The rewards of association participation: The long-haul

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CSC Ottawa delegation
CSC Ottawa delegation
Ottawa chapter delegates at the Construction Specifications Canada national conference

I’m in my hotel room in Calgary, wrapping up a bit of work before the noon check-out and four hour flight home. The Construction Specifications Canada national conference has validated my earlier perceptions about the virtues and advantages of relevant client-focused association participation.

The single most important discovery here is that I’ve seen, for want of  a better phrase, a “tipping point” where the investment rewards in association participation work much like financial investments and savings programs. At first, the sacrifice seems great for limited reward. You need to give up time and some money, and you don’t have much to show for your efforts. Then, over time, your investment begins to return rewards, and the rewards start compounding. Now I watch my “retirement” (I don’t intend to retire) savings account grow from interest and capital gains at a rate far greater than the money and time I spend on managing the accounts. This is good, of course.

Yesterday, Ottawa delegates John Cooke and Tom Dunbar, both who have previously served as presidents of the national association, received additional recognition rewards, including a lifetime membership for Dunbar. These recognitions — and the rituals and processes that go into them — of course, are ego-boosters, but when you speak with leaders like Cooke and Dunbar, they’ll quite emphatically say they’ve received much more than their investment in the association over their time in it, in knowledge and (significantly) valuable business opportunities.

The costs are not insignificant and the rewards can seem distant, especially when you start out with association participation. In my case, CSC has developed a close, valid and (at least for now) unbreakable relationship with a competing publisher. I respect that fact. However, no one in the executive or organization overall is denying my ability to develop my own relationships, and at last night’s dinner table, I had the opportunity to make connections and build the basis for a successful feature with an Ottawa-based national trade association.

As well, the years of voluntary service have led me to become the Ottawa chapter chairperson. This leadership role allows me to expand my connections. From a financial perspective, it also means that the association pays my travel costs to the national convention. Hotel, flight, conference registration fees, and incidental expenses here total more than $2,500.  So I have a free trip — and the ability to build some business connections. Not bad, obviously, from a business perspective.

Nevertheless, we can’t coast — the voluntary work here will increase, and if I wish (I’m not sure I will) to “rise though the ranks” the association commitment requires upwards of 12 years of effort to reach the presidency, as Dunbar and Cooke have experienced.  Nevertheless, I can see how relationships and business opportunities will continue to advance and evolve and the rewards will increase exponentially as time passes.

Yes, association participation takes time and effort and the rewards may seem limited at the start. However, I know of fewer more effective longer-range business development and marketing strategies than to get involved, either within your client-focused business association, or relevant community groups. You’ll also ultimately enjoy your life a whole lot more.

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