Why Don’t You Just Meet Me in the Middle?

Written by Tracy Vanneman on June 6, 2019

It begins innocently enough. Career milestones are reached. You find yourself in conference sessions instructed noticeably below your skill level. The interns at your office look, maybe even are, young enough to be your children. You may not yet be a C-Suite leader, but you’d be kidding yourself attending a Young Professionals happy hour.

Welcome to the middle.

Defined loosely, mid-career is having 10-20 years of work experience, and an equal number of gray hairs. It’s a time for showcasing everything you do well, identifying what you have left to learn, and experiencing an authentic career reckoning.

As association professionals, we do different jobs than our members, but we join them in the common human experience of aging. If you feel stuck in the middle of your career, how many of your association’s members feel the same in their line of work?

It is common for associations to deliver programs devoted to students or early career professionals and to hold senior leadership events or give out fellowship and lifetime achievement honors, but where is the love for everyone in between?

Here are 5 easy ways to meet your members in the middle:

DETERMINE THEIR EDUCATIONAL NEEDS AND DELIVER ACCESSIBLE PROGRAMMING

Identify the challenges that your mid-career members face at work, both in technical and soft skills, and deliver programming at that precise level. Be cognizant of format, too. Not everyone can travel to conferences, so make use of virtual events and self-study options that may better fit the hectic lives of many mid-career professionals who are in the throes of active parenting and countless kids’ activities.

GIVE THEM A WAY TO REACH FORWARD AND BACKWARD

Mid-career professionals are in a prime position to both seek continued guidance from senior leaders while also sharing their experiences with early career colleagues. If you have a formal mentoring program, be sure that it welcomes people who are simultaneously qualified to be both a mentor and a mentee. If your association does not host a mentoring program, simply commit to helping members connect with each other through your existing programming to encourage the formation of spontaneous, informal mentoring relationships.

DON’T BURDEN THEM WITH THE HIGHEST COST FOR EVERYTHING

Sure, they are no longer starving graduate students nor drawing from social security just yet, but your mid-career members may not have gobs of disposable income to throw at your association (saving for kids’ college funds and retirement, anyone?). They also may not be in a sufficiently senior position to have the fullest access to their employer’s discretionary pool of money for travel and professional development. Look at your dues and conference registration charts. Is there obvious price discrimination in favor of the young and the old? If so, consider how to more equitably deliver services to and draw revenue from members across the span of career tenures.

OFFER LOW-COMMITMENT, HIGH-RETURN VOLUNTEER OPPORTUNITIES

The most enthusiastic 30- and 40-somethings might be ready for service on your board, but the average mid-career member may be spread thin at work and home, unable to devote much time to their professional association. However, volunteer service is a valuable resume-builder and differentiator to aid in career advancement. When evaluating your association’s work to be done by volunteers, make a point of creating short-term but meaningful volunteer options for members who have a wealth of knowledge but only a few spare hours to share. Engagements that double as learning opportunities, such as peer-reviewing conference sessions and contributing content, are ideal for mid-career members.

STAY IN TOUCH, EVEN IF THEY DON’T

New blood with their whole work lives ahead of them and the established industry superstars are way more exciting than a mid-career professional with a decent resume but nothing remarkable to their name. But every time an association endeavors to support its members throughout each career phase is an investment in the association-member relationship, positioning it for something more fruitful in the future.After all, add a few more gray hairs, and today’s mid-career professionals become tomorrow’s senior leaders. If your association has shown the love all along, you will enjoy the engagement and financial benefits of those who now view themselves as your members for life.

Tracy spoke in the “Navigating the ‘Messy Middle’ of Your Association Management Career” session during SURGE Co-Creation, an interactive virtual conference hosted by AssociationSuccess.org on May 1-3rd. Click here to watch the sessions on demand.