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Is an association right for you?

Is an association right for you?

June 27, 2023
Cathy Williams

What compels people to form associations? 

Associations are groups of like-minded individuals brought together for a common purpose.  We have adages for that: “Birds of a feather flock together,” “Many hands make light work,” etc.  Those of us who are part of associations find value and joy in being with, learning from and aiding others who have similar interests and goals.

When I was in college, associations weren’t on my radar as a career path, but by serendipity I found myself working for two different associations in the Washington, D.C., area.  As I look back on more than 40 years as an association professional, I am impressed by the value of these organizations to the individuals who are members and to society.

In the D.C. area there seems to be an association for everyone, from snack food providers to engineers. My focus in this post is on associations for members of a profession. 

Professional associations:

  • Set professional standards, and the good ones monitor members’ adherence to those standards. A great example is the Association of Fundraising Professionals’ Code of Ethics, which is overseen by an active Ethics Committee.
  • Provide learning opportunities for members and others who are affected by the profession. Through conferences, seminars, policy papers and other publications, they provide the latest research and information on new developments in their field of expertise. 
  • Encourage networking. Not only are association gatherings fun, but they also help members identify colleagues who understand their challenges and can provide advice. This is especially helpful for those who work in small shops, who are new to the profession or who have no mentors in their organization who can help them learn on the job.
  • Allow members to contribute their knowledge and skills to benefit the profession. There is a sense of fulfillment when one mentors colleagues, teaches classes and writes for the association’s publications.
  • Provide leadership opportunities. What better place to develop one’s leadership skills than in association committees and boards!

There are so many reasons to join professional associations, not the least of which is to support the group’s visibility and credibility with policymakers, employers and the public.  

I’ve reaped the benefits of association membership during my career, and I encourage others to give it a try. Associations can be a great source of lasting friendships as well as an enhancement to one’s career.


Cathy Williams

Cathlene Williams is a published writer/researcher and educator with more than 30 years’ experience in the nonprofit world. She is the former vice president for education and research for the Association of Fundraising Professionals. Prior to working for AFP she was a project director and director of information services for the National Association of State Boards of Education.