Starting An Association: It’s Easier Than You Think
There are many reasons to start a trade association: networking, assuring best practices, leveraging several voices to reach an industry-wide goal. The concept alone, however, is daunting. Even within the same industry (within the same community!), stakeholders will have different reasons for joining and different expectations once they do, even if they recognize an association benefits their work. Despite apprehensions and questions, beginning a trade association can be simple if you address three threshold issues.
Determine your members and their audiences.
Before anything else happens, you need a core group of like-minded stakeholders. They must agree on an association’s purpose and have a clear idea of potential members. A core group, even if it is only three or four “founding” entities, can make definitive collective decisions, underwrite initial costs, agree to what audiences (new clients, policy-makers, vendors, other industry stakeholders) the association will direct its efforts, and begin formulating ways to execute them.
Know your “competition” and illustrate your benefits.
You are rarely the only game in town even if you are the only association for your craft. Attracting new members means standing out in a crowd; not only among other industry associations or chapters, but also among other marketing or networking opportunities. Therefore, you must understand your marketplace, whether it is a single community or an international footprint, and how your association’s purpose and membership benefits are different, if not better, than other options.
Tackle the nuts and bolts.
Finally, after your founding members are committed and in accord and you can conceptualize who your new members will be and what benefits you plan on providing, you tackle the nuts and bolts. Determine where you will incorporate and file your articles. If you will be tax-exempt, begin the application process. And, among your founders begin considering bylaws and how the organization will be governed: its board rules, potential committee structure, a membership dues structure, and importantly, a budget forecast for the association’s income and costs.