Why Do Membership Associations Matter?
In this article, we’ll discuss the influence of membership associations and the impact they can have on members in their relevant industries, how they foster growth within the workforce, and provide powerful opportunities for collaboration.
A Brief History of the Council on Accreditation (COA) and Membership Organizations
COA is the product of two membership organizations; founded by The Child Welfare League of America (CWLA) and the Family Service Association of America (now known as the Alliance for Strong Families and Communities) 40 years ago as a community-based accreditor.
CWLA was comprised of child welfare services providers. They had developed best practice standards and an accreditation process. In 1977, amidst a regulatory climate focused on recognizing accreditation, CWLA partnered with Family Service Association of America to create a separate entity for its accreditation process, thus forming COA with 407 accredited organizations.
In the years following, leading child welfare membership associations formally signed on to support COA’s role in the field. Today, these Sponsoring Organizations, along with COA’s Supporting Organizations, remain crucial to our governance structure, standards development, and volunteer recruitment. They keep COA’s process relevant and connect us to the field of social service.
Associations Set Standards and Professionalize a Field
COA’s story is not unique. According to the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE), the role and value of the more than 64,000 associations that exist in the United States is to advance the workforce and set product safety and technical standards.
Establishing best practices for an industry and/or its workforce can be a vehicle for associations to increase credibility and gain public trust, create a competitive advantage, protect consumers, raise the visibility of the work, and attract a talented workforce.
Melissa Devlin, Chair of COA’s Sponsor Advisory Council and Administrator at the Family Focused Treatment Association (FFTA), shared an example of how FFTA fulfills its mission to develop, promote, and support Treatment Foster Care (TFC) providers. FFTA has developed and published Program Standards for Treatment Foster care since 1991. The standards guide new and experienced agencies in the development and expansion of quality treatment foster care programs. They have also helped the public sector to develop programs and contracts for treatment foster care services.
Advancing the Workforce
The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) is an example of an association that advances the workforce. NASW was founded in 1955 to enhance the professional growth and development of social workers, provides credentialing to promote professional standards and to advance sound social policies.
Similar to credentialing, associations can help ensure the sustainability of an industry and provide growth opportunities for individuals through continuing education credits/programs, leadership development programs, trainings, mentoring programs and by sharing job opportunities. Strong associations have very active members and being active within an association provides leadership and professional development opportunities such as participating in or chairing committees, serving as an officer, activities that build knowledge of new areas of practice (advocacy, budgeting or public policy).
Associations provide the opportunity for the workforce to work together. They can cross pollinate ideas, and share their struggles and practices from different areas of the country. They can build public agency, private provider, payer, regulator and researcher relationships outside of the day-to-day work.
Public Policy and Advocacy
Associations can also provide a unified voice in public policy and advocacy. They have the ability to pool resources to hire dedicated, qualified professionals who are able to speak with a collective voice to regulators, public officials, researchers and funders. This helps to secure and stabilize funding, influence regulations, and mitigate risks for members. FFTA, for example, employs a lobbyist in Washington, DC to represent the interests of member agencies and their clients allowing the member agencies to reserve their resources for more local public policy and advocacy work. Having a presence on Capitol Hill allows FFTA to collaborate with other national advocacy organizations, gain the attention of and follow the activities of Congress and the Administration that impact FFTA stakeholders.
Associations Produce Content
Show me the data! In order to advocate and advance public policy on behalf of its members, many associations gather information to assess and demonstrate the needs of its members and their stakeholders. Many use statistics, case studies and client stories to create white papers and reports to educate the public and policymakers about the successes and challenges of its members and their work. These pieces of content are important to be aware of as they provide insight into the work on a national level and can provide you with messaging to share with your board, donors, staff and clients about the value of your work. Most associations have communication channels like newsletters to disseminate policy and environmental information and elicit calls to action to mobilize their network. These calls to action are important to be aware of as they are indicators of potential environmental changes such as proposed changes to licensing, contracting requirements, systems of care, funding, etc. that directly impact your work.
Associations Facilitate Networking
You likely are most familiar with associations connected to your work through conferences. Conferences are an opportunity to connected to peers, detach from the daily grind, fulfill CEU requirements, sharpen your presentation skills, learn about emerging practices and research, new technology, environmental developments (public policy, regulatory, funding), and return to the work feeling energized, more connected to mission and having added to your professional network. In addition to face-to-face meeting or conferences, associations often provide more frequent and budget-friendlier options for ongoing learning and collaboration through committees, local chapters, webinars and online groups.
In our world of social services where resources are limited, leveraging associations and their benefits is more important than ever. As busy and difficult as carving out time in the day to day is, it’s critical to invest in your professional development while keeping an eye towards the future so that you and your organization are positioned for the next challenge. As social service providers, it’s important to make connections, learn from, be inspired by, and support each other. I recommend finding out what association(s) your organization belongs to and evaluate which one(s) align with your interests, role and career ambitions. Don’t forget to ask the HR, IT and Finance departments. Then, sign up for their communications (newsletter, social media, etc.) and make time to read the content they disseminate. Identify an area that you are interested in (standards development, mentoring, leadership development, conference planning, public policy, advocacy, community engagement) and get involved. You are certain to meet like-minded professionals and feel more connected to the field.
Is your organization affiliated with a membership association? Find out and start taking advantage of the many benefits!
We're curious to hear more from you about what benefits you have accessed from an association. Please comment below to share!