Many professionals view membership fees for a professional or industry association as a place they can cut back on operating costs. These fees are seen as a waste or a luxury, and not as the necessity they are in reality.
Associations in any industry are formed with the purpose of collaborating with, and learning from colleagues. This is based on the premise that within associations each member provides and shares knowledge, experience, support and advice. Like everything in life though, these benefits are in direct proportion to your individual commitment and contribution. Each individual member must take advantage of the benefits offered to association members.
A core component of the success of an association is the importance of membership. A substantial and diverse membership is crucial in driving the profile of an organisation. This is often overlooked when examining the benefits of belonging to one. Sharon Peetz, The Exhibition and Events Association of South Africa (EXSA's) CEO believes: “Our Association must adequately reflect our industry to represent our members in all areas of concern. Members may feel that increased membership dilutes the effectiveness of an industry association. EXSA's view has always been that to effectively represent our industry in any collective bargaining position, we need to reflect the current stakeholders in the industry. This must be combined with an awareness of all the issues and developments in the exhibitions and events industry as a whole. The options on offer to our clients have expanded exponentially and exhibitions and events can no longer be viewed as separate or mutually exclusive industries. The more diverse our membership, the better our understanding of the current trends in the marketplace.”
In order to function, this membership needs to be participatory and active. Associations get their reputation as the purview of more established members, because they are the ones who regularly show up to meetings and AGM's. Peetz says: “Membership to any institution is only as effective as the effort you put in. It's rather like your membership of Virgin Active. It's great if you are a member, but if you don't go to the gym you won't reap any benefits. Life is not a spectator sport if you want to achieve greatness.”
In addition, criticism makes no effective contribution to an organisation if you make no effort to proactively engage. Peetz reiterates: “If you feel your association doesn't reflect your reality, get involved. Too often South African's appear to have developed a reputation as complainers. It is easy to tear something down from the outside, but building something valuable takes commitment. It's like making a good steak, the plate is involved but the cow is committed!”
An additional benefit of membership is respect. Professional organisations and industry associations hold their members to a high standard of conduct. Clients view membership as demonstrating your serious commitment to your current occupation. It also demonstrates transparency, by implying that those in the know trust and respect the way you do business. It demonstrates a desire to remain relevant, improving your education and remaining abreast of current industry trends. Peetz agrees: “In the build-up to 2010, organisers from abroad view membership of an industry association as a necessity, when deciding who to do business with. When you have no first hand knowledge of doing business in South Africa, these affiliations are viewed as a guideline to 'best practice' within our industry.”
Cutting edge information is another consideration for potential members. “EXSA sends its members regular communications in the form of our website and monthly newsletter. These contain the latest trends and developments in the exhibitions and events industry. They include information on education programmes and conferences that may be of benefit to our members. Often these include discounts or preferential booking for a popular topic. These serve to further our member's knowledge and expertise in a rapidly evolving industry. The information offered through these forums can improve your business, networking opportunities, both locally and internationally, and increase your success,” insists Peetz.
In today's business world we have seen the benefits of networking on a social and professional level demonstrated time and again. As social creatures people are drawn to individuals they have already met and developed a bond with. This places you 'top-of-mind' if you have formed a bond with your colleagues and demonstrated your competence and commitment on a professional level. Many feel in belonging to an industry association, the only people you interact with will be competitors and not colleagues. This thinking obscures the many opportunities and synergies available when you have regular contact with other professionals in your industry.
Social networking sites like facebook also influence memberships when members feel these benefits can be received from this new source for free. Networking, interaction, education, job and career progress are touted as the benefits of belonging to these new forums. If there is no legal requirement to belong to an association, they are viewed as outdated and of declining relevance in an age where we can have everything we need, streamed directly into our living rooms via the Internet. Peetz believes: “One crucial question needs to be asked of networking sites on the Internet. Who determines if the information posted is correct? Can it be applied to new and developing practice models? In our youth obsessed culture we often discount the value of experience and knowledge. If you consider how rapidly the web spreads misinformation as well as information, your business could be negatively affected by bad practice or misinformation, gleaned from one of these sites.”
There are many business opportunities available to EXSA's members in the months leading towards 2010. In attempting to obtain a share of these, EXSA's assistance and support will be crucial for all the reasons outlined above. Navigating the strict rulings FIFA has put in place to protect their brand pose many potential pitfalls for companies without an association to guide them. Sharon Peetz and her dedicated team are able to guide new and existing members in making the best of any opportunities.