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How College and Clubs are the Same
By Dan Ehrmann
Posted on 11/04/2013 2:42 PM
I have two college age daughters, both of them smart, passionate, dedicated, and beautiful. One is a sophomore and the other is taking a gap year, studying and working overseas before starting college for real next September. Each is also dealing will their fair share of challenges and distractions. I love them to bits.

During "father-daughter" chats and thinking about what's important, I have told them to focus their time in college on four things:
  1. Get a great professional education
  2. Get a great general education
  3. Network like crazy; make contacts and friends for after college
  4. Have fun
But I think these areas also apply to clubs and associations. Let's see how:

1. Get a Great Professional Education

One daughter has laser focus on the theater, especially writing and directing for the theater. She's at a terrific school for this career and her primary focus will be to get the best professional education for her future career. The other daughter will also be attending a great school in her fields of interest: theater, psychology, and education and her primary focus should be the same.

Whether people join your association through their business/professional lives or through their personal lives, they are joining to share and learn. Clubs need to be sure they are filling this need, through formal classes, informal meetings, training sessions, and competitions of different kinds. They can have online interest groups that allow members to meet other members with similar interests, and online discussion groups for people to ask questions, get answers, and share knowledge.

Successful clubs and associations are really good at this primary mission.

2. Get a Great General Education

College is a wonderful place to learn, with thousands of classes in dozens of schools and departments. Fortunately, every college encourages its students to take electives across multiple disciplines. It's a great opportunity to take classes in a completely different field from your profession, to learn about the world and it's history, politics, science, business, and humanities. A strong society is defined by an educated citizenry that knows how to learn about the issues of the day and how to make informed decisions. 

Vibrant, active associations also provide their members with learning opportunities outside the core focus of the association. Sometimes, these take the form of volunteering for the association, learning how to organize events, maintaining a website, publishing a newsletter, managing finances, or making decisions as part of a committee or the board of directors. Sometimes these take the form of sharing events with other clubs or simply providing social events.

3. Network

Everyone knows that business or professional success is not simply a matter of how smart you are or how lucky. Rather, your ability to network, your ability to build and sustain relationships with other people is a huge determinant of ultimate success. This means finding people who help you in your career and who you help in turn. It means building contacts that can teach you to become a better runner or cyclist or sailor, or introduce you to others who can help in turn. Wide and deep networks feed on themselves; you become someone that people want to network with because of how you can help them, and you in turn benefit from their networks.

Clubs and associations are the perfect vehicle for building and maintaining a network. Every has shared interests; it's easy to find people who can learn from your experiences and who have something to teach in return. And for professional associations, there is no better way to build business contacts for the times when you're looking (or need) to change jobs. This even applies to clubs where you join through your personal interests; your friends are also your network!

So it's important for clubs and associations to provide many opportunities for members to socialize and share, even as part of events or meetings that might have a different primary purpose. Many of the clubs using ClubExpress have monthly or quarterly education sessions; the good ones also provide time before, during, or after the event for members to socialize, share experiences, exchange business cards, and generally build and strengthen their networks.

4. Have Fun!

I don't think I've ever met anyone for whom college was not an amazing, fun experience. We all have fond memories of the first time we were essentially on our own, making friends, discovering interests and passions, exploring the wider world, going to parties and games, experiencing the rich life of a college campus and surrounding town or city.

Don't forget the fun side of your club or association either. Fun is what gets members engaged, wanting to attend more events, getting more involved. Fun leads to higher retention rates and more interest from prospective members. Even for associations where people join through their business or professional lives, "fun" can be as simple as a social event at a local restaurant, something different that brings members together in an unusual way.

That's it. Nothing momentous! I just thought that the parallels were kind of interesting.

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