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7 Tips for Starting A Professional Association

Sarah A. Scala, M. Ed & OD, ACC
Estimated Reading Time: 3 Minutes

When I moved back to New England from the Midwest in 2011, I quickly noticed that one resource missing was a professional association to build connections and learn from those in my field of Organization Development and Learning. Having spent almost a decade in Wisconsin, I was a member of a few professional associations. Learning and connections with these groups were pivotal in helping me to find new positions, learn new approaches, and really feel like I had a community!

After a few months after moving to the Upper Valley of New Hampshire, I decided to start an association for those in leadership roles in Learning and Organization Development. With the support of my company at the time, Hypertherm, I contacted Vice Presidents and Human Resource leaders in Vermont and New Hampshire within one hour of Dartmouth College. I invited them to a meeting to see if there was interest in this community for starting a group. In this meeting, I shared my vision of having an opportunity for us all to keep learning, connect, and share ideas and challenges. I also wanted this group to be available at no cost to participants.

From that very first meeting in 2011, the Granite State Learning and OD Round Table was founded. We discussed the goals of the group, who should be involved, how we would manage logistics, where we would meet, and topics of Interest. By the end of the meeting, we had a loose plan for starting this organization! Through the generosity of many of the member businesses, we have meetings every other month at a different location. The host business provides a morning snack and some coffee, and we hear from speakers and members of our group on diverse topics. We currently have 65 members.

I continue to serve as the Founder and Co-Chair of this group, even though I moved to the Boston area, and also have a Co-Chair that helps with leadership and logistics. Because we don't currently have costs associated with running this group (the meetings are free for members to attend) we don't have to manage finances. We also don't have a formal staff to support the group which keeps things very simple.

Some of the logistics for the leaders of the group include:

  • Managing the membership email list
  • Leading the end-of-the-year meetings in order to identify topics, speakers, and locations for the following year’s agenda
  • Communicate with the host member site and the speaker to ensure that the invitations for each meeting and reminders go out according to schedule
  • Make decisions regarding weather cancellations or changes to the schedule

Tips for starting an Association:

  • Be specific about who would benefit from the association (who is it for?)
  • Who, what, when, where, why, how?
  • Research if there is support in your community or geography for that type of association.
  • Consider which organizations may be willing to partner, host or support the organization.
  • Decide if you want it to be free or to have a cost. If there are fees, how will they be managed? Do you want to establish the group as a non-profit (501c-3)?
  • Who will lead the group?
  • Be flexible

With the support of our member organizations, the Granite State Learning and OD Round Table has been an effective and successful organization for over 8 years! This is simply our story of how we got started and operate today.

Huge thanks to our current and past host member organizations including:

  • King Arthur Flour
  • Stonyfield Farm
  • Dartmouth College
  • Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center
  • Hanover Co-Op
  • RSG
  • Simon Pearce
  • Adimab

Have you started a professional association? What tips do you have for our readers that may have interest in starting a professional association?
Please share in the comments. If you have specific questions, ask me. I'm happy to help.  

Questions? Let’s connect. I would love to hear your success stories. Please send them to: hello@sarahscala.com or visit www.sarahscala.com

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