What’s in it for me?

It’s the age-old question. And as association professionals, it’s a question that’s always lingering in the back of our minds. We intend to launch a new program, product or service, and the first measuring stick used to determine if we’ll be successful in our new venture is whether or not our members will find value in whatever it is we hope to share with them.

If we can demonstrate significant value – and the new program, product or service is in some way contributing to or supporting the association’s mission, while at the same time serving to enhance the association’s bottom line or is otherwise filling the role of “lost leader” – our new venture has merit, resources are appropriately deployed and it is launched for (hopefully) an initial, pre-determined period of time.

Otherwise, the venture has another fate. Two such possibilities include:

  1. It may be evaluated, modified and launched in a new or different way; or
  2. It may be evaluated and discarded altogether.

Whatever the outcome, a fair and deliberate process is used to discern the correct “path” for any new program, product or service intended to draw down on staff time and association resources.

The same should be true when it comes to supporting and developing our staff, in particular our young/emerging professionals. It’s recently come to my attention that a certain distrust and discomfort among some association executives to train and develop their young people is doing more harm than good. I’m uncertain of the exact rationale, but I’ll take a stab at some possible perspectives here:

  1. If I spend time and money training and developing our young people, they’re going to jump ship for the next best opportunity that comes their way and our investment will be lost.
  2. Our limited resources are best spent exclusively on the executive staff at our association; they have the most seniority and, therefore, they have the most to offer our organization and our members.
  3. We don’t have a professional development budget, so none of our staff are permitted to attend training (local, state or national).
  4. With limited hours in the workday, allowing our staff to participate as members of industry committees or as thought leaders at industry conferences will only distract them from their primary work assignments.
  5. If our staff is going to learn anything new, I’d prefer to decide the information that is shared with them.

This is by no means an exhaustive list; I’m sure there are countless other concerns when it comes to professional development. What I do know is that these arguments (possibly disguised as excuses) are counterproductive to our tried and true question: What’s in it for me? If we simply ask the question, both from the perspective of the executive and the staff member, I’m certain each can find value in the answer.

So, my question to you is this: As an association executive, are you open and eager to the possibility of training and developing your staff? If so, what steps do you take to ensure maximum benefit from the resources dedicated to this purpose? As a staff member, how do you demonstrate value when expressing interest in serving on a new committee or attending a new conference?  How can we further impact this paradigm to ensure the next generation of association professionals are poised and ready to take on future challenges affecting the association community?

4 Responses to “What’s in it for me?”

  1. November 1, 2011 at 11:58 am

    Great post Aaron! Besides the fear of taking their talents elsewhere, there is a sense that the younger professional will “go after my job”. Overall, we need to get over ourselves. Many of the opportunities we’ve had have come from others allowing supporting our professional development. Therefore, we should do likewise with our younger colleagues. This community cannot thrive if we’re not open to sharing our time, talent and experience with others who could benefit from them.

    • November 1, 2011 at 2:55 pm

      Thanks for commenting, Stefanie.

      You share another very real concern among some association executives: The threat that the younger and potentially more nimble generation will have more to offer the association and its members over time as professional development opportunities are seized (sometimes at the exact same time that more seasoned association professionals in the same organization feel that there’s nothing more to learn and professional development opportunities are regularly turned down).

      I like, in particular, what you have to say about turning the mirror back on ourselves. Many of us have advanced in this space known as the association community based upon “the kindness of strangers.” In some cases, those individuals are our supervisors/executives, in others they are mentors or coaches. In our case, a committee of individuals who saw something special in our applications elevated us to the status of DELP scholar (and all that comes with that important professional development opportunity).

      Sometimes, I think, we as professionals are too easily caught up in our busy schedules and allow professional development to become someone else’s problem. When we all subscribe to that thinking, though, it’s clear that not much gets done. So, let’s commit today to developing staff. If our organization has limited time/resources, what are some small ways we can share our time, talent and expertise with even just one staff member this week?

  2. November 2, 2011 at 9:23 am

    Nice post Aaron. As to perspective #1, I like the observation that those who do not train, but retain, their staff guarantee that they will have an undereducated staff in the future. And as you elude, most organizations budget too little for professional development – especially for a subject area few of use studied in school.

    As for my personal orientation, I try to recommend specific programs, blog posts, and other PD opportunities to my staff colleagues when I see such opportunities. I (and ASAE) also build it into annual performance plans. When people attend a program, I almost always ask for a summary report of what they learned and what we should do differently as a result … Or when appropriate, leading that same type of conversation with their staff peers. I also regularly try to involve direct reports in conversations and review of tasks that I am responsible for …. On-the-job practical exposure to how I approach a certain challenge, consider solutions, and communicate it all. In addition to serving as an education opportunity for them, it helps me to hear their perspectives, get their suggestions, and refine what will be done.

    I’d close in adding that we each have a personal responsibility for our own professional development. One reason I left my last job was that I had decided to pursue a graduate program that my previous job schedule could not accommodate. Prior to that, when I needed to develop advanced Excel and software survey skills, I got out the books and taught myself some pretty advanced things. I continue to do a lot of reading, especially to identify new ideas outside my normal direct day to day.

    Hope to hear strategies and tactics from others … Know I have room to learn and improve in this area among others.

    • November 8, 2011 at 8:38 am


      Thanks for your comments. I think they’re very helpful and provide some great recommendations for no or low-cost methods of infusing professional development into our daily work. The one point I’d like to underscore is that of personal responsibility. I agree wholeheartedly with your perspective and, taking it one step further, would say that as professionals we sometimes need to personally budget for professional development when our employers will not. Certainly there are many free opportunities to learn and grow online and within our local communities; however, there are just as many programs and events that require a registration fee. Investing in ourselves and our education, in my opinion, is money well spent. And although budgeting for professional development on a shoestring budget isn’t always ideal or favorable, it serves as a good experience to reflect on when managing budgets for future employers and it demonstrates the value you personally place on learning. I’d also mention that many professional societies offer or have access to grants and scholarships to help offset program-related expenses. It’s definitely worth asking your industry organizations what support is available.

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meet aaron

Association learning strategist & meetings coach. Founder & president of Event Garde. Passionate about cooking, running, blogging, old homes, unclehood & pet parenting (thanks to Lillie the pup).

meet kristen

Writer, editor, public relations professional. Digital content manager. Proud mom of three. Total word geek. Spartan for life.

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