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How to Get Your Association to Pay for Professional Development

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By Thomas Marcetti

It’s often the deciding factor in whether you will be staying home or engaging in three days of professional development and networking: Is your association going to pay for it?

If you’re reading Sidebar, I’d say it’s a pretty safe bet you’re interested in professional development. And if you’re interested, than you likely know that it can be expensive, sometimes prohibitively so.

Whether you’re making the case for your association to begin budgeting for professional development or you’re looking to expand to a new conference or training program, the question is the same: How do you convince your supervisor or your board that this particular development opportunity is worth it?

If you know a 100 percent, sure-fire way to get someone to buy something, please contact me; I wouldn’t mind retiring early. Failing that, here are a few things to keep in mind to significantly increase your chances of getting your association to buy into your professional development.

How Does This Benefit Association?

What’s in it for you is obvious. The experience, learning, and networking will be great for you. We all know that. And if you are having to sell this particular program or event to your association, it’s not because they don’t know that. It’s because they need more than that. After all, no matter how altruistic they are, this is an investment. They want to know what their return on that investment will be.

So, tell them.

Look through the conference or training programs, address specific sessions or speakers. Know exactly what you want to accomplish. List your objectives and how the event will meet them. Think about and try to address questions such as:

  • How will you be able to put what you learn to use immediately?
  • How will these specific topics aid you and the organization in the long term?
  • How do the topics tie into your day-to-day duties?
  • How do they tie into new responsibilities or projects you could take on?
  • How do the topics relate to your team or association’s goals?

Keep your audience in mind. If you’re presenting to people who are bottom-line, strictly dollars-and-cents people, talk dollars and cents. If you’re presenting to highly visual learners and communicators, break out the pie charts and infographics. Telling a long story of personal growth and your desire to learn from a childhood hero to someone who prefers four bullet points outlining pros and cons is a good way to derail your request.

Share and Share Alike

This is really an offshoot of what we just talked about, but it’s important enough to get its own subhead. If bringing back new skills, practices, or ideas will make you more productive, that’s great. If you can demonstrate how you will share it with your colleagues and co-workers and thereby make them more productive, that’s better.

This is not only a good reminder that you’re a team player, it’s an extension of the value proposition at the heart of this argument.  Reference specific topics and sessions. You might not know exactly what will be covered, but discuss some options for how you can share what you expect to learn.

Maybe you can present your own session for your co-workers, do some one-on-one training, or bring back a whole new set of pie charts and infographics (because, honestly, everyone loves infographics).

Be Ready To Compromise

At the end of the day, what we’re talking about is a sales pitch, and we all know there is no certainly in sales. So what do you do when you get a no?

  • Ask your supervisor or board why they believe this is not a good investment. You may be able to change that perception or change your request to address the concern.
  • If they offer a different idea for professional development, listen closely even if they are suggesting a webinar instead of a four-day conference in Hawaii. Does their suggestion meet your objective? Remember, the goal is development; the method is up for grabs.
  • Negotiate if necessary. Perhaps they will pay your registration fee if you cover the hotel. Maybe they are willing to pay for one day of the conference and the rest is up to you. If they pay for the right day, it can get you what you need.
  • Lastly, consider making the investment yourself. It’s not always practical or possible. But remember, this is an investment. You weren’t just blowing smoke when you were telling your boss how this will make you better at your job and make you more valuable. High performers are always finding ways to improve and to invest in themselves. This might be the right way for you.

Much as the key to professional development is to be always learning and doing more, the key to getting buy-in on your professional development is persistence. Your first request might not yield anything. Maybe the second conference you present is only exciting to you. Keep looking for ways to grow and improve and keep looking for ways for that investment to benefit your association. You’ll end up doing all three.

Thomas Marcetti is associate editor of Signature magazine. Signature is a benefit of membership in Association Media & Publishing. Find out more about joining now.


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