My recent participation in a membership survey conducted on behalf of AuSAE allowed me to reflect on my own preparation for a long career in the voluntary sector and the value of formal preparation and continuing education. When I first entered this occupational sector there were few opportunities for professional preparation other than through the Institute of Chartered Secretaries and Administrators. Like for accreditation as a chartered accountants it required a tertiary course of study supported by simultaneous employment in a qualifying organisation in preparation for the institute’s rigid entrance examination in two stages for admission as an associate. This prescription is still followed by the renamed Governance Institutes in the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand to the present day in a variety of formats with a more liberal interpretation in our country. Membership as before also imposes a requirement to undertake a set number of hours of approved continuous professional development. In search of other affiliations of benefit to my career I joined the NZ Institute of Management, now known as Management NZ and advanced through its grading system to fellow as I progressed to senior management status. Later in life and commensurate with expanded interests in the charity sector I applied to the NZ Trustees Association for membership. It required an existing formal professional qualification in law, accountancy or administration with satisfactory evidence of relevant experience as a trustee. The Institute also maintains a graduated membership system leading in two steps to fellow and as appropriate accreditation as a registered trustee, which I am. Exposure to the American Society of Association Executives involved me and several contemporaries to assist in the establishment of a similar body in New Zealand that ran parallel with an Australian counterpart, who subsequently merged into AuSEA. It sets no entry criteria other than being employed as an association executive. The ASAE and CSAE in North America both promote a qualification known as Certified Association Executive and I was asked in the survey whether I was in favour of its introduction to Australia and New Zealand. Based on my experience I gave it an unqualified yes. Learning on the job alone is not sufficient to achieve the level of competence and compliance demanded in a regulated operational environment. Having a pool of qualified association executives and trustees to draw on also removed many of the vagaries in the recruitment of CEO and board level positions. Moves in this direction by the Australasian Society of Association Executives deserve endorsement and support.
This brings me to the subject of continuous professional development. There is an abundance of seminars and conferences available, more so in Australia than New Zealand. I have attended many of them over the years to allow myself to comment on their effectiveness. Some can be regarded as disguised money making ventures for their organisers with an obligation for sponsor pay-back. Others are too broadly based and would require more than one delegate from the same organisation, thereby adding to their cost. What matters most is the quality of useful output, which is influenced by the substance of the presenters, many of them consultants, frequently with little practical experience in our sector. The greatest value in my opinion often is confined to the networking opportunities and the ability to interface and share knowledge with colleagues from a variety of associations and charities. Certainly, there are brilliant examples that can be found in smaller conferences and seminar settings that are not sufficiently publicised. Clearly, what is called for is an approval process of the kind adhered to by the traditional professional societies coupled with s required number of CPD hours that take the guess work out of the expected benefit equation. Installing this as a direct membership benefit in addition to a formal qualification will elevate association executives to their deserved status comparable with other administrative professions.
Contributor: Ralph Penning, Director, Business Professional Services Limited