Everyone attending the Association Component Exchange (CEX) certainly knew what component relations professionals (CRPs) do. You wouldn’t expect anything different at the one-day conference for CRPs that we co-host with Peggy Hoffman and Peter Houstle of Mariner Management.
Several CRPs in attendance enjoyed talking about their role with our resident association chatter, KiKi L’Italien. You might know KiKi as the host of Association Chat or consultant at Tecker International. But did you know she was once a CRP at the Optical Society of America and the Parenteral Drug Association?
We recorded KiKi’s conversations with CRPs and captured the highlights in this five-part series of posts, starting with the perennial question:
- What people think CRPs do and what CRPs really do
- What CRPs love about their work
- Challenges faced and impact made by CRPs
- The CRP secret sauce: necessary skills and traits
- Advice for future CRPs and the future CRP role
What people think CRPs do
Back in 2012, a funny meme went around. You might remember it:
- What my friends think I do
- What my mom thinks I do
- What society thinks I do
- What I think I do
- What I actually do
What would that meme look like for CRPs? The association profession remains a mystery for people outside our community, never mind the even more enigmatic component relations specialty.
KiKi said, “When I was a CRP, no one knew what that was, ever. Not only did they not understand what an association did, they didn’t know what a component relations professional did.”
“What they think I do? I don’t really know because nobody even understands the association world outside of the association world,” said Scott Wilson, CAE, former CRP and now Director of Strategic Initiatives at the American Payroll Association (APA).
Isn’t that the truth? I’m sure many of you have heard something like this too: “You work for a trade association? So, exports and imports?”
Sigh. Let me just import this glass of wine and I’ll tell you all about it.
“It’s always a challenge,” said Amanda Scharff, Manager of Chapters and Partner Relations at the National Association for Catering and Events (NACE). “My in-laws always ask me, ‘What do you do?’ I say something like, ‘I support an industry. I help them connect the dots, whether it’s issues with their websites, with membership, within a board. I’m there to support, to listen, and to find solutions.”
There it is! That’s a big job. I’m surprised people don’t ask you to come solve their company’s problems.
Patrick Algyer was a chapter member and president before becoming a CRP, and now he’s the Executive Director of the Northern Virginia Apartment Association (NVAA). “Even back then, my mom didn’t understand what I did. So now, we’re talking 15 years later, she still doesn’t understand what I do. Whenever we’re with family or friends, she’s like, he does something with members, volunteers and associations.”
At least she’s on the right track. Patrick rolls with it.
“You try to explain, but people don’t really understand until I start asking them about their profession and whether they have professional certifications. Do you have a local group that you hang out with? I try to make the connection that way.”
Relating your work to something a person already knows—like a membership organization they belong to, a nonprofit they support, or a franchise they’ve worked for—seems to be the best way to help someone understand what a CRP does.
What CRPs do—straight from the source
It’s more than herding cats, which is one of the ways Scott described his job as a CRP. Here’s what our CRP interviews revealed.
Help members do their jobs better
When Scott’s explaining his work to others, he says: “I help chapters provide learning and support, so members don’t have to travel to do their jobs better.”
What makes a CRP “completely unique and incredibly special is their understanding of what it means to engage people and meet their needs,” said Peggy, who is the executive director of a few chapters herself. “They find pockets for people to collect in. They make a large association small and personal.”
Empower chapters to carry out the association’s mission
Emily Jennings, worked at a chapter before she became the Manager of Chapter Support & Development at the Community Associations Institute (CAI), so she has firsthand experience from both sides. She describes the CRP’s role as “encouragers of people.” Chapters are “the ones out there doing the work and carrying our vision forward… they are the boots on the ground.” She empowers chapters to carry out CAI’s mission.
Ann Dorough, CAE, Director of Component Development at The American Institute of Architects (AIA), described CRPs as “a unifying force… We’re trying to get our chapters engaged and in alignment with what we’re doing, but we’re also trying to make sure our national organization is learning from the locals. It’s a two-way communication street.”
Build understanding and productive relationships
KiKi said, “You have an overview that many people don’t get to have. They don’t act as diplomats, as in-between people who hear the stories at the local level and relate those stories back to the organization.”
CRPs are translators, according to Ann.
“You take what’s happening at the face-to-face member level and explain what’s really going on to your national organization. We also help translate what’s going on at the national level to our local and state units.”
Ann likens the CRP to “a voltage converter or transformer… We’re making that connection so the whole organization can work in better unity. It doesn’t always work, but we try to facilitate that.”
Voltage converter, unifying force, translator, personalizer, encourager, communicator, relationship builder, hand-holder, herder of cats, and learning facilitator—that’s a big job description.
Have you ever?
Have you sat down and documented all the things you do for chapters and their leaders? Have you described the impact your work makes? Don’t assume anyone else understands the critical role you play and the difference you make for organizations and people. Write it down and share it!
If you need help explaining the vital role of chapters:
- Read How to Bring the Chapter Value Conversation into the C-Suite
- Watch a webinar presented by Peggy, New Year, New Ideas: Start a New Conversation About Chapters
Patrick’s not the only CRP who landed in the C-suite. Former CRPs Sharon Kneebone, CAE, Executive Director at the National Society for Histotechnology, and Amy Lestition Burke, MA, CAE, Executive Director at the Special Libraries Association and Vice President of Member Engagement at MCI USA, both shared advice at CEX 2018 that helped us put together this post: 5 Skills You Need to Go from CRP to CEO.
What do CRPs love most about their work? In our next post, you’ll hear what several CRPs have to say on this topic.