Maximize the potential of your association membership

We asked Stan Soloway, president of the Professional Services Council, and Phil Bond, president of TechAmerica, for advice on how people can get the most out of their association memberships.

We asked the presidents of two leading industry associations for their insight on the benefits of getting involved in professional associations.

Our experts: Stan Soloway, president and chief executive officer of the Professional Services Council, and Phil Bond, president of TechAmerica, formerly the Information Technology Association of America.

Soloway: Trade associations like the Professional Services Council play an important role in the public policy process. They go beyond serving as a place to personally and professionally engage with industry colleagues. They allow members a forum to discuss the opportunities and challenges currently facing their industry and actively engage in the process of bettering it.

Getting involved on the issues, through a committee or task force, is the fastest way to stay on top of the current market trends and policy proposals — nuggets of information that will help you plan your business strategy.

But to get the most of your membership — for yourself personally and to increase your company’s visibility — you must be an active participant. Being an active participant goes beyond attending meetings. You can have a huge impact on the association agenda by keeping the professional staff abreast of what your customers are saying, what changes you are seeing in your market, and how proposed legislation and policies would impact your business. Don’t assume the professional staff knows.

Moreover, associations and their members need to work together to ensure that their messages and engagements with the government focus on problem solving.

Effective advocacy is not about influence; it’s about finding solutions that work.

Bond: In tough times, companies often need the benefits of association membership even more than they do in a prosperous economy.

Associations with robust advocacy organizations can significantly increase the productivity of government relations or legal personnel in a time when those departments are quite likely to suffer from staff cuts.

Executives often find that by working shoulder to shoulder with their industry colleagues and experts on an association’s staff, they can advance a position commonly held across the industry much further than they could have working alone or in an uncoordinated way. A critical mass of senior executives can also make fertile ground for business dealings that directly impact the bottom line.

Industry groups can also negotiate lower rates on business services, enabling top-line reductions in a tight economy. They can provide excellent venues for executives to learn from their colleagues and technology buyers about critical industry and market trends that will create or impact business opportunities. The right association programs along these lines provide information companies cannot gather as efficiently from other sources or don’t otherwise have access to at all.

Realizing those benefits begins with a careful review of the associations a company qualifies for membership in or already belongs to. It pays to understand the full breadth of offerings a given group offers and to learn how best your company can engage. Too often members leave value on the table because the executive stakeholder involved with a given association is interested in, and therefore aware of, only one or two facets of a given group’s offerings. The involvement of an employee with insight into the full range of a company’s operations can be very helpful in maximizing benefit to his or her company.