“What about Bob?” is a movie title often cited when I am introduced to audiences. The typical introduction is a paragraph with a few career highlights.

This article describes the pathways that have influenced my association career.

Entry into association management was like many others — by accident. My college major had nothing to do with nonprofit work.

A job in Washington, D.C., was interesting. I moved from Florida without questioning the unique aspects of membership organizations. The impact of associations never crossed my mind, nor did the importance of 1.5 million nonprofits in America.

The diverse roles in associations, from lobbying and research to publishing and meeting planning, piqued my interests. I accepted the position, eager to learn.

Careen Path

I can relate when I hear an association executive say, “I love my job.” I too found the profession to be exciting. Here is my recipe for engagement in association profession.

Professional Community — National organizations such as American Society of Association Executives (ASAE), the U.S. Chamber and the American Chamber of Commerce Executives (ACCE) offered invaluable resources. They provide insights into the future through conferences and reports.

Closer to home, I engaged in ASAE counterparts such as the Florida and Georgia Societies of Association Executives. The state and local components are invaluable for networking and education.

Certification — Peers encouraged studying for the CAE exam. Preparing for the test identified my weaknesses. The informal study groups were most helpful.

Receiving the CAE designation from ASAE was probably the single most important confidence boost in my career. Around the globe I promote certification as the standard of professional excellence.

Business Modeling Every nonprofit can be managed as efficiently as a commercial business or franchise. Books like “Good to Great,” “E-Myth” and “Traction” became bibles. Each suggests an intense focus on mission and development of smart practices and processes.

I studied standards of performance, especially the U.S. Baldrige Award’s focus on organizational excellence. The criteria relating to leadership, strategy and customer service are similar in associations.

ASAE offered a peer review program (which is now defunct) in which I participated. It was an honor to visit and study other associations.

Similar in purpose, I have high regard for the accreditation program offered by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce for chambers. It too can serve as a model for assessing associations.

I applied what I learned in a project for King Abdullah II Center for Excellence (KACE), creating an assessment process for Jordanian business associations. For U.S. organizations I developed the 100-question analysis, “Inventory, Assess and Improve” available free at www.nonprofitcenter.com.

Writing Communication skills are critical for association professionals. I wrote free articles for business and trade publications.

Next, I authored and co-authored books. I wanted to provide resources to benefit my colleagues and their boards of directors. I kept the topics within the profession, writing about association management companies, lobbying, committees and strategic planning.

Teaching — The body of knowledge aligned with association management and governance can be packaged in various ways. I wanted to share by teaching. At the community college I created a semester program on association management.

To expand beyond Florida, I asked every state society of association and chamber executives if I could conduct workshops.

I was fortunate to join the faculty of the Institute for Organization Management (IOM) hosted by the U.S. Chamber’s Foundation. The students demand cutting-edge knowledge.

Through the Center for International Private Enterprise (CIPE) I have led workshops and facilitate strategic plans for business associations around the world.

Mentoring My success rests upon the shoulders of those who mentored me. I pay it forward daily. Mentoring is one of the most satisfying practices in my career. With technology it can be offered efficiently and conducted globally.

“Mentoring expedites learning when a person is provided access to proven examples and resources,” said Erick Reyes, enrolled in college in Tallahassee, Florida.

To support association success I post tips, templates and checklists at www.nonprofitcenter.com. I believe it is better to share information than to charge a fee. For association professionals and board members, I try to be available to answer the questions I receive each day.

Governmental Relations — Understanding how government works is the foundation for democracy and free enterprise. The first amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1791 affords associations the right to petition government.

I honed my lobbying and public policy skills by volunteering for Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD).

Hospitality Partners — Associations have a symbiotic relationship with the hospitality industry; the professions are complementary.

Their sponsorships support professional development. Thirty-five years ago, I was fortunate to build a lasting relationship with Hyatt Hotels in Florida. They have given nearly $150,000 to FSAE’s Foundation.

International Opportunities Associations are similar around the world. They are hospitable and eager to share.

I turned to ASAE’s global counterparts to expand opportunities such as attending conferences and speaking. You can imagine the faux pas I made on my first visits abroad.

Through CIPE I’ve had opportunities to meet with business associations in Eastern Europe, Asia and the Middle East. A favorite resource published by CIPE is the free online book, “Business Associations for the 21st Century.”

Association Management Company Working in one association was rewarding. I realized I could multiply the experience by creating an association management company (AMC).

The AMC combined profit-making motives with nonprofit principles. It was the best of both worlds. I was honored to co-author “Building an AMC.”


The best part of associations is their commitment to a mission. Whether it is called a purpose, mission, cause or values, they are guided by authenticity. To be involved with organizations that advance a meaningful cause has always been an honor.

The pathways for career satisfaction vary for every professional. By sharing these career highlights, it may serve as a road map as well as an answer to the question, “What about Bob?