According to the American Society of Association Executives, trade association membership is declining across all industries. I recently conducted a survey of my contacts who work in marketing that corroborated this data: while 68% of respondents reported that their companies will pay for professional development, only 17% said they belong to their local marketing associations.

What Are Trade Associations?

Professional trade associations are membership organizations consisting of individuals from a common profession or industry, such as sales and marketing, accounting, engineering or law. A membership to a trade association typically gives you access to its local chapter as well as to a larger regional or national group.

Why Should You Join a Trade Association?

“I’m already active on LinkedIn and attend an annual industry conference – why should I join a trade association on top of this?” I’ve heard this question before and the answer is clear: when you join a trade association, you gain access to a large network with valuable professional/industry resources. In addition to local networking and mentorship opportunities, you may also gain access to specialty vendor lists and proprietary market research that keeps you on the top of industry trends.

Given these benefits, why then is association membership declining? Misconceptions about trade associations are hurting membership – and causing professionals to miss out on important development opportunities.

Here are three common myths about trade association membership – and three reasons why you should consider joining one relevant to your industry.

Myth 1: There are no valuable trade associations in my area.

Reality: Local chapters likely exist – you just may not know about them.

Trade associations do not always have huge budgets for marketing, and consequently, many professionals who are eligible for membership may not even be aware that the associations exist. If you’re unsure which associations you might be eligible to join, a quick Google search is an easy starting point. Sites like The Directory of Associations are also  great resources that allow you to search based on which associations are located in your hometown. Another way to find out about local associations is by asking your coworkers which associations they belong to and which ones they have found to be the most valuable.

Myth 2: I can get the same networking benefits from social media.

Reality: There’s no substitute for in-person connections.

Social networks, particularly LinkedIn, now make it easy to find other professionals with similar interests and career paths. These networks also serve up a continuous stream of content on best practices and career development, seemingly replacing the need to go to conferences to keep up to date on what’s happening in your industry.

While LinkedIn is a very powerful resource, it’s not a replacement for face-to-face networking. There’s no substitute for meeting someone in person when it comes to building solid relationships: non-verbal cues and body language are critical for building trust. Someone you’ve met at a trade association conference is much more likely to agree to a coffee or an informational interview than someone you’ve cold messaged on LinkedIn.

Finally, keep in mind that people present a glossy, perfect image of themselves on social media. It’s a great place to read about people’s successes but not such a great place to learn about their mistakes and failures. In-person networking is much more likely to foster a real discussion with your peers about lessons learned in the workplace

Myth 3: Trade associations do not offer any tangible benefits that are relevant to me.

Reality: The benefits offered by trade associations go beyond conference passes and quarterly meetings.

Some of the benefits I’ve found to be most valuable are:

  • Industry vendor lists: trade associations often provide lists of vendors, such as lawyers or accountants, who specialize in your field.
  • Market research: many trade associations conduct regular market research and produce in-depth reports on their industries which they distribute to their members.
  • Mentorship: some associations offer formal mentoring programs. Finding a mentor can be a tricky process, so having a trade association take the guesswork out of it is invaluable.
  • Advocacy: trade associations often function as the voice of an industry when it comes to legal and policy issues. If your company may be harmed by a change in the law, then your best bet is to make your concerns known to a trade association who can speak on your behalf to policymakers.

If your company is willing to sponsor your dues there’s no reason not to take advantage of this great opportunity.

Do you belong to your local trade association? I’d love to hear why or why not in the comments below.


Authored by: Shelley Muhs