Investing in career advancement

A journey to realising the value of membership organisations

11 Apr 2024
by Paul Sloggett

Before delving into the world of professional membership organisations, I'll admit, I was a bit sceptical. I didn’t appreciate the value of joining such a community in my own fields of management, marketing, media and events. What could they offer that I couldn't access elsewhere? Little did I know, my perspective was about to undergo a complete transformation.

For years, I was unaware there were professional membership organisations doing lots of work, so that their members didn’t have to. I was oblivious that peers were joining these organisations to access to career-accelerating shortcuts. I was searching for knowledge and insights, interpreting information, reinventing best practice and building networks, when such things were already available for a relatively modest joining fee.

Ten years ago, my eyes were opened when I moved into a full-time senior role within the environmental charity and chartered professional body, CIWM, which serves those working in the circular economy and resource and waste management sectors. Previously I’d worked with British Eventing, the Chartered Institute of Procurement & Supply (CIPS) and the Direct Marketing Association (DMA) as a consultant but hadn’t fully appreciated the potential value and advantages of membership.

At CIWM, I had the privilege of getting to know dedicated and engaged members who are truly maximising the benefits to achieve their ambitions. Their stories have been nothing short of inspiring, and through their experiences, I've come to realise the immense value that membership organisations can offer throughout one's professional life. They are gateways to a multitude of opportunities that can help propel individuals and companies toward their goals. Whether it's access to exclusive resources, industry insights, networking events, qualifications, post nominals, online communities, volunteering experience or training and professional development programmes, the benefits can be enlightening and impactful.

Finally, understanding what I was missing, I soon joined organisations supporting those working in the membership sector, including the Association of Association Executives (AAE) and MemberWise. I also encouraged my teams to join and access the free benefits, including conferences, newsletters and online community platforms.

What I've also learned is that investing in membership isn't just a one-way transaction; it's a strategic move that can yield significant returns, providing you make the most of the opportunities. For ambitious professionals, it can mean gaining a competitive edge, expanding your knowledge base and accelerating your career trajectory. For the companies you work for, it can translate into staying ahead of industry trends, accessing talent pools, and fostering partnerships that drive growth and innovation. For all these reasons, it’s not surprising that many employers encourage their managers and staff to become members.

I no longer believe the value of membership can be emulated by joining online communities and taking part in commercially run conferences or training programmes. Many are excellent and all have their place, but the propositions and motivations are often fundamentally different. At very least, membership itself demonstrates to employers your commitment to professionalism and developing expertise.

Organisations like CIWM, which has over 7,000 members, are essentially authoritative, trusted and self-supporting cooperatives. Through Trustee boards, volunteer committees, governance structures and constitutions, they are run by members for the benefit of each other and the entire profession. They exist to achieve a shared bigger purpose, not profit. Representing members interests with a powerful independent voice. Income from members fees, if joining isn’t free, becomes funds that are invested in best in class and often unique portfolios of affordable high-value products and services that might otherwise be uneconomical and unavailable. Some funds are used to employ head office staff who facilitate services and run the organisation on behalf of members.

Such credible and non-commercial environments and cultures attract the sectors most experienced high achievers, thought leaders, innovators and subject experts. Reassured by high professional standards they are keen and willing to share their vast wealth of experience, knowledge and skills through speaking at events, publishing articles and participation in special interest groups and workshops. The next generation of leaders, less experienced members and even the professions new starters experience unique opportunities to learn from and network with influencers, decision makers and ambassadors, perhaps even their future mentors, or employers.

I naively had an image of professional membership organisations as old fashioned and painfully formal. In fact, they are increasingly dynamic, cutting-edge and entrepreneurial, with diverse member profiles and commitments to ESG and EDI principles. There’s talk that Gen Z see less value and relevance in membership organisations and certainly there are many digital alternatives. Average CIWM member age was increasing, however, once we modernised the CIWM brand and launched a contemporary magazine and website, student membership tripled in less than a year. There is still much value for younger members and many organisations have initiatives and benefits to meet new entrant needs.

Sometimes membership is free, as with the Circular Economy Club, which recently became part of the CIWM Group. If there is a membership fee, don’t let that put you off. It may be inexpensive, CIWM’s Affiliated membership is little more than £10 a month. Consider it an investment and weigh up the return. Employers will often pay for membership, so it’s worth asking. Some memberships can also be partly offset against income tax.

So, if you're not already a member, I urge you to consider the possibilities that await you within your sectors membership organisation. Trust me; if you engage, the investment can be invaluable. If you're already a member, don't let the opportunities pass you by. Seize them, leverage them, and enjoy the journey as they propel you toward your aspirations.

Thanks to the author: Paul Sloggett, a previous speaker at AAE events, is looking for his next leadership role with an ambitious membership organisation or challenging projects. Describing himself as ‘a creative and inspiring allrounder’, Paul has broad experience in membership sector. Meet Paul at or call +44 (0)7860 349205.

Paul will be contributing to the AAE over the coming months, and we look forward to his perspective on membership and joining.