The value of professional associations

Aug 06, 2023


Professional associations offer a lot of benefits to the firms that support them, and for most firms are well worth the price of a membership.

There are a lot of professional associations in our industry, which can mean a lot of membership dues for our firms and a lot of time spent away from the office for our people. And when the economy is shaky, it can be tempting to cut memberships altogether. While sometimes you have to make tough choices as a leader, refusing to support involvement with professional associations could end up costing you more in the long run.

Let’s challenge some common reasons memberships get cut and find out just how much value professional associations add to your firm:

  • “Our licensed staff can still get CEUs without being a member of an organization.” While it’s true that most professional associations offer educational programs and conferences open to non-members, it is also more expensive. If you’re only sending one person to a few programs each year, it may make little difference in cost, but the savings may be more than you think. For example, at BL everyone in our marketing department is a member of SMPS, a professional services marketing association. If we had paid the “non-member” fee for every program we attended in 2022, it would have cost us more than $1,000 more. Engagement in both the organization and the programs enhances the value of the cost.
  • “People can pay for their own memberships if it’s important to them.” While this is technically true, it isn’t exactly building goodwill with your employees. If BL told me today that I’d have to pay to renew my memberships out-of-pocket, I would do it because they are important to me. But I also might start looking for another job that values my development and education more. This is a risky position to take, especially during a period of increased job-hopping like we’re experiencing now. Is the cost of a membership more than the cost of hiring a new employee, or the cost of decreased productivity from “quiet quitting”?
  • “We provide training and education in-house.” That’s great! But professional associations have value beyond education. For one, networking is a large component in professional associations, and a vital piece of business development, especially in the AEC industry. Even multi-discipline firms like BL need to team with other firms sometimes, and professional associations are a great way to source good partners.
  • “I’m worried my staff will leave for a competitor.” While it’s true that the relationships employees build through professional associations could lead to a job opportunity, it’s also a great opportunity to find great employees for your own firm. Many of our highest performing staff came recommended by existing employees, thanks to their involvement in professional associations. It’s also important to remember that no one who wants to stay at your firm will leave just because another firm offered. If you’ve built a good culture and provide competitive pay and benefits, no one will be lured away that easily.
  • “It’s taking too much time away from work.” Professional associations are a big commitment, especially for those who step into leadership positions, but it’s not entirely accurate to say they are taking time away from work. Many events and programs are after work hours, for starters, but a lot of what professional associations offer is work in itself. If I attend a client panel and networking breakfast, I may be away from the office, but I am still working. After all, collecting information from and networking with clients is business development regardless of where it happens. Even really time-consuming engagements (like serving as a committee chair or board member of an association) have great benefits for your firm. BL has several past and current association presidents, and all of them have come away better leaders for it. Individual professional development is an investment that will ultimately enhance the work your employees produce.

At BL, we have employees with memberships in more than 100 professional associations. In addition to the education, networking opportunities, and professional development our employees gain through their involvement in these organizations, we as a firm gain expanded brand reach as well. Our involvement with the ESOP Association, for example, has led to many speaking engagements for our team which helps us position ourselves as a leader among employee-owned firms, and sets us apart from competitors.

Ultimately, professional associations offer a lot of benefits to the firms that support them, and are well worth the price of a membership for most. Before dismissing them as too costly, it’s important to take a step back and think about all you get from a professional association. Chances are, the opportunities and benefits a professional association membership provides your firm ultimately outweigh the costs.

Julia DeFrances is a senior marketing coordinator at BL Companies, Inc. She can be reached at

Click here to read this week's issue of The Zweig Letter!

About Zweig Group

Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.