Are you considering membership in a professional organization?

Do the advantages of joining a professional organization outweigh the disadvantages? You decide.

An article by health care recruiter Andrea Santiago defines a professional association as “an organization formed to unite and inform people who work in the same occupation”. Simply written, this clear and concise definition underlies the larger reason – to unite and inform – that someone may or may not wish to join an association.

Most associations are non-profit organizations and require a membership fee to participate. A key deciding factor for potential members may be the cost. Although joining an association is a personal decision, an employer may encourage membership as a professional development activity and supplement some of the costs for their employees.

Time is another key factor to consider when contemplating association membership. A person should weigh the benefits of membership against the commitment of time required, especially if there is an expectation to contribute to committee or work group assignments. Again, employers may support the involvement of their staff by allowing work time for membership activity.

In addition, some association memberships require a degree or other prerequisite. And a point made in the online Houston Chronicle (Kate Rosehill's The Disadvantages of Belonging to a Professional Organization) notes that one may not agree with the advocacy efforts the association has chosen to pursue on behalf of the profession being represented. A person might ask themselves whether their talents, qualifications and/or personal or professional philosophies align with a particular association.

Conversely, any one of the following opportunities may be reason enough to join an association:

  • Networking – includes meeting new people, relationship building, mentorship, partnerships and collaboration.
  • Finances – potential for scholarships, grants, awards, recognition and potential career advancement.
  • Professional Development - learn new skills, continuing education, practice of existing skills and credibility by affiliation.
  • Strengthening the Profession Itself - connections with other associations of similar professions, influence legislation, professional advocacy and common purpose.

As an employee of Michigan State University Extension and an association member, the benefits have far outweighed the disadvantages. One recent example of a worthwhile professional development for me was to attend the Galaxy National conference. The conference only occurs every five years and six cooperative extension associations collaborated to provide one large conference. This “all-Extension” venue brought together Extension agents and educators from around the country, where a myriad of educational programs and scholarly outreach were offered.

For me, it was an outstanding opportunity to hone my presentation skills and showcase an online conflict resolution program we have developed at MSU Extension. I was also able to garner new ideas about other successful programs and build new and strengthen existing relationships with colleagues.

Finding the right association to join can certainly afford opportunities for personal and professional development. Do the advantages outweigh the disadvantages? The choice is yours!

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