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FAQs: Careers in Association Management

Looking for a career with great long-term growth potential, excellent compensation and a wide-open job market? How about a career where there’s room for both recent graduates and chief executive officers? Or, a career that can accommodate generalists and specialists that provides ample opportunity for professional development and advancement?

Put your future in focus and consider a career in association management. Chicago associations alone are a $9 billion industry that employs nearly 47,000 people with a gross annual payroll of $3 billion.

Learn about the unparalleled opportunities in association management:

What is an association?

Associations touch the lives of most people on a daily basis — whether it be through the American Dental Association's seal of approval on the morning's toothpaste, a monthly donation to the United Way or an evening's attendance at a local PTA meeting. Associations are everywhere, serving a multitude of industries, professions and causes.

Associations exist to establish strength and unity in working toward a common goal. They are nonprofit organizations formed to promote the economic, scientific or social wellbeing of their members. Different types of associations cater to diverse industries professions and causes. Generally, they include trade associations; professional societies; scientific, technical or learned societies; and charitable organizations:

Opportunities also exist at association management companies, which employ administrative and staff specialists who provide services to associations that have grown too large to handle their administrative affairs on a volunteer basis, but are not large enough to maintain a separate staff. Association Management Center, SmithBucklin, and the Williams Management Resources are all association management companies that are active members of Association Forum.

What kinds of jobs do associations offer?

All kinds! There's room in associations for everyone, including beginners with little to no experience, seasoned professionals with several years’ experience and everyone in between.

Because associations provide a variety of benefits and services to their members, they need specialists in areas like communications and finance, as well generalists who can handle administrative functions and special projects. In addition, associations usually offer similar benefits and services, so the skills and experiences learned at one association typically can be transferred to another, even if the two organizations serve dramatically different constituencies. The expertise learned at an association also can be transferred to for-profit organizations. Budgeting, event planning and publishing are just a few of the skills learned at associations that can be transferred to for-profit companies.

How much education do I need for a career in association management?

There is room in associations for beginners and recent graduates with little or no experience, as well as experienced professionals who are transferring from other industries.

Degree requirements vary between associations and job titles; if you’re concerned about your qualifications, there are formal education programs designed to teach you everything you need to know about working for associations. In Chicago, local universities and colleges offer degree and certificate programs in association management.

Is Chicagoland a good place to find association jobs?

Yes! There are nearly 2,000 associations in Chicago, making our city second only to Washington, D.C., in concentration of association headquarters. Not only that, but Chicago is the No. 1 headquarters choice for health care associations.


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