For the Love of Trade Associations

For the Love of Trade Associations

I’ll start this article with a brief history lesson about trade associations. Associations have been around for many hundreds of years.  During the early part of the century labor unions started forming, and we had a fairly active system of fraternal organizations in the US. During this time, trade associations started forming as our economy moved away from a craft economy and into a manufacturing economy. People of a common trade began to see the value of collaborating. They saw that associations legitimized and defined the trades largely through the desire for political action, but also for continuing education and social needs.

Trade groups made an impact. Theodore Roosevelt noted his support for involvement in trade associations through this quote:

“Every man owes part of his time and money to the business or industry to which he is engaged. No man has a moral right to withhold his support from an organization that is striving to improve the conditions within his sphere.”

Today there trade associations and professional societies representing hundreds of professions. Many are headquartered right here in Salem. I would almost guarantee that there is an association or professional society for your line of work.

In my professional life, I have worked with many associations – from chimney sweeps to surgeons. After attending hundreds of board and committee meetings, I can attest to the value of choosing your professional organization to invest your time. People who join their trade association and volunteer in it enhance their careers and gain the respect of their peers.

So, my message to you is to volunteer in your association. Here are several reasons you should do so.

1. You’ll learn something new. Involvement as a board member will give you unique learning experiences that you won’t get on the job.

2. Your industry needs you. You have something to offer your profession. You know things, have opinions, and can share skills. Effective association boards must have a regular supply of new people that bring new ideas and energy. Don’t like the topics at your conferences? Join the conference committee. Don’t support your board’s political position?  Contribute and serve on the political action team.

3. Build leadership skills. Working on a board will enhance your leadership skills. New board members often can take advantage of board related trainings. Much of it is excellent and provided for free. Also, many associations have leadership conferences through their national office.

4. Enhance your career. Employers look to people who demonstrate leadership qualities. Service on a board of directors not only looks great on your resume, it will give you valuable management skills that will be a huge advantage to you as you climb that corporate ladder or build your business. Plus, your colleagues will look up to you and view you as a person who is a leader in your trade.

5. Expand your network. By being involved in an association you will enhance your network. The relationships you gain are not only enriching from a social perspective, but also from a career perspective. You will make friends and talk shop – a lot – but that will widen your perspective. Plus, your new friends can be a great sounding board for problems you may have on the job.

7. Become and industry expert. As a board member, especially at the national level, you will learn about new trends, best practices, and political challenges. You’ll hear about key achievers in your field and also meet and brainstorm with others who are also looking to share and learn new information. Many boards do research or talk to industry experts about important issues and those discussions will give valuable information.

8. Finally, trust me, you’ll have fun!


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