Once you’re in business, you’re likely going to be asked about joining a trade association. This series on trade associations began with a round-up of types of trade associations. But we’ve only touched on the important question: What do trade associations do? This article provides the answers.
Thinking about what the word “association” means, it’s easy to answer the question of “what do trade associations do.” Trade associations bring a community together for coordinated activities. Members associate around a common interest. In fact, “America’s associations have deep roots in our history. The first American settlers formed ‘guilds,’ patterned after British trade groups, to address common challenges and support each other’s work and lifestyle.”
However, you want a more detailed answer about the activities of trade associations, right? This article, the second in our series, will discuss the many things trade associations do, including:
- Share information
- Support networking
- Educate members and the community
- Give members a voice in government policy
- Set and maintain standards
- Provide funding opportunities
- Benefit consumers
Trade associations keep their members informed about updates to industry standards, market trends, training opportunities, and more. Today, most trade groups have a professional website with educational materials, technical advice, and publications.
Associations are a source of the latest research and statistics as well as news about changes to government policy that could impact that group’s members. Being a member of the association makes it much easier for the business owner to keep up with the latest without doing all the research solo.
Trade groups host conferences and trade shows to discuss products and services, get educated, and network. They might also have regional or local chapters to bring businesses together for networking at a “lunch and learn,” training, or social gathering.
The trade association’s goal is to foster camaraderie among members. So, there is often a members portal on the association’s business website where people can pose questions and get advice from their peers.
A trade association is also a great place to find a mentor that can share their experience and knowledge with you.
Educate Members and the Community
According to the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE)—yes, even association execs have their own association — these groups “invest millions of dollars to advance the post-college professional training of our nation’s workforce.”
Continuing education of members is a key responsibility of professional associations. Trade associations usually sponsor seminars, workshops, and classes so that members can learn and grow. Outside of these established events, the association also offers opportunities for peer-to-peer learning.
At the same time, trade associations make an effort to educate the public about their industry. The association publicizes industry news via PR, has board members interviewed in the news, and typically has public-facing educational materials on its website. They might even promote the industry’s products to consumers. You’ve likely seen advertisements for the National Association of Realtors, which intends to raise public awareness of the value of working with a realtor.
Give Members a Voice in Government Policy
One individual business owner or entrepreneur can write or call their government representative to make their opinions known. However, a trade association with the weight of membership behind it is more likely to influence legislation.
A trade association can combine the funds it gets from membership dues and other revenue sources to lobby lawmakers and sway public opinion. In industries that face heavy regulation, this becomes a big part of the trade group’s mission.
Set and Maintain Standards
Many trade associations also aim to establish credibility in the industry by setting and maintaining standards. The association has many ways to encourage members to follow best practices and remain current on industry shifts. These include:
- Professional development hour requirements
- Establishing standards
Provide Funding Opportunities
Not every trade association will do this, but some provide members with access to emergency funding or targeted loans. Many associations also offer grants to help fund research, inspire innovation, drive conference attendance, and defray the costs of education.
A small business might also fund an internship position after applying for a grant from their industry association. For example, the Georgia Association of Convenience Stores was able to hire a summer intern during a transition period thanks to funding from the Georgia Society of Association Executives. For the GSAE, the grants are a great way to introduce young professionals to association careers.
The trade associations also do things for consumers too. For one thing, the consumer working with a trade association member can feel more confident that the business is keeping with the latest in their industry. In some industries, the trade association membership also demonstrates ongoing compliance with ethical and other industry standards.
Consumers might reach out to the association for recommendations of providers. They could also turn to the trade group to help mediate any disagreement with an association member.
The Many Roles of Trade Associations
What do trade associations do? You can probably see now that it’s more a question of what don’t they do. Stay tuned for the next article in this series, which addresses how joining a trade group can benefit your business.