People join associations to gain additional expertise and connect with others who share similar goals and values. The programs and services must accommodate members’ unique needs and encourage them to learn and grow. So, how can you provide quality incentives to support collaboration and contribute value?
We spoke with top association leaders about the challenges and successes of structuring an organization, creating and honing a vision, and communicating with members, sponsors, and executives to foster engagement and maximize benefits. Each leader has specialized and innovative approaches to these topics, demonstrating their pride and dedication to enhancing their association.
David Blake, National Speakers Association
When looking for ways to provide valuable services and grow your organization, it’s helpful to leverage your members’ talents. According to David, members join associations to assist with the programs, but some feel their skills and expertise aren’t valued, so they often avoid involvement. Pursue these members and provide services to make them feel useful, so you can gain new ideas to enhance your organization. In his association, David organizes a speakers’ academy for his associates to showcase their talents.
For nearly 50 years, the National Speakers Association (NSA) has helped tens of thousands of speakers propel their business through three simple steps: connecting with the community, tapping into member-exclusive resources, and plugging into national and local events. The NSA is committed to elevating excellence, empowering professional speakers to thrive and influence, and sharing expertise.
Deborah Kemper, San Mateo County Bar Association (SMCBA)
If you’re trying to generate sponsors, you must regard them as you would members. Donors seek value in an organization, so you have to provide individualized services to meet their needs and expectations. Deborah makes sure to personally engage with each of her sponsors by delivering custom phone calls and email marketing campaigns. She also arranges annual events to maximize her retention rate.
The mission of the San Mateo County Bar Association (SMCBA) is to promote the honor and dignity of the legal profession, educate its members, maintain cooperation between members and the judiciary, assist the public in accessing legal services, and advance the fair and effective administration of justice for all. With its worthwhile educational programs, fulfilling volunteer opportunities, and friendly social gatherings, SMCBA elevates and enhances the practice of law in San Mateo County.
Delia Murphy, National Pasta Association
The pandemic restricted in-person engagement initiatives, leaving many association leaders struggling to reinstate value and involvement. Delia created online advertising opportunities through newsletters to remedy this issue, which sustained interest despite not having meetings. These endeavors benefited both members and sponsors as Delia worked to satisfy individual needs.
The National Pasta Association is the US trade association of manufacturers, marketers, millers, and suppliers in the pasta industry. The organization serves as a cohesive advocate, promoter, and center of knowledge for the industry, members of the government, and the consumer so that US pasta consumption increases and the US pasta industry thrives. The National Pasta Association facilitates pasta makers’ needs to collaborate on manufacturing, marketing, and regulatory issues.
Rebecca Weber, Association of Mature American Citizens (AMAC)
What do members look for in an association? They seek a community that offers continuous educational opportunities and ways to interact with each other to build relationships. Rebecca strives to improve the quality of enrollment through digital, direct mail, and affinity marketing endeavors. Her association even has a podcast to enhance learning experiences.
The Association of Mature American Citizens (AMAC) is focused on protecting the interests of America’s seniors. AMAC offers an alternative perspective on how to best solve the problems faced by seniors today, such as fighting runaway taxes, excessive government involvement in their day-to-day lives, and the erosion of accountability at all levels of government. The organization offers a variety of consumer benefits, including travel discounts, competitively priced insurance products, roadside assistance, and retail and restaurant discounts.
Doug Peters, Tennessee Valley Public Power Association (TVPPA)
One of the most important qualities of an association leader is flexibility. As Doug says, you have to accommodate each new member’s unique demands so you can provide the appropriate services and establish credibility in your industry. So, don’t be afraid to modify your organization as it could help you engage and preserve members.
The Tennessee Valley Public Power Association, Inc. (TVPPA) is a nonprofit, regional service organization that represents the interests of consumer-owned electric utilities operating within the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) service area. TVPPA members include both municipal and electric cooperatives, serving more than 9 million customers in Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, Mississippi, Kentucky, North Carolina, and Virginia.
Shaon Hines, The Illinois Association of Naturopathic Physicians (ILANP)
When assembling a leadership board for your association, it’s essential to nominate people who can contribute something of value, not just those seeking popularity. Shaon maintains that a strong board is the key to a successful organization, which is why she supplies her panel with ambitious and self-sufficient people who provide innovative ideas. Always remember to celebrate your committee’s hard work to continue encouraging them to put their best foot forward.
The Illinois Association of Naturopathic Physicians (ILANP) is a professional association of Naturopathic Doctors (NDs) who live and work in Illinois. ILANP’s members are graduates of accredited four-year, graduate-level, in-residence naturopathic medical programs, accredited by the Council on Naturopathic Medical Education and recognized by the US Department of Education. The ILANP is dedicated to promoting public safety and professional accountability, increasing access to naturopathic medicine for Illinois residents, and supporting members’ professional development.
