What Is the Value of Associations?
It's 2020. In the age of ubiquitous information freely available online, why do I choose to spend my time, energy, and hundreds of dollars in membership dues a year to stay involved with associations? At AIIM - the Association for Intelligent Information Management - everything we do is to help you and your organization solve your information-driven business challenges.
For me, there are three major reasons that associations hold value. They are:
- Personal and Professional Development
Let's take a look at each of these in greater detail.
Associations Provide Opportunities to Meet and Engage with Peers and Colleagues
To me, this is the most important benefit associations can provide. Associations are made up of people who share similar challenges and opportunities. Whether it's an annual general conference, a regional meeting, a local chapter meet-up, or even a virtual event, nothing replaces personal interaction with other smart people.
Associations can connect you to future employees – or future employers, future customers, or even future suppliers. AIIM believes that information management is a vibrant ecosystem that includes end-users, suppliers, consultants, analyst firms, business functions, and government entities. As such, we take every opportunity to facilitate conversations between all of these groups.
These conversations provide opportunities to learn from people who have been there, done that – and in some cases, to learn what NOT to do in a particular circumstance. And maybe you've got some words of wisdom to share as well.
Associations Promote Standardization and Best Practices
So what else can you do with a bunch of like-minded people who share similar issues and opportunities? Leverage their shared experiences and expertise to foster the development and adoption of best practices. Here are some of the ways that associations help to facilitate this.
- Curation: There's a lot of information out there about your business issues and challenges, and trends in your industry, and how [insert new buzzword here] will radically restructure business as we know it. But how do you know which has value? Associations are, in some ways, uniquely positioned to separate the wheat of meaningful information from the chaff of buzzwords and press releases. That's because they are comprised of individuals who work with these tools and processes every day and have gained some insight as to which work and which don't.
- Conduct Research: Associations, and their communities, will often conduct research to identify and explain trends, benchmark existing practices, and identify gaps. And their research generally offers an independent perspective because, even when research is sponsored, it's often sponsored by multiple solution providers who see it as in their best interest to play it down the middle.
- Provide Guidance and Training on Best Practices: Research can help to identify gaps, but associations also address those gaps. Sometimes this is in the form of training to help individual practitioners acquire the skills they need to guide their organizations. Sometimes it results in the development of standards, best practices, guidelines, and checklists that take a more prescriptive approach. Often associations facilitate the development of whitepapers, infographics, and other assets that help explain issues, gaps, and solutions to different audiences.
- Develop Certifications: Many associations develop and issue certifications or other credentials that reflect an individual's understanding of their industry and the accepted strategies, processes, and practices to meet their organizations' business needs.
- Provide a Shared Mental Model: As industry practices and processes evolve over time, associations play a central role in the identification, development, and evolution of the body of knowledge at the core of a particular process or practice. This helps to standardize vocabulary and ways of thinking about particular issues such that conversations can take place across organizational boundaries and, within organizations, across departmental or work unit silos.
Associations Offer Opportunities for Professional Development and Recognition
Associations offer significant opportunities for professional development and recognition for individuals as well as teams and organizations. Depending on the association, these could include:
- Leadership Opportunities: Many associations have chapters, and almost all have boards of directors. Both are generally staffed by volunteers who believe in the mission of the association and are willing to spend the time to push it forward.
- Training: Associations often offer formal training on topics related to their focus and mission. But training is also much more than getting a dozen people in a conference room for a few days. Training can be attending an annual conference, listening to a webinar, or reading an eBook. And it can be speaking, delivering, or writing the above as well.
- Mentoring: Many associations offer some sort of mentoring program that connects experienced practitioners with those relatively new to the industry or association. This may be a formal mentoring program with specific time commitments, or something less defined and more organic.
- Opportunities for Thought Leadership: Associations always need content and are happy to share your story and your experiences - in a blog post, on a webinar, or at a conference breakout session. After all, it's one thing to blog on a personal blog with perhaps tens of readers. It's another thing to blog on the association's blog, which might be read by thousands of readers, many of whom are thought leaders in their own rights.
- Subject Matter Expertise: Associations are also in regular need of subject matter experts to serve on committees and task forces responsible for developing training, standards, bodies of knowledge, etc. This offers a very unique opportunity for personal professional development and recognition and can provide some very rarified networking – in fact, I can trace my current position on AIIM staff to work I did as an AIIM volunteer subject matter expert for a couple of different committees and standards.
- Career Planning: Associations can help practitioners to map out their career path: how to get better at what they do now, how to come up to speed on new developments, or what they need to know to progress in their chosen profession path – or pick a new one. Many associations also offer specific job-hunting services such as job postings or resume writing assistance.
- Professionalism: Being a member of a recognized association is one hallmark of a professional. This is a bit of a circular argument – joining a professional association marks you as a professional – but it's often true, especially for less-experienced staff.
- Awards: Similarly, the receipt of an award from a professional association is a significant professional achievement that underscores an individual's contributions to the association and, by extension, the profession and/or industry.
Can You Afford NOT to be Part of an Association?
There are other benefits associations provide – advocacy, lobbying, philanthropy, and of course, discounts on "stuff," ranging from conference and training registrations to health insurance. But I believe that these are both minor and not as significant to the individual information professional as the ones I've outlined above. I also believe that, in the main, it doesn't matter what your role is. Whether it be an individual practitioner at an end-user organization or a business leader in that organization. I've had a wide variety of roles during my time as an AIIM member, and I've found specific, concrete value for each of them from my association with AIIM.
Full disclosure: I've been a paid Professional member of AIIM since 2001. I've also been a member at various times of at least a dozen other professional and trade associations, even including the United States Marine Corps Drill Instructor Association. Note that this is not a post about the value of membership per se – though I clearly believe in the value of AIIM's membership such that I continue to pay for it even though I've been on the AIIM staff for more than nine years.