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Stories From a Gen X Outlier: Why I Join

Sarah Sladek‘s presentation to my employer, a professional society of dentists, on the demographic challenges facing associations was fascinating, not just because it rang true to my organization, but also because it confirmed that I was a Gen X outlier.

As a ’66 baby, I’m on the cusp of generations, so perhaps that is an explanation for my “joining,” more attuned to a Boomer than my own generation. My beautiful bride, three years my junior and also a Xer likes to explain that I don’t know the meaning, nor have the ability to say “no.” I certainly have an affinity for wanting to help people, which explains partially how I wound up in association work.

But it’s deeper than that I think. My first “join” was U.S. Army after high school. Does that count? An assortment of student organizations in college and law school soon followed.

A career joiner

As I got into my association management career, the real joining started. First and foremost is the American Legion, the largest veterans group in the nation. To be completely forthright, my membership was not entirely for altruistic means. Coming off an unsuccessful run for public office, I thought expanding my personal and professional network as well as associating with a respected organization would facilitate my efforts at the next political campaign. Which by the way, still hasn’t come about.

A funny thing happened though with my being involved in the Legion. The wise, mostly WWII  vets, did something significant. They made me post Vice-Commander, and then Commander. And the more involved I became, the more I enjoyed what I was doing: helping out not just my fellow vets, but also significantly contributing to my community.

And then I was asked to join the Veterans of Foreign Wars. Then the Knights of Columbus. Then the Catholic Order of Foresters. Then three church groups. Then Boards of Zoning Appeals in three different towns and a Plan Commission in one of them. Then three precinct organizations and several political campaigns. Did I mention that I’ve been an officer (usually the president) in all of the above? And many of the above have overlapping membership.

As I stated earlier, my wife says I can’t say no. (More about her in a second.)

Professionally, I am a member of the American Society of Association Executives and the Association Forum of Chicagoland and also chair a Forum Shared Interest Group.

A family focus: What’s in it for us, for our future?

During all of this, my wife and I started a family. The existence of my children helped clarify and focus my need to participate in organizations like the ones above. As a dad, how best to leave this world a better place (or at least maintain the status quo) for those children of mine? You got it – join in groups that work to do that, get involved, lead when asked. Plus there’s that old adage – if not me, then who? If not now, then when?

I also get a good deal of psychic income from helping people – something consistent with being an association exec. And it certainly is a way to give back to the communities which I’ve lived, because I have been tremendously blessed.

Now I hadn’t grown up in that environment. My parents facilitated a stable environment for me, but otherwise did not get involved in the community. My wife’s parents did so to some extent, but she herself didn’t. Until now. (Shout out to my Gen Xer wife who says I can’t say “no.” Ms. “You can’t say no” joined the Legion Ladies Auxiliary, Catholic Order of Foresters and Girl Scouts, and is a leader in all of them).

So, is it a family that associates together, stays together? I hope so because it works for us. And slowly but surely, our circle of friends, family, and neighbors are being drawn into the groups to which we belong.

I still consider myself an outlier. And I’m ok with that. But the value that I have received, and the value that I know I have contributed to my community makes joining and participating in associations all worth it.

If your organization is struggling, now is the time for action. Register for our newly developed courses specifically designed to help membership organizations more effectively engage and retain members. 


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