Ed Shapiro, Crane Certification Association of America
As Ed has experienced, not all association members renew their enrollment. To mitigate the attrition rate, he issues membership credentials to reward individuals for their willingness to learn and complete rigorous programs. Providing certifications and ongoing educational resources will encourage your members to return yearly.
The purpose of the Crane Certification Association of America (CCCA) is to promote crane safety, improve the certification profession and address the subject of crane safety in governmental forums. The CCCA issues the designation of Certified Crane Surveyor, which is now offered nationwide by the National Commission for the Certification of Crane Operators (NCCCO). The association continues to develop a training program to prepare applicants for the test.
Emma Toussenel, Residence Hall Association – University of Colorado Boulder
As an association leader, it’s critical to collaborate with other executives to maximize results for your organization. Emma observes that there are many different leadership styles, so you must understand how to navigate each one. Leaders are the voice of any association, and learning the best methods for coaching and initiating partnerships can greatly benefit your members.
The University of Colorado Boulder Residence Hall Association (RHA) is a student-run organization that fosters and facilitates a community among on-campus residents and promotes a safe and comfortable living environment. RHA also provides opportunities for leadership development and training, as well as various programming efforts to focus on advocacy and social justice in the halls.
Eric Russ, Kentucky Psychological Association
Partnerships are imperative to the success of an association as they generate awareness, foster industry relationships, and promote advocacy. Eric partners with members of his community who are interested in marketing his sector. He also asserts the importance of maintaining strong relationships with each member of the organization to achieve long-term success.
Since 1932, the Kentucky Psychological Association has represented the interests of psychologists in the Commonwealth of Kentucky. Members include doctoral and master’s level psychology professionals with various training experiences and work placements, and undergraduate through post-doctoral students. The Association has developed a strong voice in Frankfort on practice and regulation issues, including mental health services in health care reform and advocacy for services for the mentally ill.
Eddie Seiler, Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA)
Eddie’s leadership approach is simple — he structures his mission and services around his members. They are the driving force of any organization, so it’s essential to prioritize their requests. For Edward, this means developing mission-based educational programs and events, and hosting industry meetings so members can take advantage of their enrollment.
The Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) is the national association representing the real estate finance industry. Headquartered in Washington, DC, MBA works to ensure the continued strength of the nation’s residential and commercial real estate markets, expand homeownership, and extend access to affordable housing to all Americans. Its membership of over 2,200 companies includes all elements of real estate finance: mortgage companies, brokers, commercial banks, Wall Street conduits, and life insurance companies, among others.
Ethan Tipping, Michigan Sport Business Association
Every association leader has a vision for their organization. Yet, sometimes that vision is compromised in favor of another. Ethan understands this experience all too well, and in the process, learned that it’s necessary to change your perspective to accommodate other ideas. The ability to collaborate with your colleagues is key to developing an organization of strong value.
The Michigan Sport Business Association strives to connect, educate, and inspire future leaders of the sport industry. Michigan SBA offers students the opportunities to expand their personal and professional competencies within the sport industry through insightful workshops, networking events, and internships.
Frances Kiradjian, Boutique Lifestyle Leaders Association (BLLA)
Building association chapters can be a great way to expand and scale your organization. Yet this type of expansion is challenging as it requires clear communication between current and prospective members. Frances recommends recruiting leaders and members to share your association’s knowledge base with the community. Sometimes, this entails venturing outside your industry to propel your mission forward and achieve substantial results.
Founded in 2009, the Boutique & Lifestyle Leaders Association (BLLA) is the voice of the world’s independent boutique and lifestyle hotels, small brands, and boutique businesses. As the lifestyle industry sees an increasing demand from boutique-seeking clients, BLLA is primarily dedicated to creating greater economic success for independent business owners by helping them level the playing field against larger brands and chains.
Fred Romani, National Air Traffic Controllers Association
Fred recognizes that it’s impossible for leaders to please everyone, so he affirms that you have to make decisions that will benefit your organization and make a difference in your members’ lives. Although these decisions can be difficult — especially when resulting in disappointment — it’s critical to maintain confidence and assert your expertise. If you carry yourself with assurance, genuine members will stand behind you.
National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) is a labor union and aviation safety organization in the United States that represents nearly 20,000 highly skilled air traffic controllers, engineers, and other aviation safety-related professionals. These professionals make vital contributions to the US economy by coordinating the safe, orderly, and expeditious movement of nearly one billion aviation passengers and millions of tons of freight within the National Airspace System each year.
