Association Dead Zones: How to Overcome Geographical Limits

Written by Tracy Vanneman on September 25, 2018

It’s no secret – North American associations live and breathe in Chicago, D.C., New York, and other major metropolitan hubs. But whether by circumstance, choice, or necessity, there are many association management professionals working in offices and from home across the continent, from Saskatoon to Albuquerque, Providence to Anchorage. Although the nature of association work – mission-driven service to members – can be accomplished from almost anywhere with an internet connection, working as an association management professional without a cadre of counterparts nearby can present a unique set of challenges.

A primary obstacle in working outside of an association geographic hub is finding employment in association management roles, whether during initial entry to the field for young professionals or when in search of a new position mid-career. Even with the preponderance of remote work within associations, it can still be difficult to catch the attention of hiring managers when your resume shows an unfamiliar address, or during a phone interview if you reveal that you are not open to relocation. Living outside an association hot spot may lead to a more challenging job hunt, so you may need to adjust your expectations and broaden your search horizons to take that next step in your association career.

For workers happy with their current association management role, building a professional network may be the challenge that is most pressing. It takes much more investment, of both time and money, to attend conferences, after-hours gatherings, and other networking experiences when those events are held 100+ miles away. Wherever possible, maximize the utility of existing work travel by cutting out for an hour or so to attend local meet-ups of association professionals in the city you are visiting. The people you meet may not become close colleagues, but you will have the chance to talk shop with association peers and make new connections that may come in handy in the future. In the interim between face-to-face networking opportunities, engage in virtual association spaces as much as your time and energy permits. Communities like, webinars, online conferences, discussion boards, and other technologies can positively contribute to building and sustaining your professional development and networking needs when in-person gatherings are geographically out of reach.

Finally, association work anywhere outside of the nation’s capital can result in difficulties following, influencing, and communicating about government relations issues that impact associations. Keeping up with regulatory and political activity can be accomplished by reading industry publications and participating in legislative fly-ins, but a boots-on-the-ground contractor may still be of value for associations to stay current and gain or retain their seat at the advocacy table when their workforce is located well outside the hub of government.

Technological advances in the past decade have done wonders to bridge the gap from city to city, country to country, and the association workforce may become more and more distributed as employers permit people to take their jobs with them as they move about the world. Until the tipping point has been reached, though, association management professionals living and working in association “dead zones” will need to put in that extra effort to establish a position for themselves and their organizations within an industry that remains geographically consolidated.

Tracy spoke in the “Productivity - A State of Mind At Work” session during SURGE Optimism 2018, an interactive virtual conference hosted by on November 7th-9th. Click here to learn more and register.