What common characteristic do many successful people in various fields of endeavor have in common? Recent research showed that it’s membership in a trade or professional association in their chosen field.The William E. Smith Institute for Association Research (funded by SmithBucklin) recently issued a report titled, “Where the Winners Meet — Why Happier, More Successful People Gravitate Toward Associations.”

Using new national survey data, the report shows that association members are more successful on average than non-members. The study concluded, “They earn more, they like their jobs better, and the data shows they are even happier people.” This is true even when other factors such as job category, education, age and gender are held constant. The income edge and higher job satisfaction with association membership still persists. (A copy of the report can be reviewed at www.smithbucklin.com.)

Looking at the research, one might be tempted to say that membership in an association makes these benefits happen for individuals. But the report shows that the most likely relationship is actually a “reverse causation.” That is, job success actually increases the likelihood of a person joining an association. Associations provide the opportunity for successful people in a profession to access information and resources, network with their peers, obtain continuing educational opportunities and form contacts and communities with others from whom they can learn.

The report also shows that associations can create value for employers. In today’s competitive job market, employee attrition is a major concern for many companies and firms. According to the report, “Exposing high-value employees to the positive ‘winning’ atmosphere of an association would encourage higher morale,” which, in turn, would lead to lower attrition. Encouraging employees to participate in their professional associations can be a win-win for both the employer and the employee.

As chief executive of a state CPA society, I am not really surprised by the results detailed in the report. My experience over the last 30 years has been that the CPAs who are active in their professional associations are the cream of the crop. They’re people who are professionally successful and who understand that by being active in their professional organization, they can support and increase their own personal success.

They also have a deep sense of obligation to give back to their profession and help ensure its health and success for future generations. The most common comments I have heard from volunteer leaders over my career is that they get much more back from their participation in their professional society than they give, and that their participation allows them to build professional friendships and contacts with others, which benefits them in their careers.

Of course, professional associations also have an obligation in this equation. They must provide the right set of programs and services, and the right environment and community if they plan to continue to attract members. It’s a classic case of if you build it properly, they will come. As the report noted, “Understanding, communicating and delivering the right benefits for members will help associations grow and succeed, and will also allow members and employers to continue to grow, thrive and remain successful.”

State CPA societies provide an ideal community for successful CPAs to meet, network and learn from others who are successful. They also provide an opportunity for younger CPAs to develop leadership skills, and interact and learn as they grow in their profession. As the research notes, associations, including state CPA societies, are “where the winners meet.”

John Sharbaugh, CAE, is executive director and chief executive of the Texas Society of CPAs.

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