Networking events are always complicated for an association professional. When the dreaded, “What do you do?” question arises, I take a deep breath and start to explain that I work for an industry trade association.
Most of the time, this is greeted with a blank stare and a shifty eye looking for a way out of the conversation as I make my way into my narrative of what a trade association is (an association of people or companies in a particular business or trade, organized to promote their common interests), what membership means, and the value of belonging to an association.
I am also a millennial. Born in 1982, I sit upon the cusp of Gen X and millennials. When speaking with my peers, I have found the trade association concept is not widely understood by my generation.
What I also have found in my eight years of working in association management, however, is the business of trade associations aligns remarkably well with the values of the millennial generation: values of career pathway building, community, teamwork and purpose.
As you look to your organization and to your next generation of leadership, encourage them to get engaged in your industry trade association for these four important reasons:
Shared industry knowledge
Trade associations are membership-driven, meaning they must keep their finger on the pulse of the industry they serve, and be ready to act on behalf of the members who belong to the association. This means associations are on top of the latest and greatest industry trends, emerging technologies, and economic trends and forecasts. Attending association events can build the expertise of your millennial employees.
Associations are nonprofit organizations governed by a board of directors. They can be staff or volunteer-run based on their size, but regardless of who is managing the day-to-day operations, associations are member-driven and perform their best work under volunteer leadership. Joining a committee, advisory board, taskforce, or board of directors provides individuals with the opportunity to develop volunteer leadership skills and give back to their business community.
Many associations provide leadership training opportunities for their volunteers. Our association hosts an annual leadership speaker series. During this three-part series, national thought leaders present to our members on the latest strategy around organizational leadership. Members often send their future leaders to this session to help them prepare for their next steps.
Networking and community
Connections are at the heart of associations. Trade associations exist to connect businesses to resources and to connect people to people. Every association event, whether a lunch meeting, an annual conference, or a golf outing, is an opportunity to meet and network with industry peers and future clients or customers. Associations help build the future network of your millennial employees.
Politics and policy
At our association, we have a key phrase: “Get into politics, or get out of business.” No matter what side of the aisle your business best aligns, lawmakers regularly create policy that impacts how you work. Industry trade associations keep a local, state and national presence with policymakers to advocate on behalf of the individuals or businesses that belong to their association. A unified and collective voice often is stronger than an individual one in politics, which is the benefit of industry trade associations working alongside government.
Industry trade associations often will request the presence of their members to provide legislative testimony, or to attend a legislative day in which members visit representatives and senators to share the current business climate. Encourage your millennial employees to participate in policy-making to ensure the best possible business climate as they ascend into organizational leadership.
As you look to your organization’s future leaders, engaging them in your industry trade association will provide them with a deep understanding of the industry in which you work. Association membership also is an opportunity for leadership development, a place to network with industry peers and create business connections, and provides the ability to advocate for policy and lawmakers who will make wise decisions for your organization.