Clever Carly: Make the Most of Your Memberships

You’ve joined a professionals’ organization—but are you maximizing its worth?

Hello there, fellow planners!

A few weeks ago, when I was thinking about the qualities that make for a good meeting planner, one of the first things that came to mind was that you've got to be a people-person to be in this industry. That personable quality lends itself well to getting involved with professional organizations and associations, so it's no surprise that there are a good number of professional groups for those of us in the industry to join. Among your choices: large general organizations (like PCMA), associations specific to meeting type (like the Society of Government Meeting Professionals), groups for various demographics of meeting planners (like the National Coalition of Black Meeting Planners and the Association for Women in Events), and local groups like those on meetup.com or Facebook, which vary wildly in degree of formality.

But there’s a difference between simply being on the membership rolls of a group and reaping the full benefits a professional organization can bring you. Here’s how to maximize your association memberships:

Know what you want. When you’re first joining a group, ask yourself what would make you say at the end of a year of membership, “Wow, I’m so glad I joined.” Is it finding a mentor or a new job? Developing new skills? Having access to a group’s resources? Simply blowing off steam? Chances are that the organization can touch on a number of goals, but having a clear picture of what’s driving you to join will help steer you through deciding where to spend your energies and how to introduce yourself to the members you’ll meet.

Think quality over quantity—most of the time. You joined an organization to make quality connections, not to hand out business cards like candy. The simple fact of being in an industry-specific organization with your peers creates a loose connection of the sort you might glean from a more generalized networking group—meaning that you don’t have to frantically shake hands with everyone at an event. Instead, go back to your goals and identify which members can help you reach them, and focus on cultivating those relationships to make them more meaningful

One caveat to the quality-over-quantity rule: Attending events only sporadically will rob you of your chances to deepen your connections with fellow members. Instead of attending meetings or events only when you need something, go to as many as you can to give yourself ample opportunity to network organically.

Know your benefits. Beyond the “soft” benefits like socializing and networking, some organizations offer clear-cut perks available only to members. These might include opportunities to earn CMP credits, exclusive access to journals or newsletters, job listings and discounts. If your group doesn’t offer any of these kinds of benefits, consider leading an initiative to bring more concrete extras to membership. Which leads us to …

Step into a leadership role. Member organizations aren’t just for members—they’re by members, meaning that you may well already be qualified for a leadership position. Smaller or less formal organizations may require nothing more than enthusiasm and dedication in filling official positions. Leadership spots in larger associations are likelier to be more competitive, but even within those types of groups there’s a place to make your voice heard by volunteering on the local level. 

Taking on this type of role not only helps with networking (everyone already knows who you are!), but it can also help you reach your membership goals. For example, if you are looking for a mentor, rounding up a committee will put you in touch with more established community members, which can allow a natural mentorship to flourish. Or, if your goal is to expand your arsenal of resources, volunteer to collate a resource database exclusive to members.

Above all, remember the adage “you get out of it what you put into it.” Sure, you can just pay your dues and legitimately list an organization on your résumé. But a passive membership will lead to passive rewards—and an active membership will lead to so much more.

Until next time,

Clever Carly