Associations are created to establish strength and unity in working toward common goals in virtually every profession.

When I was first asked by Mailing Systems Technology's editor to submit an article on the value of associations today, I immediately thought, "This will be really personal because my membership in many career associations - MSMA, PCC, ARMA, AIIM - have brought value through networking and educational benefits, which have boosted my career!" I can honestly say that without my association memberships I would not be where I am today. When I was first hired I did not know the recruiter personally. He told me that he became aware of me through my association with the MSMA.

To know that I "practice what I preach" you only need to check my LinkedIn profile and to the list of my "Honors & Awards," "Certifications," "Projects" and "Publications" - all of which resulted from my heavy involvement and participation in multiple associations. Do understand that associations do not just hand out these awards and certifications. You must earn them by completing courses as well as by participating and networking, volunteering and serving on committees.

I am a strong believer in "getting out what you put in." I have served on multiple boards in various capacities on numerous associations and still do so today. I am presently the President of the Metro NJ NY MSMA Chapter while also serving on the MSMA National Board as Director of Marketing. I also serve as the Industry Co-Chair for the Greater New Jersey Postal Customer Council and on the PCCAC Membership Committee.

Becoming a member of a professional association has many advantages. They are found in just about every industry. One question often asked is, "Is it worth the yearly fees to join these groups?" The short answer to that question is a resounding "YES." The advantages of joining an industry group are many and can help any individual advance their careers and improve their skills.

What are members looking for?
People join professional associations for a variety of reasons. However, there are two major reasons for a person to join a group today:
to give back to their industry or to obtain value from their membership Fortunately, for most people, their desire to become a member lies somewhere in between and they want to give and receive from the association. Most associations give members the opportunity to do both.

In no particular order, below are some examples of how being a part of an association can provide value. In today's tough economy, money is not readily available so you need a good reason to give your time and investment. Also, you must justify this expense to your company, which will want to know the ROI, the corporate value and benefit you are going to bring back to your organization.

Professional Development - I am living proof that one of the biggest benefits of any association is giving its members the chance for further development in the industry. Through certifications, courses, seminars, workshops, publications and many other avenues, members can take advantage of the collective knowledge of their entire association.
Networking - To me, the most valuable benefit one can get out of association memberships is the ability to stay in contact with other members. You can forge valuable relationships with other members that can benefit you when looking for a new job or needing referrals or recommendations for many things. These professional meetings and gatherings can provide you with the opportunity to meet and mingle with your peers. Members are generally willing to help other members. Networking is a wonderful to get to know association members and interact with them socially and professionally.

Industry Advancement - Most association members will have a goal of helping to advance their industry. This can provide value for the entire group by raising awareness of industry standards and best practices. The association can be shown in a positive light when its members showcase what the association has to offer.

Membership Access - Membership access can pay off in numerous ways. First and foremost, you can call on members to assist you to serve on committees or boards. Members are often experts in certain fields that you may need assistance in. Membership also allows you to engage people for their experience, expertise and knowledge.

Mentoring - This is another important area where value can be both given and received. Members with vast experience will see the value and benefit to the association and industry in assisting the younger members gain experience and knowledge in the industry.
It is often hard to justify spending your hard-earned money on dues and fees for professional associations. Yet that money can provide great value to you and to the association. Member value can be viewed as working two ways - getting value and giving your time, but in the end it is the member who generally reaps the greatest value. My suggestion is to get involved in your professional association and enjoy the benefits of membership.

Simply stated, associations provide value to members through networking, education and sharing of success and failure. Knowing that others have incurred some of the same challenges and hearing their stories and solutions can build your confidence, provide you with a new perspective and affirm your ideas and direction. All too often we obtain knowledge though a small window reflecting our specific industry. Associations serving all major industries, from mail to legal to banking, include members with a vast array of experience and who are often willing to share what they know. Tapping that knowledge is virtually priceless.

James P. Mullan, CMDSM, EMCM, MDP, MDC, CSSGB, National Operations Manager - Chubb, Canon Business Process Services, Inc. can be reached at 908.903.2869 or