Keeping You in Business, Networking, and Peer-to-Peer Networking
Last month’s blog commentary featured the growing trend – and professional concerns – of ‘Restricting PI Access to Public Records’. As noted, this stems from uninformed online media finding references to states making large profits from the selling of personal data and public records. In the next of this three-part series, we look at ‘The Value of Associations Keeping You in Business, Networking, and Peer-to-Peer Networking’. Growing nationally state by state is the drive of misinformed privacy advocates, legislators, regulators, and even governors to introduce restrictive - or outright bans - specific to private investigators in various records important to the work we do for our clients.
The article from last month was said, by some, to be a ‘hit piece’ against them personally, and their social media groups. Nothing could be further from the truth. The article targeted no person or group – it did target the growing trend and concern of misinformed media and privacy advocates sourcing from the investigator groups on social media. As such, we are our first defense.
What is the first defense of our profession? As mentioned in the closing of last month’s commentary – be professional, and use only professionals and professional resources. There are no shortcuts to professionalism.
Be involved! Join and support your state and national associations to better ourselves and our profession. Not just for continuing education, also for state and federal legislative advocacy. Here is a link to more on associations, their resources, and their value - www.DeathCaseReview.com/associations.
What are the benefits to membership and being involved?
There are several benefits, most of which are overlooked for the more tangible benefits, such as services and discounts. Let’s look beyond these – as every association offers these to differing degrees. Being involved in membership and leadership to management roles of multiple state, national and international associations, we see some common and unique traits to each, and their benefits – as well as detractions. Some associations are run by an elected board, others by an elected executive team, and others are as private associations at the discretion of the leadership. Again, these all have their benefits and detractions. Finally, each association has their primary and secondary purposes – and all are focused on membership. Before looking at these, let’s look at the Myths of Associations.
The Myths of Associations
The first myth of every association is they are ‘Good Old Boy’ (or Girl) clubs. From this it continues with associations being to profit only themselves, with personal agendas of leadership, and no real benefits to members. The reality is every group from pre-school to community senior centers – our entire lives – are filled with cliques, groups and clubs. Associations are no different, and these do keep others from joining – it did us. As things changed with our state association, we joined and watched as PPIAC did go from being a ‘club’ atmosphere to one of the most recognized and active associations nationwide – what we call, “The biggest little association” which does meet the challenges of the largest associations. From PPIAC we learned about other leading associations – NALI, NCISS, WAD, CDITC to name a few – and we became involved as members, and also active within various committee and leadership and even management positions of some.
We also often hear associations are in it for the profit, and those running the associations personal profit. Trust us – this is patently false. Most associations we belong to are non-profit, and these have elected board and/or management teams. The financials are open to membership, and it is easily seen the checks and balances prevent personal profit. Of course, there must be an association profit to stay running – associations are businesses; however, they are not in the profit business. In fact, every association we are involved in runs on a tight budget. For most the largest expense is membership continuing education and training related – the actual costs of which attendees do not actually cover. These costs are covered by sponsors, donations and subsidized.
As mentioned with cliques, clubs and other creating associations to drive personal agendas – they exist, and we are not part of them. A little research will tell you. Telling points are the same leadership year after year, no accountability of financials, low membership numbers, and no true benefits to members – other than being a member. Yes, we have seen personal agendas in every association we are part of – membership is human, as is leadership – and with this comes human nature and even personal agendas. Through the checks and balances of the associations these can be addressed; if not, the association – at least leadership – will begin to crumble and fail, and it has happened. Again, with a little research this can be discovered.
The last complaint we hear of why associations are not joined – and social media is preferred – is there are no benefits. First, it really depends on what a member is expecting from joining. Some expect to get referrals from day one. We have witnessed members truly expecting other members to send work their way, without any additional effort to their own marketing. Similarly, we have seen members expect others to provide training and mentorship, and again without any additional effort to do so on their own. Benefits first come from what the member puts into it.
The Benefits of Associations
What to expect from associations differs greatly with their purpose – their Mission Statement. Some are primarily networking and training, others advocacy and legislation, and others more focused – such as litigation, criminal defense, or expert witness associations. Many state associations do their best to serve all of these purposes, as they do have multiple roles. Generally, we have found most associations support each other. This is important as one national association may be about litigation and defense, and another advocacy and legislation – and with mutual membership, their support of each other benefits members and association growth. When the national associations, state associations, and specialty associations all mutually support each other – the membership greatly benefits. However, this mutual support is not a substitute for the individual joining and being active in each of these.
