The Value of Membership in and Commitment to a Professional Organization
By Willa A. Smith
The career development field, as well as its professional organizations, is no different than organizations who desire commitment from their employees. Like a satisfied employee, professional organization members will usually stay longer and give their energy and expertise whenever they can. Bussell (2021) describes three key activities that contribute to organizational commitment: career pathways, mentoring, and training. These activities are interrelated and when intentional, can lead to increased retention and engagement. These activities are also associated with employees giving back of their time to fill the needs of the organization and profession.
Professional organizations, specifically the National Career Development Association (NCDA), aim to provide members with activities that contribute to organizational commitment, such as professional development, publications, standards, and advocacy. As members benefit from these activities, so does the organization. In the April 6, 2022 NCDA’s Presidential Series podcast, NCDA President Dr. Sharon Givens talked with Dr. Yvonne Thayer on the future of work. Dr. Thayer concluded the program with a tip about the value of professional organizations. She said, "(when) looking at your professional organization, you should use the time you have together (at a) professional conference... to have groups that meet and talk about the issues and develop resources to help each other." (Givens, 2022).
Career services professionals (CSP), including authors of Career Convergence articles, past presidents of the California Career Development Association, editors of NCDA publications, and others responded to this author's request to share how membership is a value-added activity to them. This article will share the CSP's comments in exploring:
- Commitment to career development
- Giving back through volunteering
- Belonging to an inclusive organization
- Outreach to expand membership
One CSP summed up their membership investment by stating, “Professional organizations keep the pulse on all things that impact the profession. Being a member gives you access to that.” Another CSP respondent stated, “I think my commitment has really changed over the years.” Another stated, “Being committed to participation and leadership in organizations shows the general public that you are someone they can trust with their time and money.” In addition to the common focus on what the professional organization offers, equal attention must be given to what the individual member should do: be active as a volunteer in the association. This two-way street is reflected in the concept of mindful engagement. “The pulse of engagement lies within each one of us, as does our ownership to keep that light burning brightly.” (Narayanan, 2017).
Giving Back Through Volunteering
Elsdon (2018) described the purpose of volunteering, how to choose volunteer activities, and how volunteering changes over one’s lifespan: it’s first a stepping stone and then leads to more altruistic endeavors. In addition to the practical benefits of volunteering such as learning new skills, making contacts and helping to bridge employment gaps, Elsdon cited Murphy (2016) on how volunteering can help people engage in the world around them. Wall (2014) added, “The best way to prevent poor health in the future is to volunteer.” Almost all CSP respondents stated that they have given back by serving as teachers, authors, conference presenters, mentors, and more. While these activities may or may not have taken place as part of their membership in a professional organization, that is where many opportunities exist. NCDA's reliance on volunteers is obvious in the list of committees and their annual reports. Global connections, diversity initiatives, research, even this web magazine, could not function without member volunteers.
Often volunteers make a commitment for a period of time, sometimes set according to the organization's bylaws. For example, NCDA board members agree to a three-year commitment – or four, if they run for President-Elect-Elect. Career Convergence Associate and Field Editors are asked to commit to serving at least two years. Why do many go on to serve longer? This author’s reasons include: “I love to write and Career Convergence allows me to do that. I also serve as a field editor to help budding authors find their writing voice and help experienced authors write with another perspective.” Another Career Convergence volunteer Associate Editor shared, “I continue to volunteer because I am inspired by the work of other volunteers. We work together to identify challenges or theoretically-grounded practices to address through the publication. If we can validate the good work and further engage even one discouraged reader each month, my volunteer hours are worth it.”
Belonging to an Inclusive Organization
Diversity and cultural inclusion is one of three main priorities listed in NCDA’s 2020-2024 Strategic Plan . It is listed as a core value of NCDA whose purpose is to “Foster a diverse and inclusive environment for all members to be engaged by addressing the unique needs of diverse members and their clients” (Pennington & Evans, 2020, para. 5). Through the efforts of many volunteers, this value is lived. For example, in 2007, the NCDA Diversity Initiatives and Cultural Inclusion Committee first developed a Multicultural Career Resource List to provide career services practitioners resources for their increased knowledge, developing training programs and classes (Behrens, 2008). It is updated by the committee members regularly with a collection of journal articles, textbooks, assessment instruments, and other tools because members saw a need and fulfilled it.