Gary Roebuck, Association of Research Libraries (ARL)
Here’s something association leaders don’t often consider — industry trends. While it’s customary to focus largely on memberships, sponsorships, events, and programs, Gary urges leaders to be aware of the growth in their sector, as it can impact the future of an organization. He acquires information from various publications and other associations to stay informed and structure his programs accordingly.
The Association of Research Libraries (ARL) is a nonprofit organization of 125 research libraries in Canada and the US whose mission is to advance research, learning, and scholarly communication. ARL forges partnerships and catalyzes the collective efforts of research libraries to enable knowledge creation and to achieve enduring and barrier-free access to information.
Alan Sparkman, Tennessee Concrete Association (TCA)
Not all association leaders have previous leadership experience. If you’re managing an organization for the first time, it’s helpful to leverage the knowledge you do have so you can serve your members appropriately. Alan successfully navigated his first association role by capitalizing on industry expertise which gave him the opportunity to recognize and solve his members’ challenges.
The Tennessee Concrete Association (TCA) leads the concrete industry in creating sustainable value for members and customers through advocacy, education, and market development. The association is governed by a Board of Directors elected annually by the membership. The board includes eight ready-mix producer members, three associate members, and one affiliate member representing each class of the TCA membership.
Jennifer Karpus-Romain, Transportation Marketing and Sales Association(TMSA)
As Jennifer says, members’ first impressions are crucial. If you want to enlist talented affiliates, you have to establish initiatives that demonstrate excellence. Each new member of Jennifer’s association receives a formal onboarding process so they feel valued and welcome. The quality of your programs directly reflects the success of your organization, so it’s important to maximize your effort.
For nearly a century, the Transportation Marketing and Sales Association has been enabling sales and marketing professionals to learn and give back to the transportation and logistics industry through education, connections, and resources. Members strengthen their individual development, their businesses, and the industry at large. Today, TMSA strives to be the pre-eminent, nonprofit sales and marketing association that transportation and logistics professionals turn to.
John Oliver, National Association of Sales Professionals (NASP)
John emphasizes the importance of dedication in leadership. The pride he takes in his role directly reflects the value of his association. Your organization can’t thrive if you’re alienated from the work required to maintain one, so try shifting your perspective to view your position as a journey, rather than merely a job.
The National Association of Sales Professionals (NASP) is a global sales association dedicated to empowering dynamic salespeople and teams in the rapidly changing sales industry. The community links career-minded professionals and industry experts together in a worldwide peer network to share best practices and raise the standard for sales professionals across the globe and across industries.
John Williams, Oklahoma Bar Association
According to John, leading an association is an ongoing learning experience. Each industry development comes with its own unique challenges, so adjusting your knowledge and skill set is paramount. John advises leaders to constantly prepare for any new obstacle or advancement to establish new programs as they see fit.
The Oklahoma Bar Association (OBA) has a history of serving lawyers and the public by offering a wide variety of community service programs, free legal information, and other resources. As part of the goal to protect the public, the OBA Office of the General Counsel investigates complaints against lawyers and prosecutes those who have committed ethical violations. The association is governed by its House of Delegates, and when not in session, a 17-member Board of Governors oversees the organization’s operations.
Joy Heath Rush, International Legal Technology Association (ILTA)
How does Joy ensure a 90% renewal rate for her association? She allows members to customize their memberships to meet their goals through a program called My ILTA (International Legal Technology Association). With this resource, members can leverage programs, events, and content within the organization to maximize learning opportunities. People join associations for various reasons, so it’s essential to accommodate differing needs.
The International Legal Technology Association is the trusted global resource community for legal technologists, providing information, education, peer connections, and career support that enhances the delivery of legal services. ILTA is a volunteer-led staff-managed organization with a focus on premiership. While the association has a strong focus on technology, its offerings support professionals of every industry in law firms and corporate/government legal operations.
Kris Rowe, Community Action Association of Alabama
Managing a nationwide association is demanding, as there are often affiliate branches throughout the country. Every initiative you take reflects not only on your sector but on the organization as a whole. That’s why Kris emphasizes the importance of connecting members nationally through collaborative programs. This gives them a chance to join other associations within the network, allowing them to scale.
Community Action Agencies are private nonprofit or public organizations that were created by the federal government in 1964 to combat poverty in geographically designated areas. A Community Action Agency has a tripartite board structure that is designated to promote the participation of the entire community in the reduction or elimination of poverty.
