March 18 2015

Professional Development Tips for Association Professionals

There’s not an association out there that doesn’t offer educational events. But where can association publishers find budget-friendly events to boost their own professional development? And why should association publishing teams consider learning opportunities outside the obvious?

For those in the Washington, DC area, the clear choice is local professional development options available through AM&P. Many of you are probably already familiar with the very popular monthly AM&P Lunch & Learns which are free to members and cost $50 for non-members. AM&P also sponsors education events in Chicago and New York.

And, of course, there is also the AM&P Annual Meeting, an extensive conference with content specifically for association publishers and those that serve the field. Coming up June 15-17, 2015 at the Ronald Regan Building and International Trade Center in Washington, DC, this event coincides with the prestigious EXCEL Awards Gala, which kicks off the week.

But regional organizations are also a great source of education. For example, the Association Forum of Chicagoland has all of its events in the greater Chicago area. The prices for the in-person events range from complimentary to a couple hundred dollars, depending upon the event. And ASAE’s Greater Washington Committee (full disclosure, I am a member of that committee) has numerous events not only in DC, but also in four surrounding suburbs. The events are free or low cost for ASAE members.

Many areas across the nation have state associations that offer great education opportunities. While there are too many regional association societies to mention here, you get the idea: You don’t have to travel to have access to good professional development programs.

Now some of you may argue that many of these programs may not apply specifically to your work in publishing. But I would challenge that assumption. We all work for associations — even the industry service providers. And we all have similar issues: members/donors/clients, budgets, managing up and down, doing more with less, engaging/managing volunteers. This core set of work unites all association professionals, no matter our title.

The only difference is that we focus on media and publishing, so some of our challenges are different than a colleague who works in membership or finance. But, that does not mean that an educational event on engaging volunteers wouldn’t be a good option for you to attend. When you better understand your association’s business proposition, you can better understand where you fit into the picture. This helps you:

  • Develop a better strategy for upping your professional game;
  • Increase your chances of longevity in your position;
  • Network with new people; and
  • Get out of the office.

For example, I once had a conversation with a seasoned editor who had no idea what the overall budget was for the association that employed this person. I was floored. How can you work for years in a position with budget responsibility and not know how small or large your overall association’s budget is?

Do not overlook industry service providers or the LinkedIn groups you belong to as options for furthering your professional development. They oftentimes will have excellent educational offerings that get approved for things like continuing education credits. If you are trying to earn your certified association executive (CAE) designation or already have it, but need to renew, all of the associations I mentioned are CAE-approved providers. Find out how many credits you get for attending any events they offer.

Finally, I encourage all of you to review the CAE requirements at “What is CAE?” This designation is designed to elevate professional standards, enhance individual performance, and identify association professionals who demonstrate the knowledge essential to the practice of association management. During the journey to earn my CAE, I found that learning about the other aspects of association management that are not normally my bailiwick helped me tremendously. It opens up your perspective on subject matters that are crucial to running a successful association. This, in turn, makes you a better association publishing professional.

I realize that professional development is generally not free. Not only did I spend the last two years as an association executive paying for most of my professional development, but now that I have a consulting business, professional development is my own expense. However, it’s vital to your career that you not only keep up with the technical end of your profession, but also that you round out that education by understanding where and how your work fits into your association or business.

And the plus side to all of this professional development: You get to expand your network.




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