Strategic association involvement

November 2011 » Columns » PROFESSIONAL PRACTICE
John P. Bachner

How much money does your firm waste each year on the useless support of societies and associations?
Not that societies and associations are useless; far from it. It's just that all too many firms invest unwisely in the otherwise-billable time employees spend on meeting and convention travel, and the money spent on annual dues, meeting registration fees, and travel. If that's your firm's situation, or if you're unsure about how much money and time your firm invests in these things, it's time for you to pursue strategic association involvement (SAI).

To effect SAI, start by recognizing that the principal benefits your firm should derive from its association or society time and money investment are teaching and exercising leadership while performing important marketing and branding activity.

Firms teach leadership by encouraging staff – especially younger staff – to work their way up the association/society food chain one committee at a time. The first involvement often is the organization's membership committee, because that committee's principal activity is "selling" the organization, which is an effective way for meeting the area's professional community.

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On the first day of the association's new year, committee chairs commonly ask, "Who will take notes?" Your firm representative's hand should shoot up, because the secretary learns the names, organization affiliations, e-mail addresses, et cetera, of other committee members. But there's more to it than that.

Preparing and issuing minutes are tasks most people prefer to avoid. Those who do it well often are named the next committee vice chair or chair. By chairing, people learn leadership. And after they chair one committee, they're ready to chair on the next, more important one. Chair two or three committees and they're bumped to the board. After two or three years of board service, they're elected to an office and, one or two years later, they're the president.

How do you deploy your "troops"? SAI makes the choice easy: Identify your most important clients and prospective clients, the organizations they support, and the committees they serve on.

Here's a fundamental rule of SAI: Join the organization and get involved – no involvement, no company support. Once you adopt that rule, determine which groups to join. Many firms prefer that staff members be involved in one technical society and one society focused on a market where one or several major clients are active. A firm's representatives may have to serve as associate members of a marketing-focused group, but being an involved associate member has obvious benefits. Among them, your reps will become more familiar with the industry, the challenges facing its members, and assistance your firm can offer. And there's usually an opportunity to work on committees with representatives of client and prospective-client firms.

The CEOs and other C-level personnel of major client and prospective-client organizations are likely to be involved in high-visibility community organizations because they want to demonstrate their organizations' social awareness. So which organizations should your firm's or office's C-level people be involved in? I'll address that in my next column; the answer won't be surprising.

John P. Bachner is the executive vice president of ASFE/The Geoprofessional Business Association, a not-for-profit association of geoprofessional firms – firms that provide geotechnical, geologic, environmental, construction materials engineering and testing (CoMET), and related professional services. ASFE develops programs, services, and materials that its members apply to achieve excellence in their business and professional practices. He can be contacted at john@asfe.org.


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