The benefits of professional associations
This country would not be what it is without the volunteer spirit of its people. At the highest level, associations and nonprofit organizations work to better society. Industry trade associations work to expand economic opportunities as well as offer education, certification opportunities, and government representation to their members—while striving to promote the professionalism of the industry, as well.
We all know that our dental laboratory associations play a vital role in enabling individuals to connect with one another and access information. And like all professional organizations, dental laboratory associations face the challenge of demonstrating and delivering unique value to their customers—the membership. But the association is the membership itself. So how can an association explore new routes of engagement and connection to stay relevant to its members?
Dental laboratory professionals who get involved and volunteer their time are at the heart of what industry associations do. Involved volunteers believe in the profession and have a personal connection with their peers—and want to make service to the association a priority. They want to open lines of communication that are critical to establishing a culture of honest discussion, creating paths for engagement that meet the needs of the membership. An engaged membership will help the industry evolve, and the association will have a voice in the evolution of the profession.
Involved volunteers are in the unique position to make meaningful contributions to the association's mission through leadership, program creation, mentorships, and shaping change. To make the relationship between associations and their volunteers successful, the level of involvement must benefit both the association and the volunteer. An involved volunteer makes a commitment of time and energy to advance his/her profession, while enabling him/her to participate in peer networks and contribute to the dental laboratory industry at-large. In return, the association benefits from the volunteers' specific skill sets and industry knowledge to support and direct the association in pursuit of its mission. In this regard, these involved individuals experience both personal and professional satisfaction.
Service to the Association Is Service to Your Profession
Without the benefit of involved volunteerism, individuals lack awareness about the intent and direction of the association. They may speculate about the dynamics of the association, its membership, and professional or volunteer staff. But becoming personally involved provides an individual with the opportunity to be open, to listen, and to become an agent of change where he or she feels appropriate.
Associations provide venues for involved individuals to help their profession move forward. But the key to becoming an involved volunteer is to find ways to help the association and its members bind a profession into a community.
Once you decide to become involved, it's paramount that you help others to get involved. Perhaps you can help the association develop some strategies to foster peer-to-peer involvement.
1. Create opportunities for involvement for individuals with trial memberships.
2. Oversee an advisory committee to involve young professionals and give them a forum to express their opinions.
3. Actively promote volunteer opportunities and the benefits of sharing one's time and expertise.
4. Cultivate mentoring programs that are relevant to professional growth.
5. Create electronic or virtual opportunities for those who want to volunteer but have schedule or work-life balance concerns.
6. Garner the support of laboratory owners to promote volunteerism among their personnel.
7. Engage individuals whose involvement would benefit the association through speaking and/or presenting at an association event, conference, or webinar; moderating or facilitating discussion groups at meetings; submitting articles for publication; or participating in panel discussions.
Associations exist to further the common good of the profession—but they do not exist in a vacuum. They require your active involvement to flourish and evolve. Select association activities that interest you and choose to make the significant contribution you want to see in your profession. We can continue to drive the profession forward with a concerted effort. Let's keep all eyes pointed toward the future.
About the Author
Robert Gitman is General Manager at NDX Thayer in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, and a Board Member of the National Association of Dental Laboratories.