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Building Collegial Relationships by Association

Posted By Jennifer Thomas, Thursday, September 1, 2016
Updated: Monday, August 15, 2016

I joined the Virginia Society of Association Executives (VSAE) this year. VSAE is for me what VAM is for our members—a place to network and interact with other people who do the same thing I do every day, to learn from them and share challenges, and to build my expertise so that I can better serve our members. VSAE members are association staff from organizations of all sizes (one staff to over 100 staff!), budgets, and types (from the Virginia CPAs to the Road Construction Association)—any of this sound familiar?


What I’ve also realized by joining another member organization is that it isn’t required. There is nothing that says I MUST belong to an industry association in order to do my job. My board didn’t require me to join VSAE. I chose to, because I thought it would be good for me and my career. Most of our members at VAM join for the same reason—not because they have to, but because VAM has done something, or offers something, that they think will help them get ahead, or do better.   


I thought my experience as a member of an association might help VAM’s members make the most out of their choice to join us. When I attended my first VSAE meeting, I met 3 new association executives—not bad, not great. I was a little like a fish out of water, not quite knowing where to start. That might sound familiar to our newer VAM members. My next meeting I made a concerted effort to meet at least 10 new people—and the next meeting. It worked! Since that time, I have felt like one of the crew, welcome and able to drop into conversations and feel like I was a part of things. If you’re new to VAM, try the same technique—once you have those new colleagues, you are likely to feel much more comfortable in a big room full of VAMers.


After being with VSAE for a few months, I attended my first conference. What a great experience! Like the VAM conference, this one was full of sessions that were designed to help with practical tips for the work I do. Ever feel like you’ve walked into the wrong session? For one session, I sure did! All the speakers were from associations with budgets in the millions. I almost got up and walked out. But the speakers were engaging, so I stayed—and learned A LOT.  Try it! At your next VAM conference, purposefully pick a session that you ordinarily wouldn’t—because the speakers aren’t from history museums, or they are all from the “wrong” size institution. And just listen. And then email me and tell me what you thought.  


With six months of my VSAE membership under my belt, I was talking to a member who works for a small association like mine, and he currently runs an affinity group for VSAE just for small associations. He needs to step away, and was worried that the group would falter. I volunteered to step up and help run these affinity meetings—it would help me meet more people, and learn more about the organization. My first meeting is next month, and I am looking forward to being a part of it. I first agreed to volunteer selfishly—this group could be helpful to my growth, and give me information I want to do my job. But now that I’m working on setting up this first meeting, I’m feeling great about being able to give back to the organization that I have come to be loyal to in just a few short months. Have you volunteered for VAM? We’d love to have you! I think you would find, like I have, that you can have both selfish and selfless gains from the experience.


Coming back to my thought at the beginning of this post—that associations aren’t REQUIRED—I just have this to say. I hope that all of our VAM members feel that we do all we can for you, and keep you coming back because we are worth it. I also hope, though, that you don’t take your choice to join for granted—put yourself out there, do something uncomfortable, give back—it will make your time with VAM all that more valuable.

Tags:  associations  career  conference  networking  professional development 

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