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Professional Development: A Pivotal Membership Engagement Opportunity

Professional Development: A Pivotal Membership Engagement Opportunity

By Sarah Lampson

Like all association products, professional development offerings can meet the members’ specific needs for that particular product and also allow the association an opportunity to engage the member further. From my many years as a member of a variety of associations and my time as an association Executive Director, here is what I have learned:

1. Members will engage to recommend professional development topics. 

Members identifying and articulating a need are not just potentially getting what they need, but bringing important information to the association that can be leveraged to improve existing offerings or to develop new ones. Members are often in the best position to see new trends and opportunities in their profession and will often share that with association staff, so all the staff have to do is listen, and then create a product to meet that need.

2. Even when your members are coming forward with ideas, there are even more that can be cultivated by a bit of research and reflection. 

Establishing an annual membership survey and including some open ended questions can help you identify some common themes about challenges your members face that your association can help with. Also conversations with members asking how they would like their association to help improve their lives will provide new ideas. Was the registration for webinars on negotiation or career planning and promotions really high? That may mean that a salary survey would be a valuable tool for members concerned about pay equity or perhaps a presentation by an employment lawyer would be helpful. Meeting one need well can build confidence in membership, so that the association can address others.

3. Members will engage to develop new professional development products and services. 

Once a need is identified, recruiting expertise from members to help develop education is a great way to engage them. Not all members feel comfortable teaching, and some prefer to assist with administrative work or support development by doing research to help the presenter.

4. Members will engage to deliver professional development. 

Providing a platform for members to share their expertise – via a webinar, newsletter article, conference presentation or blog post – affords them a chance to raise their profiles, be recognized as experts and have their knowledge valued.

5. Members investing in professional development will engage more or disengage based on their experience. 

If learners are respected as professionals and supported in their learning, then they will have a good impression of your association. When an association makes the mistake of hiring assessors that are rude to students, are inaccessible, unclear or unhelpful, students’ frustration is justifiably directed at the association. Students are not only investing their money but also their valuable time in professional development, and it provides a great opportunity to showcase all the association can offer. Excellent customer service is a must if you want to attract and retain members. Students are the best ambassadors for the program, so if they are finding value in the experience, they will share that with potential students. The opposite is also true.

Professional development programs and services are not only a good way to attract new members but also provide a myriad of ways to engage members. A robust professional development program can be an association’s most valuable recruiting tool as well as its most popular product.


Sarah Lampson is the Executive Director of the Canadian Association of Research Administrators and works with the Executive Committee to provide organizational leadership and develop and implement its strategic plan. Sarah’s key achievements include: significantly increasing services to members, a proven track record of strong financial management and stewarding international partnerships that have resulted in the development of Canada’s first professional qualifications in research management and administration. Since Sarah was recruited to CARA in 2013, membership has increased 15 per cent and the number of members volunteering with the association has increased 400 per cent. Sarah has co-authored two books and published and presented on various areas of her professional expertise, including research administration and association management, over 100 times in the past 10 years. You can follow her on Twitter at @lampson_sarah. 

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