Should you join a professional membership body?

Do you have any professional memberships that you are not arm-twisted to join?

I recently asked a few working professionals this question, and my small sample size shows that none of them are members of any professional membership bodies.

Some don’t even know that their function has a professional membership body.

Before we proceed, let’s take a step back and find out what all these bodies do.

Professional Membership Bodies 101

Professional membership bodies or professional associations play several key roles for their members and the profession they represent:

Establish Professional Standards

  • They define and uphold standards of practice, ethics, and conduct for the profession.
  • They often set educational requirements, competency assessments, and certification/licensing processes for practitioners.
  • This helps maintain quality, integrity, and public trust in the profession.

Provide Continuous Learning Opportunities

  • They offer training programs, workshops, conferences, publications, and other resources for professional development.
  • This allows members to stay up-to-date with the latest knowledge, skills, and best practices in their field.

Enable Networking and Community Building

  • They facilitate professional networking through events, online forums, and local chapters.
  • This allows members to connect, share experiences, collaborate, and build professional relationships.

Advocate for the Profession

  • They lobby governments and regulatory bodies on issues impacting the profession.
  • They promote public awareness and understanding of the profession’s role and value.

Offer Career Support

  • They provide job boards, career advice, mentorship programs, and resources for career advancement.
  • Some offer professional designations that enhance members’ credentials and employability.

Provide Member Benefits

  • Members gain access to industry publications, research materials, discounts on products/services, and other exclusive benefits.
  • This adds value to the cost of membership dues.

Professional bodies aim to support the professional growth of members, uphold standards, advocate for the profession’s interests, and foster a sense of community among practitioners in their respective fields.

Where do I sign up?

All these sound so compelling!

But the real picture looks different from the brochure. The Wild Apricot 2020 Membership Growth Report: Benchmarks and Insights for Growing Revenue and Constituents also showed that a whopping 68% of organisations surveyed had difficulty growing their membership.

In fact, 25% didn’t grow, and 11% even shrank!

I once commissioned a group of interns to study the state of HR memberships worldwide. We looked at the number of members they declared publicly and used the total number of HR professionals in the respective countries as a denominator.

Except for an outlier, everyone else is at a low double-digit percentage.

Singapore is at a low 1%. Could it be an HR thing?

I tried looking for stats from other bodies, and this is what I found:

“As of 2016, there are currently 500 members from various nationalities represented in SICC’s (1837) membership, with Singapore American, Japanese and British companies…”

“With over 600 members from all walks of trade and industry, SICCI (1924) serves as a connector, enabler, and advocator, helping companies grow locally and internationally.”

Notice I added the year of establishment for each of those mentioned above. If you do the math, SICC has acquired 0.358 members per year since its inception and 0.166 for SICCI.

The numbers are more depressing than your mom’s attempts at TikTok dances.

I wish there were more data to break down, but professional membership bodies are extremely quiet about their membership numbers.

It is not hard to infer that they are likely disappointing; otherwise, that number will be front and centre on their website.

The Glory Days: Why Professionals Once Flocked to Associations

Historically, professional associations served as gateways to networking, prestige, and expertise. They offered exclusive access to industry events, opportunities to rub shoulders with influential figures, and a chance to hold esteemed committee positions. Membership was a shortcut to advancing one’s career and gaining recognition.

It was like having a golden ticket to the VIP rooms, where all the big ballers and decision-makers hung out. You could schmooze your way to the top, get a taste of that prestige by scoring a committee position, and learn a thing or two from the real experts in the game.

However, in the digital era, associations’ value proposition has diminished. Social media and online platforms like LinkedIn have democratised networking, rendering traditional associations less essential. Moreover, the abundance of online resources and DIY learning opportunities has made expertise more accessible, reducing the need for association-based education.

More Irrelevant Than Your Boomer Uncle’s Facebook Rants

Let’s be honest here. In today’s world, do you need to pay membership fees to some dusty association to network? You have LinkedIn, where you can connect with more people than the total membership of most of these associations combined.

And for events or learning opportunities? You can set up a dope online event or find fire tutorials with just a few clicks. Why bother with the hassle of dealing with these dinosaur organisations?

Don’t even get me started on the whole prestige and committee position thing. Unless you’re really trying to overcompensate for your lack of actual achievements, most people see right through that shit nowadays.

The Crossroads: Adapt or Get Left Behind

I’m not hating these associations, but they’re at a crossroads. Either they get with the times and figure out how to provide value in this digital era, or they risk becoming as irrelevant as your dad’s pager.

They could collaborate with other organizations, merge their resources, and create something fresh and relevant. Or perhaps they should accept that their time has passed and bow out gracefully, like your favourite boy band’s farewell tour.

The Bottom Line: Should You Join or Not?

If you’re considering spending some cash on an association membership, ask yourself: What’s in it for me? Are they offering something unique and valuable that you can’t get elsewhere? Or are you just buying into a dying concept, like your grandpa’s obsession with stamp collecting?

If being part of the club opens doors or helps you level up your career, go for it. But if it’s just a fancy line on your resume or a way to stroke your ego, you might as well flush that money down the toilet.

At the end of the day, it’s your call. Just keep it real with yourself, and don’t get caught up in the hype of these dinosaur associations unless they can truly bring something fresh to the table.

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