Professional Associations: Go National or Stay Local?

This article was written in collaboration with The Savvy Newcomer Team and published February, 2015.

Full disclosure: I am one of the co-founders and currently the president of the Association of Translators and Interpreters of Florida (ATIF), an ATA Chapter. I am also a teacher, a mother and a grandmother. I am starting to see a pattern…

Where to?Joining a professional organization is an investment in one’s career and must be properly assessed. Take a look at the benefits package and the group’s reach. If it is a local entity, is it affiliated with a larger entity that will give you national or international exposure? Don’t forget to check what is expected of you as a member and what your rights are. The answers to the latter questions can sometimes be found in the entity’s bylaws, which groups often make available on their websites. When reading the bylaws, make sure to have your questions ready, and search for the specific answers. This will focus and expedite your reading.

One of the greatest advantages of a local organization is the accessibility of its administration. The smaller number of members usually translates into a first-name basis relationship and a greater sense of accountability. For example, it is not just any old member who made an inquiry, it is Terry.

Professional associations come in different shapes and sizes, with varying reaches, purposes and benefit packages. It is our obligation as professionals and future affiliates to learn as much as we can about all they have to offer. At times, it may make sense to join a national association and their local chapter too.

The national association has offers and benefits the local association does not have, but the local association offers access and exposure to a sphere outside the reach of the national association.

Table of advantages of national vs local professional associations

After taking into consideration all the benefits that different associations on different levels have to offer, you can make an educated decision about which association (or associations) is right for you. Keep in mind that you are free to join multiple associations. And it is common to combine the ATA membership (national level) with membership in local chapters and affiliate groups. You should also consider going international and join a professional association in the countries of your source or target languages.

Simply joining an organization, however, won’t let you take full advantage of all the benefits you’ve researched so carefully. What’s the next step after selecting the association that best suits your interests and goals? Get involved! Volunteer. Comment on the group’s blog or newsletter. Ask questions. Be active.

Most professional associations are non-profit organizations and, depending on the size, all officers are unpaid volunteers without any support from paid staff. The active participation of members is what keeps these organizations alive. Help them with their next event: man the registration table, proofread notices, make copies, etc.

Getting involved in forums, committees or in organizing events is a good way of both showing appreciation and helping your organization grow. The benefits you will reap are an added bonus.

Questions posed by colleagues will provide insight on aspects of the profession you may not have been aware of, or even solutions to problems that you have not yet faced, such as having your identity stolen by a scammer. Having direct access to your colleagues’ knowledge-base through answers on forums or even direct questions is one of those benefits whose value cannot be expressed in dollar signs.

The ATA has Chapters in many states and you can find a list here. There are also affiliated groups you might want to look into. But if association with the ATA is not a number one feature in your list, there is also a list of non-ATA associated groups that might be of interest to you.

As mentioned above, check their websites, read their bylaws and look through messages on their forums to get an idea of the type of group it is, how active they are, their communication preferences, if the exchanges are civil enough for you and whether they cover subjects you are interested in.   The same logic goes for deciding which mailing lists and which committees to join within an association, which can be very rewarding.

No man is an island. No professional is an island either. Human beings are by nature gregarious and professionals can’t hide from that trait. So take advantage of it and join a professional association!

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