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Just how important is membership in a professional trade association?

The benefits to the member run the gamut–from advocacy to education and training. But what about the opportunity membership gives a person to make a difference in a time of national crisis?

In the aftermath of last September’s attacks on the nation, professional associations mobilized to help the victims and rebuild America.

Take for instance the National Roofing Contractors Association, which offered to repair and rebuild the Pentagon roof. Take the life insurance industry, the National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors, the American Council of Life Insurers, the Independent Insurance Agents of America and other insurance groups all joined the Insurance Information Institute to form the Disaster Insurance Information Office.

The DIIO built a comprehensive Web site, which provided the latest insurance-related information for the families of the victims, government officials, and the news media.

In addition, NAIFA and ACLI members participated in a program sponsored by the Life and Health Insurance Foundation for Education (LIFE), which set up a toll-free number for September 11 victims to call to get answers to their insurance questions. Several NAIFA and ACLI members volunteered to respond to those calls. (See related story, NU, Oct. 22, 2001)

Other associations representing many other industries have, like the insurance professionals, stepped forward to contribute in other ways.

Given their numbers, organization, and influence, associations are an integral part of our society. This is emphasized by the American Society of Association Executives, an association representing leaders of professional, trade and philanthropic organizations. ASAE estimates there are 140,000 associations nationwide, and that figure grows by about 1,000 each year.

Associations are an important cog of the national economy. They combine for $21 billion in annual budgets, and account for billions more in indirect benefits. Associations employ close to 260,000 Americans full time. They also contribute, according to ASAE figures, close to 200 million volunteer hours of community service annually.

At their core, associations are designed to provide products and services to help dues-paying members advance their careers. Ninety-five percent of all associations, according to an ASAE survey, offer education programs, making it the single-most common association function.

Some professional organizations offer their members discounts on continuing education, licensing, certifications, and other training directly. Others offer such programs through partnerships with educational institutions. Some do both.

Other primary association functions include convention planning and activities; using Internet technology to share information with members; and providing public information and activities.

Some typical member benefits of almost any association include:

Advocacy. This function is especially important in the financial services industry given the high level of regulation. Advisors need an advocate that understands the role they play and can express those interests to the people who matter–at the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, state legislatures, insurance departments, Congress, and other situations where laws and regulations are made that impact an advisors livelihood. While membership dues help support an effective advocacy program, members often play an integral part in the process.

Networking. The opportunity to meet and share ideas with professional peers and mentors is another tangible benefit of any association membership.

Affinity Programs. Most associations form strategic partnerships with firms offering members products and services for their office and home. Members usually receive discounts on products such as online tools, credit cards, rental cars, overnight delivery service, and extended vehicle warranties.

Industry Recognition. To help set high standards of quality and recognize achievement, many associations sponsor annual awards programs.

When you add up all of the benefits, you can see why many members have said that membership in a professional organization is essential for anyone who wants to succeed professionally.

is director of communications for the National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors, Falls Church, Va. He can be reached via e-mail at jedwards@naifa.org.


Reproduced from National Underwriter Life & Health/Financial Services Edition, March 18, 2002. Copyright 2002 by The National Underwriter Company in the serial publication. All rights reserved.Copyright in this article as an independent work may be held by the author.


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