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Challenge: Buffing Up Association Executive Professional Growth

Challenge: Buffing Up Association Executive Professional Growth

Putting Opportunities for Professional Growth into Play

Over the next decade and beyond, professional growth and professional development opportunities will become a critical part of how associations and not-for-profits recruit and retain association executives. As outlined in our previous blog, Young Professionals: The Future of Choosing a Career Path as an Association Executive, F10s (young professionals) want more from their role than a big paycheck. Our sector will need to find the means to accommodate this shift if it wants to recruit and retain new association executives

In more practical terms, if association executives are coming into roles they may not entirely match up with from the outset, it is up to the association to provide professional development opportunities to bridge this gap. The organization must be prepared to shape the candidate to meet the role fully, and that includes meeting any expenses that may be required unless they are otherwise willing to wait until a more suitable candidate comes along. (Such a wait is rarely a luxury an association can afford, especially if the most appropriate candidate thus far is otherwise an excellent choice. Can the organization risk losing their top choice to date by continuing their search?)

Regardless of whether the intent is to bring association executives up to speed on their role in the organization or to make the latter a more appealing option, the need for new and expanded professional development opportunities cannot be denied. That being so, let's explore some ways associations can present professional growth options that are both practical and appealing.


Types of Professional Growth Available to Associations

Encouraging and accommodating professional growth within one's organization can manifest in different ways. The following list provides examples but should not be seen as exhaustive:


  • Role-Related Training: If you can't find someone who perfectly matches the role you must fill but you need a warm body doing the work regardless, additional training is the way to go. For example, if you need someone to step up and take over social media but no one on hand knows how to do so strategically, send them to an Introduction to Social Media Marketing course. Many association executives are excited to pursue additional education as part of the professional growth process. (Such training can include CSAE's Certified Associate Executive program.)
  • Mentoring: Pair up new associate executives with established, experienced professionals. Not all training and preparation fully prepares one for how skills apply during actual operations. Mentorship is a great way to bridge the divide between education and practice. Such a relationship also serves as an additional layer of checks and balances for association executives in high-risk roles, such as public relations and finance.
  • Travel: Although not all associations and organizations are able to present such professional development opportunities, those that do should not undervalue them. The chance to travel and meet and learn from new people -- and, yes, to explore new cities on one's down time -- can serve as a very appealing incentive.
  • Networking: Upwardly mobile association executives will welcome any chance they can to network, whether or not travel is involved. Contacts and relationships not only provide opportunities for professional growth but possibly also new ways to get the work done. Just because networking is not an intrinsic part of a given role does not mean you should rule it out as a valuable professional development opportunity.
  • Membership: Providing external membership in relevant programs and organizations as part of role can open new and exciting professional development opportunities beyond what your association can offer internally. For example, organizations that provide CSAE membership to their association executives grants them access to networks and event opportunities (among other benefits) their association does not itself deliver.
  • Events: Sending association executives to relevant events can be an exceptional means of professional growth. Learn from subject matter experts and participate in workgroups and the like that are not often otherwise available. The fact that travel and networking often go hand-in-hand with attending events is a bonus.
  • Aiding the Cause: Drawing direct relationships between what your organization's association executives are trying to do and the outcomes your association is striving for can serve to clarify the good being done. It brings focus to progress being made and the vital contribution of not just the participant's role but also the work they are doing in it.
  • Recognition and Awards: Whether aiding the cause or otherwise being successful in their role, giving association executives the recognition they have earned does more than boost morale. Awards and the like serve as a tool for benchmarking professional growth achievements that can then be communicated to others by nature of the recognition. It is often difficult to demonstrate some achievements on one's resume or Linkedin page, for example, but being able to point to an award you have been presented provides a point of external reference for the recipient's professional development.


Why Accommodating Professional Growth in Associations Must Change

In the coming years, associations must rethink what they bring to the table regarding professional development opportunities if they wish to remain viable in the eyes of association executives, especially F10s (young professionals.) This will certainly mean some budget shifting to accommodate these needs, but the necessity of doing so will only continue to become more critical. Staying ahead of the curve in this regard will make one's organization a more appealing place to hang one's hat, however.

With pay becoming less important as an incentive for onboarding association executives, other means of professional growth are increasingly more important for attracting talent to the association sector. Organizations that do not explore alternative professional development opportunities -- instead relying on monetary rewards traditionally embraced in the business sector -- will find their talent pools defecting to associations that do present such professional development options.



Associations 2025: Looking Forward to the Future of Associations

CSAE's upcoming Associations 2025 event is about looking to the future of the association and not-for-profit sector. Presenters at this event will tackle the issue from a variety of angles of interest to association executives, businesses, and other stakeholders within the sector. Be sure to attend!



The CAE Program: Producing the Association Executives of Tomorrow

The Canadian Society of Association Executives (CSAE) provided Certified Association Executive (CAE®) program offers Canadian association executives with an exceptional resource for professional growth. Whether one plans to later transition to the business sector or remain working with associations, the skills and professional development offered by the program are invaluable.





Association Professionals, Association Executives, Leadership, Young Professionals, F10s


CSAE Speaks, CAE Program



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