Tips for Joining a Professional Organization
By Katie Barry
Being a member of a professional or industry organization lends credibility to your reputation and can offer access to training, mentorship, and networking. But there are numerous reasons that an individual may wish to join one organization rather than another—no matter the group’s community reputation. A great way to get started is by getting references from colleagues in your field of expertise. You can find out which groups they belong to and why, and which organizations they are most keen to renew each year.
In no particular order, the following are some important points to consider when selecting the appropriate organization(s) to join:
- Jobs. Do they offer a jobs board? Are the listings organization-specific or culled from other sources to make searching easier?
- Cost. How much does membership cost? Is it a calendar-year membership program or 12 months from whenever you renew? What is included? Are there levels of membership? If you’re a student, do you get a discount?
- Mentor. Some organizations offer mentorship programs. If you’re new (or newish) to the industry, this can be a great opportunity to receive guidance as you build and expand your skills and/or business.
- Training/educational events. Does the group offer meetings with guest speakers? Do they offer workshops or webinars? What about an annual conference? What is the difference in fees for members versus nonmembers?
- Discussion groups/social media accessibility/networking. Does the group have a place to ask your colleagues questions online? Are there in-person activities for networking? Is the group active on social media? Follow their accounts before joining to get a feel for their “personalities.”
- Directory listing. Some organizations offer member directory listings as part of their membership packages; some require an extra fee. Are the listings online and/or in print? Are they publicly available/searchable? Is the directory designed to attract potential clients and enable you to highlight your skills and specialties?
- Local, national, or international. What’s the primary reach of the organization? Are you seeking work/professional development in your local geographic area, beyond or both?
- Longevity and organization structure. How long has the organization been around? Is it an established nonprofit with name recognition or is it a startup business enterprise?
These are just some of the points you may wish to track when deciding how best to spend your membership dollars.
What other points have you used as differentiators? What groups do you belong to and why? Share your comments below!
Full disclosure: I have been a member of SD/PEN for about five years and am on my second stint as a board member. I am also a member of the Editorial Freelancer’s Association (EFA), San Diego Writers/Editors Guild (SDW/EG), and American Medical Writers Association (AMWA).