Professional Associations: What's in It for Me?

Article excerpt

There are over 61,000 professional associations in the United States, but people are not participating in them to the extent they used to. This article examines the non-participation problem and explores the question, "What's in it for me?" The role of education and unions is reviewed, as are the needs of the Baby Boom/Bust generations in an "age of change."

Theodore Roosevelt once stated that, "Every man owes a part of his time and money to the business or industry in which he is engaged. No man has a moral right to withhold his support from an organization that is striving to improve conditions within his sphere." A Frenchman by the name of Alexis de Tocqueville wrote in his Democracy in America in the early 1800's that:

Among the laws that rule human societies there is one which seems to be more precise and clear than all others. If men are to remain civilized, or to become so, the art of associating together must grow and improve in the same ratio in which the equality of conditions is increased.(1)

De Tocqueville commented during the same visit to the United States that he noticed a trend in Americans to form associations for almost every purpose. Today there is a plethora of associations and societies. Based on data from the IRS, which grants tax exemptions to nonprofit associations, there are over 61,000 trade and professional associations in the United States alone. This does not take into consideration the other religious and fraternal organizations.

When associations work well together, they represent a unified voice opposed to many voices singing various tunes. James J. Dunlop in Leading the Association: Striking the Right Balance Between Staff and Volunteers states, "Members of an industry acting independently can be a cacophony to be dismissed and its members to be played against one another. A unified voice gets heard."(2) If this is true, why are individuals not becoming as involved in association work today as in the past? If Roosevelt and de Tocqueville saw a strong need for association involvement in the 1800s and early 1900s, why is that need for strength not with us today? In other words, why won't they join?

BABY BOOM VS. BABY BUST

The purpose of this article is to examine various aspects of association management and compare those findings with the wants and needs of today's young adults--those individuals who should be joining, but are not. It is my intention to explore the theory that today's generation is so heavily involved with itself that people fail to realize the benefits that they could derive from involvement with associations, societies or other special organizations. This "Me" generation is so self-confident and self-centered that it believes there is no need to join group activities. Involvement requires commitment and commitment requires giving up time. This generation has been led to believe (value based) that it need give up nothing! This could explain why people fail to join group activities, drop out of school and church, and give up on marriage.

Much of what we are discussing involves what is known as the "Baby Boom Generation," that dominant age group in American society whose values, economic utilities and behavior have substantially altered both United States culture and United States politics in less than a decade. Peace-time America was able to produce 77 million infants between the years 1947 and 1961.

Auguste Comte, the Father of Sociology, stated that "Demography is destiny," and that statement is supported in society today. "The two most prominent demographic features of the fifty years between 1950 and the year 2000 are the 'valleys'--reflecting the 'birth dearth' of the Great Depression and the 'peaks'--which are the result of the post-World War II Baby Boom."(3) These "peaks and valleys" will continue to shape our destiny for many years to come. If we are to survive, we must adjust to the changes required of this group. …