What if associations required every staffer to work at ANOTHER association for 3 days?

Ok, I've procrastinated long enough: time to get my head together and try to add to the incredible discussions initiated by Acronym's Big Ideas Series. I won't even try to link to all the posts from here because I'll inevitably leave some out; Acronym is doing a great job of keeping track of the posts and I encourage you to read back over the past few weeks' archives and check out all the great posts if you haven't already been following along.

It's funny because even though I contributed several of the original questions, unless I'm having a brain malfunction (entirely possible) I don't think this was one of them; however, it's ultimately the one that stands out the most to me now. I think that having the experience of working at a number of different associations is critical to truly understanding the underlying principles of association leadership. To me, learning by doing is the most effective way to learn. Granted, I'm not sure if that's just because I'm lazy and hate studying or because it's actually true...regardless, I can say that everything I know about associations and association leadership is a result of knowledge gained on the job.

I have worked at four very different associations over the course of my career: the U.S. Council for Energy Awareness (USCEA) (now Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI)), American Forest & Paper Association (AF&PA), American Society for Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition (A.S.P.E.N) and American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA). Working at such a wide variety of associations--different sizes, different industries, different staff cultures--has given me a true appreciation of how associations work, a tremendous amount of respect for small staff associations, and what I think is a good perspective on what members expect and deserve.

I have not only worked in a bunch of very different associations, I have served in a bunch of very different capacities in each of these associations--something which I think is equally important in terms of giving a good idea of the work of individual associations. I have done darn near everything, from preparing daily newsclips packages and serving coffee at meetings to planning and running large annual meetings; administering peer-review journals and editing galleys to participating in board meetings--you name it and I've probably either done it or worked closely with people who have done it and therefore at least understand the amount of work that goes into each facet of an association's work.

Sorry...forgive my wander down memory lane...back to the question of what if associations required every staffer to work in another association for 3 days...here are my ideas:

  1. People would have a better understanding and appreciation for their own associations. Say you work at a large-staff association and had to go work at a small association. You'd no doubt return to your own chair with a new appreciation for how easy you have it in some respects. If you work for a small association, you'd probably return to your chair with a new appreciation for the fact that, while your job may be harder in some respects, you have a unique opportunity to really learn how about the inner workings of association leadership by virtue of your staff's small size.

  2. People would learn some really cool stuff. One of the coolest things about associations is the stuff you learn when you work at one--stuff you'd otherwise have probably never known. Like what? Well, like when I worked at USCEA and learned that when The Simpsons first aired, the media relations staff there didn't love all the jokes about 3-eyed fish and nuclear plant operators falling asleep at the controls, so they invited the show's writers to take a tour of a nuclear power plant--which they did (not that it stopped the 3-eyed fish thing any, but apparently it was very entertaining being able to spend the day with a bunch of Simpsons writers.) Ok, so maybe that's kind of random and not a great illustration of my point (no pun intended)...my point was that associations do millions of cool things and there's no better way to find that out than to get a chance to experience the behind-the-scenes stuff at as many of them as possible. Think of it as a personal "Power of A" quest.

  3. People would gain a new appreciation for their members and volunteers. I am nothing short of amazed and humbled by the amount of time and personal sacrifice volunteers commit to their associations. The more times over you get to experience this in the context of different associations, the more appreciation you have for your own role as a facilitator of the contributions their collective knowledge and dedication offer society as a whole. Shmaltzy? Maybe. But true.