I’ll admit it: with less than two years in the association world, I am an association newbie. I’ve belonged to a few in my day, but it’s only recently that I’ve taken on any leadership positions. So when sitting down to write my MemberViews blog about my advice for the emerging association professional, you’re getting my insider view on my trip to the top!
Try It All
My first bit of advice I have for any association leader is this: try it all. “But Sarah!” You’re saying to your computer screen. “I don’t have time to try it all!” Well association pro, you’re right. Nobody has time to try it all, and you have even less time.
But the only way you’re going to jump on board with the “next big thing” (and impress the heck out of your members) is to keep an eye on and experiment with some of the “still little things” rolling down the track.
Of course it’s up to you to decide into which you’ll invest some valuable time and attention. There can be a huge payoff, however, if you manage to step outside the box every once in awhile.
Listen to the little voices
All it takes is one opportunity to be heard for an emerging professional to not only blossom in his or her professional life, but in your association as well. When you make an all-call for ideas and feedback, take that seriously and read and respond to the comments you get. “But Sarah!” You’re saying now, “I don’t get any feedback! I would love to have some comments to respond to!”
Then maybe mix up how you’re asking. If an email blast doesn’t work, try an idea lab or a brainstorming session. Make an event specifically to appeal to the emerging professionals. Speaking of the “next big thing…” it’s your emerging leaders who may have a better corner on those trends.
Try to stay positive and purposeful in your communication
As with any stressful job, association leaders, especially those with smaller staffs, have a lot going on. They can sometimes get discouraged with ideas that are constantly being batted down by the board, catching blame for something he or she had no earthly idea about, or just the demands of a constantly engaging job and attempting to balance that with a personal life. It’s not easy and sometimes you just need to let it all out.
By all means! Let it out! But be strategic in where you vent. Make sure you’re not holding any important information back from the people who need to hear it; if you have a consistent complaint there’s a good chance that it’s actually something the board and other association pros need to hear. And definitely make friends with your members, but when you decompress after a long day at work make sure your perfectly innocent venting doesn’t leave them with a bad taste in their mouth about your association!
Being in such early days in the association world, I have the following closing statement to this advice column: association pros are rock stars. Not only do you have to be completely and thoroughly knowledgeable about your association's business, market, and mission, but you have to be thoroughly versed in leadership, budgeting, marketing, new media, and human resources as well. Keep fine-tuning and honing those skills, even after you don't think you need them anymore. That amazing blend of skills will serve you well in your professional life and beyond!