Tina Lewis Rowe

Insights, Information & Inspiration

Professional Associations — When To Join and When To Quit

Professional groups and associations can have value.

If you are building a career and want to develop professionally you can benefit from becoming part of groups and associations that focus on your interests.

If you want to develop colleagues and friendships, membership in associations and groups can provide a professional community with which you can interact.  Such memberships are also useful if you want to contribute to a body of knowledge and use that knowledge to improve your profession,

  • You will be more likely to keep up with trends and training, as well as have access to conferences, seminars, and certification programs.
  • If you attend meetings you can get information and make contacts that might be useful.
  • If your group is primarily long distance, you may receive benefits of being part of the group without going to meetings at all.
  • Your active participation can help you gain other skills.
  • You may receive useful written material, magazines and books.
  • Your membership may indicate a level of professional status that is beneficial.
  • You can list your membership on resumes and discuss it in interviews, to show that you are staying current and active.
  • You can represent your organization positively through your activities.

 Some things to consider before joining a group or association.

1. Is there value in it for you, or are you only joining to say you are a member? Few groups are so prestigious that you should spend money or time unnecessarily. If you are only joining to have the membership on your resume–or a lapel pin to wear–think twice. I’ve never been aware of someone who was picked for a position or who scored higher on a process, simply because he or she was a member of the International Association of High Powered People, or some such thing.  

If you really don’t want to join, but you are thinking about it because a very nice person wants to sponsor you–say no. Not, “Maybe.” Simply say, “Thank you for asking me, but I have so many other things to do I can barely breathe right now! I swear, even one more ounce of pressure and I’m liable to have a nervous breakdown just like the one I had last year. As it is, I sometimes feel like crying, I am so stressed about how much I have on my calendar and in my life. I hope you understand.”

OK. That might be extreme. But, you get the idea.  

2. If you have to pay for it yourself might you consider it differently than if your organization will be paying for it? Just because you can get it approved does not mean you should spend the money. It smacks of being unethical to join a group merely to get an annual conference/vacation paid for by your organization. (As in the case of the person who joined, quit and rejoined groups based on where their international conferences were being held.)

There can be value in moving memberships between associations every year or two if you want to gain several perspectives or contact lists. You may find one is preferable and stick with it.

3. Are you joining mostly to get the magazine or to find out about training, rather than for interacting with people? If so, see if you can subscribe to the magazine without being a member. Or, check out the organization’s website regularly to find out about conferences or training. A magazine subscription is a lot less expensive than a full membership just to get the magazine!

4. If it is local, will you attend enough meetings to be a contributing member? If you don’t intend to participate, maybe you should not join. Or, join as an associate member if that is available. If you do not participate someone on the “Let’s Get Everyone Involved” Committee will contact you regularly about it–which is irritating to you and them both.

5. Will meetings and activities create more pressure in your worklife or result in work being affected? Even if you decide to join, it is not necessary to become the secretary, president or board member right away–or ever. Do not let membership create more pressure in your life. Rarely does the business of an association have a lasting impact on very many things. (A cynical, but true, statement!)

When it is time to quit a professional group or association:

  • (If the group meets locally.) You dread going to meetings and welcome reasons to not go.
  • (If the group does not meet locally) Months go by without you opening the mail from them.
  • You resent the money you are spending–or you cannot afford it in the first place.
  • You cannot list more than one or two things you have gotten from membership in the last year.
  • You cannot list more than one or two things you have contributed in the last year.
  • It has so little value to you that you would not put it on a resume or mention it in an interview.

Final thought: Research the groups or clubs that could benefit you in your professional development and consider joining them. They can have value in many ways. However, keep in mind that your time, money, energy and interests are limited. Only join groups that add to your professional development significantly. Look for groups where you enjoy other members and are proud to say you are part of it. Then, be an active member who not only gets something from the group, but gives back as well.

July 15th, 2008 Posted by | Personal and Professional Development | 4 comments


  1. Hi Tina! I have a boss who is a member of every group and association you can think of and pushes me and others to join all of them. He says they give you a good network, but we are in county government so it’s not like we will get more business that way!

    He goes to all the local meetings, which means a couple of breakfast meetings and a couple of lunch meetings almost every week! Those get very expensive! Our big boss won’t approve him going to a national conference, but he always asks.

    I agree with you about all of this. I don’t have the money, time or interest to join clubs and groups like that. Is there anything you can think of I could say to him that would stop him from nagging me about it? Thanks!

    Comment by G.M. | July 16, 2008

  2. Thank you for the comment and question, G.M.! You are absolutely correct that those breakfasts and lunches can get to be very, very expensive! I was in a group where the lunches were going up to $18!

    It is good to have a network of people in all walks of life, because it can help you broaden your perspectives. However, that can be achieved in ways other than club memberships. Getting to know your neighbors, going to church, interacting more purposefully with clients, vendors and others you deal with at work, are all ways to do it.

    When your boss asks you about joining a club, just stick to a short answer: A smile, and “No, that’s not something I want to do.” “No, thanks.” “I have all the commitments I can handle and don’t intend to take on one more thing, not now or in the future.” Or,if your relationship is friendly enough to do it: “Jim, I’m always going to say the same thing, which is, ‘No’ So, there’s no point in you asking me again.”

    It is inappropriate of your manager to push you about these things anyway–and you could complain about it. But, that seems extreme, unless his pushiness is extreme too.

    Keep in touch! T.

    Comment by Tina | July 16, 2008

  3. This may be impossible to answer….are there any national groups you would recommend for someone in municipal government management? I’m a member of the ICMA, but want something more management or supervision oriented, or maybe about leadership. Maybe that’s my problem, I don’t know what I want!

    Comment by Mike B. | July 17, 2008

  4. Here is what I suggest to others:

    Consider where you want your career to be focused in another five years or so. Find an association that is involved in that issue (It could be management or leadership, but it might be training, IT, re-engineering the workplace, sustainability, or any of the other topics that you might want to have as an area of expertise. Then, in a search engine, put that word and the word association, and see what you find.

    That way you are truly gaining some new knowledge, and you can show that you have had a commitment to the concept for several years.

    Another suggestion–use your network to ask peers what associations they have found helpful.

    Municipal government has some unique challenges, which is why I like ICMA. Your state may also have an association of Municipal Governments (most do) and they may have suggestions as well. Often magazines for these groups have ads for other groups.

    A final suggestion–but a very time-consuming one, so it’s just a wild suggestion–is for you to consider starting a group of your own. Nothing big and tax-exempt, just a group of like minded people who could share experiences and perhaps cross train or do job shadowing as a learning experience. If you want to say you’ve shown some initiative…that would do it!

    I hope these ideas have been helpful. Let me know what you decide to do! Tina

    Comment by Tina | July 17, 2008

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