Most current and prospective members are looking for tangible benefits – something which covers their annual dues, often $100 to $200 annually (and, yes, having multiple memberships does add up). Broken down, each membership is 2-3 hours of net billed time. Taking this into account, the return on membership investment is paid back quickly just in tangible benefits. Most of these are office supply discounts, agency insurance discounts, car rental and hotel discounts, and even discounts to joining other associations. Just as the cost of dues adds up, so does the savings from tangible benefits. The most forgotten tangible benefit – discounted training opportunities – from some offering free new member investigator bootcamps, to discounted conferences with special speakers and training, which is especially helpful if licensing or certification requires annual continuing education. Even if not – for the individual benefit and client confidence, continuing education is important. These benefits may keep the individual in business, and there are others most often not realized.
The most overlooked – and expected – benefits are the non-tangible benefits. These are primarily networking opportunities. These most often come from the association listservs, and this is where social media and associations greatly differ – and may be of mutual benefit. First, social media groups are part of… socializing; they are not an environment for our profession to have discussion of confidential matters and resources. Even on the association listservs – all are closed and for members only, and most are moderated – these discussions are limited. We will address this specific issue, benefits and harm, next month. Too often a member expects to receive a volume of work through association referrals. This is a reasonable expectation – reasonable, but not a given. For us, our networking referrals are word of mouth. Where did this word of mouth come from? If we belong to 2-3 associations, all having some mutual members and our active involvement being more in some and less in others – how do we know? Its actually irrelevant to us simply because we are not reliant on any single association for networking and referrals – we rely on all of them together. We have developed strong relationships through our membership and involvement, being active. We first turn to these relationships for referrals, directing clients to assistance, and finding our own assistance. We know our colleagues do the same. Our strongest relationships are with the leaders of these associations.
The Leadership of Associations
Just as every professional is the leader of their agency, or at least a strong contributor to the agency they work with – and all of us are to our clients – associations have leadership. Not all leadership is perfect, at any level or point in our lives; we are an imperfect people and thankfully so. Leadership comes with experience and working together. Membership is always the first priority of every association, leadership and mission – there is no other reason to exist, and without membership there is no existence. It’s a mutually beneficial thing. We strongly encourage every member of every association to be involved – attend meetings, attend conferences, and attend the inner workings of your association. One benefit to membership is being able to attend and learn what does happen. Too often there is misinformation, often originating from those with a dislike and having never attended a meeting or event. If there is dissatisfaction – join, attend, and foster positive relationships and changes.
There are two distinct leadership styles in associations – the elected board and / or elected executive team, and private associations. As active members of both styles, we see how these work and overall both are beneficial to their membership. We are very selective about our association memberships and have avoided those which do not serve members, do serve only the leadership agenda (not financially), and are more of clique or club over serving the members. Leadership has cycles, which comes with agreement and disagreement, experience and inexperience. We soon veteran board members continuing to be active and help guide the up and coming members, to keep the traditions and welcome new ones.
Leadership does come with a cost – to the individual. There are no associations which pay members to be part of leadership. There may be some expenses covered, which are approved in the bylaws, policies and board actions. However, having been volunteering ourselves for over a decade in multiple associations and roles – we can attest to the fact these come at great cost of personal time and monies. Every volunteer leader we know has done so to contribute to the profession and people who helped them; to give back to those who have given so much.
The Purposes of Associations
Every association must have a membership driven purpose – a Mission Statement, and fulfill this promise. Being membership focused, the associations look to provide a return on the membership dues by the services – not the tangible benefits – being provided. This focus on membership is very important, and is the very foundation of success and growth to the association and members.
Every association has a primary purpose – it may be to provide top-level networking and training, or monitor legislation and advocacy, and any combination of these and other purposes and benefits. What does your association provide? Be sure and ask yourself – look deeper than the personal needs of networking and referrals – look to what associations do to keep you in business, to keep colleagues in business, and to grow and protect our profession – the membership. These are the primary and secondary purposes of every association working for its membership.
Associations and Social Media Groups
There has grown a misconception there is an adversity of associations and social media groups – competition. If so, this is individually and not to the associations or groups, including listservs (now being replaced by groups). We are members of associations, social media groups, and professional listservs outside of these associations and groups. They each serve unique purposes – each having mutual benefits, and some having potential harm. Next month we will look at these mutual benefits and harms.
Until then, remember – Together We’re Better!