Letter from the Board Chair
Before I get to the planned focus of my letter, I want to take a moment to say that we are with you! We know that the COVID-19 pandemic has created unprecedented times for our country, our associations and the professions we serve. It is in situations like this that we can show real leadership by digging deep, tapping into our skills, leveraging our networks and focusing on the future. Association Forum is committed to being a convener and facilitating thoughtful dialogue to help us all get through this challenging event.
I’ve worked in association management my entire adult life, yet I still consider myself an accidental professional. I fell into this field by chance, but with the influence and support of others, I ended up making it a career. One of the experiences that impacted my career for the better was becoming an Association Forum member. Over the last 14 years, I’ve gotten so much out of my affiliation and, because of the valuable guidance received from this community, I feel better prepared to address future challenges.
Many of the issues that will impact this community’s future need professionals who have been supported in a similar way so that they can confront those challenges head-on. Issues like diversity and inclusion (D+I), meeting the changing expectations of members and preparing the next-generation workforce require forward-thinking professionals. That’s where Association Forum is playing a vital role. Through experiences like the Emerging Leaders program, our focus on building a Welcoming Environment® and the development of the internship initiative, we’re preparing members to be change agents.
Entering its third year, the Emerging Leaders program focuses on helping advance the careers of association professionals under the age of 35. When the board approved the program, there was so much excitement about the impact those future leaders would have on our community. Having interacted with the first two cohorts, I am impressed with their professional acumen, and I’m confident they will contribute to Association Forum’s success. They’ve already shared their professional knowledge with us at Holiday Showcase and numerous other educational programs. If there is an emerging leader on your staff, I encourage you to make an investment in their future by underwriting their participation in this program.
Through its commitment to creating a Welcoming Environment, Association Forum is setting an example that other associations should follow. Welcoming Environment is defined as the creation of a sense of belonging and connectedness that engages individuals in an authentic manner in which uniqueness is valued, respected and supported through opportunities and interaction. It is this action-oriented and accessible focus that sets Association Forum’s efforts apart from other D+I initiatives. Later this year, Association Forum will share results from the first-ever Welcoming Environment research study to illustrate the impact of implementing D+I initiatives in your organization’s strategic plan, and the potential results of not taking action. Thank you to our research partner McKinley Advisors and the associations that answered the call to participate in the study.
Last fall, the board of directors approved the creation of an internship program aimed at introducing students, especially those from underrepresented communities, to the association industry. The program’s main goals are to raise awareness of associations as a career option, build a talent pipeline to help meet future employment needs and demonstrate that Chicagoland associations are committed to being good corporate citizens of the community by assisting with employment opportunities. While it is currently focused on students, I can envision a future where this program expands to include career changers and those looking to reenter the workforce. I encourage you to think about your association’s capacity to support this effort when it is launched. I’d like to thank Choose Chicago and the volunteers supporting the development of this program.
As we navigate new challenges brought on by the pandemic, continuing our focus on creating a Welcoming Environment, educating students and their influencers about careers in association management, and investing in the next generation of leaders are still important. The futures of our profession and this community depend on it.
CEO Michelle Mason’s regular letter will return in the next issue of FORUM.