One of the biggest reasons people join professional associations is for the opportunity to network and educate themselves on the most up-to-date topics in their field. Most professional associations go about delivering this value via conferences and local meet-ups by individual chapters of the association.
With COVID-19, most conferences have been canceled or postponed for a TBD date. This poses a major threat to association managers because if they aren’t able to provide networking or educational opportunities to its members, why should their members keep paying their annual dues?
After speaking with a handful of association managers and board members, I have learned that many professional associations are losing membership because of the coronavirus and its subsequent impact.
The truth is, you can only get so much engagement through digital educational sessions and panel discussions with guest speakers on Zoom or YouTube. These activities simply can’t replicate the personal nature of having intimate, vulnerable, one-on-one conversations among colleagues. Large, digital meetings rarely lead to honest discussions about areas they want to improve and the opportunities they would like to pursue.
One great way to keep association members engaged in educational and networking opportunities is horizontal mentorship. Horizontal mentorship means connecting two professionals together for a mutually beneficial mentoring relationship where both professionals learn from each other while sharing their personal insight.
Traditional (or vertical) mentorship is predicated on an imbalanced mentor-to-mentee relationship which exacerbates power imbalances. Traditional mentorship embeds unequal roles into the relationship and this has negative consequences: after 6 months, only 18% of vertical mentoring relationships are considered productive and high quality by participants. Horizontal mentorship focuses on building relationships based on shared alignment of Work Orientation. This ensures that the two professionals’ value systems and reasons for working are aligned. Mentor relationships built this way are 4 times more likely to last 6 months and be rated as productive and high-quality by the participants, compared to traditional mentorship.
This article offers 3 reasons why professional associations should engage their members virtually through a horizontal mentorship program.
- Horizontal mentorship develop close-ties and a localized community from a global, national, or even state-wide membership base that is relying on digital interaction
Previously, these far-flung members might not have been able to easily connect for meaningful conversations. Through horizontal mentorship, previously-distant members that might not have ever interacted one-on-one can now build strong, deep-rooted social bonds, further increasing the value they gain from their association. While these types of connections are always plausible, horizontal mentorship provides the framework for consistently building durable, valuable relationships among members.
2. Horizontal mentorship provides a new level for members to engage with the association
The commitment of jumping from one’s role as a general member to volunteering for the association can be significant and not every member is prepared to make that leap. Horizontal mentorship provides an opportunity for association members to deeply engage on a new level that works with their personal schedule and professional aspirations.
3. Horizontal mentorship helps members learn from each other and share experience
Providing educational content and connecting the right members together is not easy. Some educational sessions at conferences are more relevant to some people versus others. Rather than “fishing with dynamite”, horizontal mentorship creates personalized opportunities for members to learn from each other, ask questions specific to their own circumstances, and network with other members with similar perspectives on their approach to work (i.e. work orientation).
Now more than ever, associations must strive to find new, effective ways to connect members and increase engagement. Horizontal mentorship provides the opportunity for association members to engage with other members on an intimate level that works for their availability in a meaningful, virtual way.