Employment with Purpose
Photos by Kevin Kennedy

Employment with Purpose

When you work for an association, you won’t just be making a living. You’ll be making a difference.

It’s great to earn a paycheck. But it’s especially great to earn a paycheck from an organization that is mission-driven. Associations qualify for their tax-exempt status because they exist to serve needs of their members and the general public—needs that, in many cases, government otherwise would have to meet.

People who work for associations are proud that their organizations make a difference in numerous ways:

Associations make the world a safer, smarter, better place. For many associations, fulfilling their missions involves developing important standards that improve safety and quality in industries ranging from airlines to zoos. And virtually all professions spell out codes of ethics for members to follow, whether those members raise money for charities or sell real estate.

In addition, associations encourage volunteerism and philanthropy. Members volunteer to serve on their associations’ governing boards and committees and to share expertise by speaking at meetings or writing in association publications.

Associations also harness member expertise to help solve problems. To name just two examples: Participants in the American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy’s Ambassador Program contribute training and supplies to physicians around the world. And donors from the United Fresh Produce Association encourage schoolchildren to eat more fruits and veggies by funding the “Let’s Move Salad Bars to Schools” project.

Associations play a vital role in enriching communities and creating positive change around the world.

—ASAE, “The Power of Associations”

Associations ensure that professionals and businesses are better informed. Members turn to their associations to make sure they’re performing at the highest levels. They attend workshops to learn how to do their jobs better and pursue association coursework to earn professional certifications. They take part in communities to deepen their understanding of best practices. And they participate in association research to help their profession or industry anticipate trends, prepare for opportunities, and create a better future.

Associations strengthen the economy. Associations are major job creators. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), membership organizations employed more than 1.3 million people in 2013.

What’s more, despite the popular impression that salaries in the nonprofit sector are lower than in for-profit businesses, federal employment and wage data suggest that this is not necessarily true. For example, BLS reports that in 2013, the annual average wage for those in the manufacturing workforce was $61,102. But employees of professional organizations earned $77,377, or 27 percent more. (Take a look at our compilation of median base salaries for dozens of association job roles, based on ASAE data.)

Other tangible economic contributions come from the conventions, tradeshows, and other events that associations host every year. According to a 2014 Convention Industry Council study, the meetings industry contributes more to the U.S. economy than air transportation, motion pictures, performing arts, and spectator sports.

A 2015 ASAE report, “The Power of Associations: An Objective Snapshot of the U.S. Association Community,” sums it up well: “Associations play a vital role in enriching communities and creating positive change around the world. With their deep wells of expertise and knowledge, associations are able to address numerous social concerns and enhance our collective quality of life.”