After working with associations for years, we've learned that there's an association or professional group for EVERYTHING. You name it, it exists. This is excellent, of course; it's encouraging that even super specific interests and professions have an outlet for collaboration and networking. However, it also can present a potential issue: which associations, and how many, should you join?
As with most things, we think it's best to approach this with moderation. For most professions, there are only one or two associations that are recognized in the industry - which might be vital for continuing education accreditations. It doesn't really make sense to join a smaller organization or one without clout if your job depends on those credits and classes. Usually it's obvious which groups these are, but consult with someone who's been in your profession for awhile if you're not sure.
Further, make sure you have time to dedicate yourself to the association. Too many people approach association memberships like high school or college clubs - small additions to beef up a resume with the hopes of appearing well rounded and involved. In reality, the benefits from being an association member really only come when you're committed - both mentally and with your time. Make sure the meeting schedules jive with your calendar. Reconsider if membership fees are simply too steep for you, or if meetings are too far away. The association doesn't need to take over your life, but you have the opportunity to choose one that works within your life.
It's also vital to evaluate the importance of each group. "Importance" might mean something different for everyone. For example, if you could join a professional association or a group that allows you to practice one of your hobbies, it might be more important to you to have that outlet to do something personal for you outside of work. Consider what your goals are: professional networking? Practicing a hobby? Meeting new people? Furthering your career?
Lastly, make sure it's enjoyable. We get it - sometimes you have to be a member of some groups for your job - but remember that associations exist outside of your day to day duties and you can try to make it as fun as possible. This may mean getting involved at a higher level - running for a board position, or being a member of a committee. As a paying member, it's within your right to help shape the organization into one in which you're excited to be a member.
What other advice would you give to those struggling to decide which associations to dedicate their time to?