I came to work in the association sector in London in 2004. Although I had worked in an educational membership charity for six years prior to that, my knowledge of professional membership associations was sketchy. I had been a member of the Chartered Institute of Plumbing and Heating (CIPHE) from about the age of seventeen, when it was the Institute of Plumbing (IoP), but I had no experience of leading one and certainly not starting one from scratch, which was the enormous task I had taken on at the Institute for Learning.
I looked around for a support network, somewhere I could go and learn from others with more experience than me. I think it is fair to say there were fewer such networks then. I joined the Institute of Association Management, I attended a few PARN events and then, in 2005, I attended my first Memcom conference (it had a capital m then). I have attended every memcom conference since, either as a speaker or a delegate, and it has a very special place in my heart.
Move forwards fifteen years and there are far more opportunities to network with peers, share best practice and find support. There are more conferences, more events, online learning, communities and more networks, but memcom remains, for me, the jewel in the membership association crown. It is a place where I have made friends, built relationships, learned the tools of my trade, laughed and cried. It is a part of me, and I hope I am a part of it.
What is so special about memcom? It starts with the people. Yes, the leadership of memcom has changed hands over the years, but I firmly believe that, throughout its existence, whoever has led memcom has put the needs of membership professionals over and above the promotion of memcom as an entity. This is important to me. For a network that depends on people volunteering their time to make things happen, the leadership needs to be credible, genuine, authentic, transparent and enthusiastic.
Let’s stick with the theme of people. One of memcom’s great strengths is its ability to bring together senior people from across the association sector in an environment that fosters collaboration, collegiality and trust. The people working in membership associations are an eclectic bunch and they find a natural home in memcom. Conference programmes are the most varied and challenging you will find at any association event and it is always a pleasure to explore these with talented individual from a diverse range of backgrounds.
The social aspect of great professional development is often overlooked. Not at memcom. I still remember attending my first memcom dinner all those years ago and thoroughly enjoying discussing all that had gone before with people who were all doing a similar role to me. Over time, the dinner grew to encompass an array of awards, celebrating all that is brilliant about the work that associations do and the people who work in them. The memcom awards arose out of the association sector and, in my opinion, are the premier recognition of excellence for membership professionals.
Finally, and most importantly to me, I will talk about memcom’s contribution to thought leadership. All too often, conferences become show-and-tell exercises for consultants, vendors and suppliers. Content focusses on operational issues. Not memcom. I always get the feeling that the exhibitors are there because they share memcom’s vision. The content is always pitched at a strategic or tactical level and challenges me to think again about my personal perspective of membership excellence.
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