Rachel Henderson, Florida Speakers Association (FSA)
Because many associations rely on volunteers, Rachel says that you need to have a good board that’s willing to dedicate the proper time, make certain sacrifices, and think with the organization’s vision in mind. But how do you build a good board? Look at the strengths of your members and build them up to different positions. Not everyone who joins has been on a board before, so it’s vital to communicate (even overcommunicate) with your team and chapter.
The Florida Speakers Association (FSA) is the South Florida chapter of the National Speakers Association. They partner with professional speakers to help them rapidly advance to the next level of success by offering quality content from some of the best speakers in the world.
Veta T. Richardson, Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC)
According to Veta, leaders have to stay mindful of their association’s members. When things are hectic trying to keep everyone happy and balance different interests, you have to stay true to your North Star and put your members first. When you stay attuned to their needs and wants, your association will continue growing — no matter how frenzied things are at the moment.
The Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC) is the world’s largest nonprofit corporation dedicated exclusively to serving chief legal and compliance executives. They provide an industry-leading combination of resources, education and training, professional networks, and advocacy for advancing corporate counsel interests. ACC has over 45,000 members with chapter operations in 61 regions across six continents.
Traci Copeland, Human Resource Association of Broward County (HRABC)
How does the Human Resource Association of Broward County (HRABC) retain members? Traci says that in addition to monthly events and legal conferences, the organization shares information through legal updates and top-notch speakers. Aligning its mission with its actions, the HRABC shares tools with its members to facilitate success throughout the industry.
Since 1968, the HRABC has been dedicated to advancing the HR profession by building valuable networks. They continuously promote the strategic importance of HR management in the scope of modern business. The HRABC connects people, influences communities, and drives corporate change.
Leah D’Ambrosio, Shelter Animal Reiki Association (SARA)
Leah says that all associations have to be flexible and know how to pivot. Especially as we’ve seen with the pandemic, you can never truly predict what’s on the horizon — so it’s best to equip yourself with skills and tools to help you adapt to whatever’s thrown your way.
The Shelter Animal Reiki Association (SARA) is a 501(c)3 nonprofit that supports the health and wellness of animals in shelters, sanctuaries, and rescues. They also support caregivers at each animal organization. Through SARA’s ongoing professional development, training, and education programs, they’re promoting the highest standards in Animal Reiki practitioner and teacher excellence.
Kasey Eckstein, Women in Maritime Operations (WIMOs)
For Kasey, getting the organization started was not easy. While working another job during the day, she found it difficult to dedicate time to the association. That’s why she advises others to make sure they’re working for an organization that they’re passionate about — because there will be tough times where your only driving motivator is the excitement and devotion to your association.
Women in Maritime Operations (WIMOs) is dedicated to educating, engaging, and elevating women who are actively employed in the maritime industry. The organization’s membership currently includes over 452 individuals and over 110 member companies. Because there’s a lack of female representation in the industry, WIMOs works to support and propel women in their maritime career.
Daniel Blanchard, Northeast Connecticut Authors and Publishers Association (NE CAPA)
People are joining associations as a way to connect with others. That’s why Daniel says it’s crucial to create a space where you can get to know your members. You have to understand what they like, what they don’t like, and what they want to gain from your organization. Daniel also says you should get your members involved with different activities. This way, they’ll interact with other members in an exciting way (and make time in their busy schedules to do so).
The Northeast Connecticut Authors and Publishers Association (NE CAPA) provides an opportunity for writers, aspiring writers, publishers, illustrators, and anyone else who wants to be around a writing community to hang out with other like-minded individuals. At NE CAPA, members are exposed to motivation, education, and valuable networking.
Madison Walkes, National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ)
Madison says that associations shouldn’t be afraid of failure and saying no. The National Association of Black Journalists is a small chapter headquartered at the University of Maryland – College Park. Because they’re such a small organization, they can’t overextend themselves by saying yes to everything. Especially as a small-scale association, you should put your energy into specific goals and focus your time on areas that are valuable to your people.
Founded in 1975, the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) is an organization of journalists, students, and media-related professionals that provides quality programs and services and advocates on behalf of black journalists worldwide. They provide fellowships, internships, scholarships, professional development, and technical training for black journalists across the country.
Toccara Williams, National Basketball Retired Players Association (NBRPA)
Looking to level up as an association leader? Toccara has a tip from her new “pay attention” series: follow the APERI method. First, you have to assess yourself and find out what you do best — and what’s not in your wheelhouse. For the tasks that are outside of your ability, you have to pass them off to others who are skilled in that area. Next is the “E” in APERI: build expectations for your team and organization. Finally, you have to put yourself in that new leadership role and have individuality.
