Associations can be of tremendous benefit to individuals, departments and higher education institutions, but in an effort to dial back on expenses, many are cutting down on memberships and conference travel. But these days, it’s more critical than ever for departments to maximize their association memberships. Here are a few tips to ensure you and your team are getting the most out of your dues.

Open the Dialogue

Once a year, ideally before budget submission season, gather everyone on your team to create a list of associations that might assist your department. Make sure that you look for new membership possibilities for fresh ideas and replace old memberships that might not be teaching you anything new. Don’t keep joining the same associations every year if you’re not taking advantage of them.

Once your group has decided which memberships to add or renew, one of the best ways to keep organized is to choose a point person for each association you join. That point person should be responsible for keeping up to date with any events or opportunities put on by their assigned organization. You’ll also want to collect information on all of your memberships in one place—maybe in an online document such as a Wiki Page or Google Doc—so that everyone can keep the information current and know what is available.

Set up the online document and have your point people fill in the following:

  1. Names and website URLs
  2. Conference dates/locations/pricing
  3. Purpose of joining that association
  4. Cost to join and renewal date
  5. Information provided by association
  6. Any login information that team members might need


Many associations also have Facebook pages, LinkedIn pages and Twitter accounts. Your team’s point person should follow the social media network of his or her choice and sign up for any email newsletters the association sends out. This is an easy way to stay current on information that might be helpful to the department. The point person should forward any relevant information from the association to the appropriate team members.

Meet and Greet

Now that you know what events your department will attend, get to the details and firm up who will be attending and what your department wants to get out of that event.The staff member attending should meet with his or her manager to select what sessions to attend and which vendors to talk to. Attendees should also review the association’s directory and decide whom to reach out to at the event. Look for individuals you have communicated with but never met in person especially, as well as any others who might help your team get what you want out of the event.

Additionally, ask yourself how you can tackle several birds with one stone: Are there other activities that could be done in conjunction with the event? Is there another institution to visit nearby? Is there a potential vendor in the area that you’ve been meaning to reach out to?

Report Back

At the event, the attendee should be engaged, taking good notes and listening. It’s also helpful to look out for any copies of presentations that would be helpful to members of the team who could not attend.

Shortly after attendees return and the conference is still fresh, they need to write up a trip report on what happened, what they learned, who they met and anything else that might be relevant. From there, the online document should be updated with the trip report and any other materials. If the information seems especially beneficial, consider a department-wide lunch-and-learn session.


When you get back around to the time of renewal or budget submission, take a good look at the department’s reports to determine about how the association benefitted the group. Ask: Is this association still a good fit for our department? Did we do everything we could to maximize our membership? Should we renew?

Associations can be powerful tools if the purpose of membership is defined and an organized plan is put into place so no membership gets underused. If you take full advantage of all that an association offers, your team will be better informed and more engaged with the community.


What experiences have you had where you’ve really gotten a lot out of an association membership? Share your stories in the comments section below!

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