Whether you’re a graduate student, small business owner, or CEO, a plethora of professional organizations exist for networking, collaborating, and widening your career path.
As the world of work becomes increasingly competitive, many associations, organizations, and networks offer opportunities to connect with other professionals with similar interests and goals. These groups can be an excellent way to garner insight into expanding your skillset and becoming a more well-rounded professional; however, with so many to choose from, finding the right professional organization can be challenging because of the burden of choice.
Choosing an organization to join can be a tough decision, especially when there’s a time commitment required. It’s essential to join a network with a mission statement you’re passionate about—one that fulfills you, and helps you reach newer heights.
Similar to a mentor, having a community of like-minded individuals that can offer support and opportunities is priceless—but not all professional organizations are created equal.
So, before joining a professional association, consider some of these questions:
What is the purpose of this network?
First things first: check out the website’s “About Us” section, social media pages, and any printed materials. You might be surprised how much information they give away before you’re even a member.
What is this community’s objective and mission statement? What are their goals? Is the focus local, regional, national, or global? How does your career/personal life fit with this community’s objectives?
A clear, concise mission statement can help you determine if an organization has the level of merit and relevance that works best for you. Additionally, it enables you to understand whether the organization aligns with the values you want to project and represent. After all, the association you join is a reflection of you.
What does the membership makeup look like in terms of diversity?
Consider gender, race, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, and other demographics.
It’s vital to ensure the organization you’re looking into fits your values, is inviting to your unique perspective, and has an open-minded board. DEI is paramount in organizations—the more diverse perspectives on the table, the better decisions will be made for everyone. If any of the criteria below aren’t met, it might be time to keep looking.
- Inclusivity — Is this organization open to everyone interested in joining? If not, why?
- Intersectionality — Is this organization welcoming and accommodating to perspectives from multiple backgrounds and experiences?
- Representation — Do they have a mission statement that addresses diversity and representation matters? Are operational goals set in place to become more diverse and representative?
In addition to the demographic makeup of the organization, consider its size. While large membership bases mean more networking opportunities and connections, it may be harder to access resources. Conversely, smaller groups can lead to more intimate and genuine relationships but might not have as large of a reach or impact.
Read more here about the Importance of DEI in Professional Organizations.
Are there any membership requirements, fees, or prerequisites?
It’s essential to fully understand not only the costs associated with joining the organization but also if any experience or educational prerequisites are required. In addition, are fees tax deductible, or are there any student membership rates?
Make sure you understand what exactly is included in your membership, too. Many organizations offer a variety of benefits and services; it’s best to see what all those entail before signing up. If you’re not sure about anything, ask!
What kind of networking opportunities are offered, and how often?
Discover the types of networking opportunities offered and how they may further your professional or personal goals. For example, some organizations may meet monthly for member-only meetings, host larger events quarterly, and then annual conferences that allow for a more distinguished audience of professionals to interact with.
It’s also important to note how often meetings occur, if they’re mandatory to maintain your membership, and if these requirements can fit into your schedule.
Is this an Organization, Association, or Membership Community?
Before you become a member, it’s imperative to know what exactly you’re joining. Associations are typically more democratic and lax, whereas organizations have a fixed leadership structure. Communities are similar to the latter and focus more on a niche goal or industry.
Read more here for a deeper dive into the differences between each group.
What kind of certifications or educational resources are offered?
A good professional organization should offer continuing education opportunities and certifications that allow members to stay up-to-date on the latest information in their field. By providing this education, the association also becomes an official source of information for those seeking guidance.
If you want to add a certificate to your toolbox, access exclusive educational resources, or simply learn more within your industry, determine which organization offers these benefits.
If you decide to embark on this journey, know that the right professional organization will complement your educational and business objectives. So be sure to explore your options, ask questions, and join an organization that aligns with your vision — the rewards are well worth it.