NCDA also offers recognition awards annually in order to support diversity. Winners are chosen by volunteers on the Awards Committee as a way to show recognition and appreciation of the winners’ great work. While one winner is specifically chosen for their diversity initiatives, many winners demonstrate diversity and cultural inclusion and each is a member volunteer, committed to NCDA and the field of career development.
A respondent noted the importance of diversity in membership, which leads to diversity in volunteers, by stating “It comes to getting them (graduate students from diverse populations) involved through conference attendance.” Supporting this statement, one CSP respondent joined the diversity committee “as a graduate student as a way to connect my activism in the LGBTQ+ community with my new career. I have enjoyed being able to connect with colleagues to uplift social justice initiatives in career development and to expand and amplify the impact that we all can have as career practitioners.”
Outreach to Expand Membership
“Each One, Reach One” might be a good motto as one of the best recruitment tools. Every member can encourage other professionals to become members via unlimited methods of outreach. One CSP respondent said, “I always felt getting grad students to come to the conferences was a huge factor in getting them signed up as members!” Additionally, the following outreach ideas were shared by some respondents:
- Encourage graduate students to join, including inviting them to attend conferences, institutes, etc.
- Connect with state career development associations
- Partner with counseling or coaching associations
- Seek employees in workplaces with career development programs
- Invite others from related organizations such as SHRM, ATD, etc.,
- Reach out to colleges and other schools
- Have counselor educators ask their students to join
- Grow by adding divisions
Commitment to the Field of Career Development
“The more activities that are presented by an organization, the more interest is obtained and maintained by career services professionals,” was shared by one respondent. The keyword is maintained – if all volunteers maintain their interest and commitment, the membership thrives. Hopefully, the ideas presented here will inspire readers to implement what is most relevant to them and share with others to inspire them to take action, too. Action that is followed by commitment can lead to satisfaction by both the member and the organization.
Behrens, D. (2008). A diversity resource for career professionals: The multicultural career resource list. Career Convergence. https://www.ncda.org/aws/NCDA/pt/sd/news_article/6444/_self/CC_layout_details/false
Bussell, K. (2021). Career development activities are a key contributing factor to an employee’s commitment to the organization. Career Convergence. https://www.ncda.org/aws/NCDA/pt/sd/news_article/390259/_self/CC_layout_details/false
Elsdon, R. (2018). Becoming a volunteer. Career Convergence. https://www.ncda.org/aws/NCDA/pt/sd/news_article/159209/_self/CC_layout_details/false
Haraburda, M. (2021). The value of appreciation. Career Convergence. https://www.ncda.org/aws/NCDA/pt/sd/news_article/407931/_self/CC_layout_details/false
Narayanan, S. (2017). Why talented people disengage quietly. Career Convergence. https://www.careerconvergence.org/aws/NCDA/pt/sd/news_article/135123/_self/CC_layout_details/false
National Career Development Association Committee on Diversity Initiatives and Cultural Inclusion. (February 2020). Multicultural Career Resource List. NCDA. https://ncda.org/aws/NCDA/asset_manager/get_file/124862?ver=12680
Pennington, D. & Evans, K. (2020). Strategic planning process results in three main NCDA priorities. Career Convergence. https://www.ncda.org/aws/NCDA/pt/sd/news_article/320927/_self/CC_layout_details/false
Thayer, Y. (2022). The future of work [Audio podcast]. NCDA Career Practitioners Conversations with NCDA. https://ncda.buzzsprout.com/1963679/10390491-the-future-of-work?t=0
Wall, J. (2014). Career development benefits to volunteering. Thoughts About Career Development. https://careerdevelopmentmusings.wordpress.com/2014/07/13/career-development-benefits-to-volunteering/
Willa Smith, M.S.C. is a retired Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor (LPCC), NCC and NCCC. Currently, she is a Field Editor for Career Convergence and author of journal articles (National Career Development Association) and chapter author (Unfocused Kids: Helping Students to Focus on Their Education and Career Plans). She also sits on the Sutter Yuba Homeless Consortium. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org