Founded in 1992 by NBA legends Dave DeBusschere, Dave Bing, Archie Clark, Dave Cowens, and Oscar Robertson, the National Basketball Retired Players Association (NBRPA) is a nonprofit association of former professional basketball players of the NBA, ABA, and Harlem Globetrotters. Its mission is to help members transition from playing on the court to life after the game while positively impacting communities and youth through basketball.
Lou Marinoff, American Philosophical Practitioners Association (APPA)
Lou and the team at the American Philosophical Practitioners Association are designing programs to bring philosophy into the lives of anyone who is curious. Lou says that as long as you offer something of value, your people will keep showing up. The APPA team doesn’t automatically renew members — they provide valuable programs, and members choose to renew.
The American Philosophical Practitioners Association (APPA) was founded in 1999, and they’re on a mission to help people improve their lives. Many philosophers are not thought of as useful, but APPA is changing that perspective, training philosophers to be useful, and advocating for others to lead an examined life.
Nabeal W. Khatib, National Arab American Association of Engineers and Architects (NAAAEA)
Nabeal emphasizes the fact that communication and reputation are key to building an admirable association. Be unique, think outside of the box, and be responsive to your members. When you keep in touch with your people, you’ll be able to grow and sustain your organization. When you stay true to your values and innovate, you’ll create a lasting reputation.
The National Arab American Association of Engineers and Architects (NAAAEA) is a nonprofit, non-religious, and non-political organization. They’re on a mission to strengthen, empower, and inspire their members for excellence and a better future. The NAAAEA promotes and advocates for Arab American engineers, architects, and computer science professionals in North America by providing career and educational enhancement programs, technical exchange, fellowship, and community service.
Guadalupe Vasquez, National Hispanic Contractors Association (NAHICA)
Figuring out what members want can be a challenge. The National Hispanic Contractors Association has an idea of what members need, but they send out member surveys to gain more accurate insight. Guadalupe says that the survey results always show new things that members want, but it can help you look at fresh possibilities and shape your organization around your members.
The National Hispanic Contractors Association (NAHICA) aims to firmly establish Hispanic contractors as a preferred partner choice in all industries for manufacturers and residential and commercial builders. They help the Latin construction community connect, grow, and have adequate resources to gain support from established businesses.
Latagia Copeland-Tyronce, National African American Families First and Preservation Association (NAFPA)
Running an association is hard work. Take it from Latagia, who recently started the National African American Families First and Preservation Association and has been doing everything on her own. She says that you need a core team of solid people — which is something she’s pursuing right now. But despite the difficulties, Latagia says you shouldn’t let anyone discourage you from starting the association you’ve always envisioned.
The National African American Families First and Preservation Association (NAFPA) is a groundbreaking organization on a mission to protect African American families through legislative and policy advocacy.
Dr. Miriam A. Knoll, Jewish Orthodox Women’s Medical Association (JOWMA)
Many associations rely on volunteers for support. Dr. Knoll says that if someone is working for your organization on a volunteer basis, do everything you can to support that passion. People often join associations whose mission aligns with their own, so it’s important that you’re sharing your mission with the world and seeking people with similar values.
The Jewish Orthodox Women’s Medical Association (JOWMA) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing support, networking opportunities, and mentorship for Jewish female physicians, trainees, and pre-medical students. They also provide preventative health and women’s health education and patient advocacy to the Orthodox Jewish community.
Steven Mandernach, Association of Food and Drug Officials (AFDO)
One of the best ways to retain members is to stop putting so much effort into membership. This might sound contradictory, but Steven and the team at the Association of Food and Drug Officials made a strategic decision to stop focusing on membership and saw the benefits. Instead of thinking about membership, they shifted their focus to providing good service — because if you provide good service, people will want to get involved with your organization.
The Association of Food and Drug Officials (AFDO) has been around since 1896, predating the regulation of pharmaceuticals. Their common goal is to improve public health through uniform laws, regulations, and guidelines for allergens, body art, cannabis, emergency response, manufactured food, and more.
Terry S. Morse, National Ground Water Association (NGWA)
When running an association, you can’t ignore the small difficulties. If there are little pebbles hitting your head, Terry says you have to look up — because a boulder is probably coming. It’s important that you look for the pebbles in your association because it’s often a sign of something bigger on the horizon.
The National Ground Water Association (NGWA) is the hallmark organization for anyone affiliated with the groundwater industry. Their membership is made up of US and international groundwater professionals — from contractors and scientists to equipment manufacturers and suppliers. NGWA’s purpose is to provide guidance to members, government representatives, and the public for sound scientific, economic, and beneficial development, protection, and management of the world’s groundwater resources.