Many years ago, as an aspiring mediator, I discovered the Association for Conflict Resolution (ACR). I was seeking connection and credibility as a professional. As a member, I received access to peer reviewed materials, publications, and most importantly - connection to what I fondly refer to as "my peeps"! In the early 2000ʻs, websites, teleconferences, webinars and virtual conferences were not commonplace. ACR relied on local chapters and regional conferences to bring practitioners and professionals together. Today, ACR connects alternative dispute resolution professionals, students, retirees, educators, arbitrators, mediators and attorneys around the globe with technology that is accessible and user friendly.
Statistically memberships in professional associations are on the decline. As the chair of the ACR Membership committee a few years ago, I was tasked to come up with a plan to build and retain membership. I investigated the concept of "association membership" as a whole. What motivates people to join an association? What are professionals seeking from associations? What is our competition? The following are some of the takeaways:
1. Association memberships use to be the only way to get trade materials, access to names of professionals and discounts to conferences and other resources. This was all pre-internet. Today we can access for free many resources on the internet, create our own websites to boost our professional credibility and publish our own blogs. Our audience and clients are not necessarily educated about the value and professionalism associated with membership.
2. Membership is not a requirement of a profession. Do you assume that your doctor is a member of the AMA or that your dentist is a member of the ADA? Well you know what they say about assuming... Many associations are not in the business of credentialing professionals; professional ethics can be set by associations but it is ultimately up to the individual as to whether or not they abide by them.
3. Associations have become more specialized: competition for membership has forced professionals to choose between complementary associations and their limited budget for association memberships.
Membership with ACR does include an expectation of adhering to the high standards set forth by the Universal Mediation Act (UMA). States and jurisdictions can set standards of conduct for mediators; universally, many states base state mediator standards on the UMA which ACR helped to establish along with the American Bar Association. Associations frequently are the standard bearer for the principles and guidelines for professionals in their respective field.
What association connects you to your "peeps"?
Sunny E. Sassaman Conflict Management and Dispute Resolution Consultant