-22 situation – without dues to provide revenue, how can they provide meaningful programming?  The answers may come from asking membership what they value most – a simple survey can tell you a lot about what your constituency wants most out of their relationship with you.

Vision

In the grind to sustain operations and continue providing programming, it can be difficult for association leadership – often volunteers with their own “day jobs” – to rise above the fray and chart a meaningful course into the future. And yet that is perhaps one of its most important roles – to work on behalf of the profession to anticipate the needs and opportunities five- and ten-years down the road. While plenty of associations have planning retreats, how many of them are truly strategic? If most of your retreat is devoted to operations, you may be missing an opportunity to engage your volunteer leaders in more creative thinking.

With a strong value proposition and vision, it should significantly less difficult to bring the right people in your profession to the table to give your association framework the lift it needs to be successful.