Jeanette Fava
Finance and HR Manager, European Social Network

Why do you invest your time and efforts in association work?

Filled with experiences and opportunities, the association world impacts each of us daily. Associations are behind the scenes writing policy, setting standards and best practices, educating professionals and funding the research that changes lives. By working for these organisations we not only make a difference, but also benefit greatly:

  • It’s about something bigger; serves as great motivation to make an impact through your work
  • It builds your collaborative skillset and shows teamwork at its best
  • It’s a great place to learn
  • It encourages creativity and innovation

Presently, I am working with European Social Network, an association that continuously strives to boost the social service industry.

The association advocates for social justice, support and resources for vulnerable individuals and oppressed groups. The social change efforts are primarily focused on poverty, education, housing, unemployment, long term-care and discrimination. It promotes public sensitivity to social justice issues and encourages the public to embrace cultural respect and genetic diversity. It promotes equality of opportunity and accessibility to basic services and information.

These are my values and I believe that the holistic societal gain through association work transforms in a much bigger personal gain in the long-term.

What are the top success factors of impactful association work?

The push towards change can`t come overnight. Sometimes it takes months and years to see some form of change – especially when education and policymaking is involved. To get there, shared values, collaboration and perseverance are key.

Shared Value: In order to have an impact, association goals need to have clear value (e.g. social or environmental) for the community. One challenge is that there is no simple and commonly recognized way to measure and show this value beforehand. Therefore, a big challenge is to know how to express this value clearly to others and get recognition.

With a thoughtful, well-strategized combination of tools and tactics, one can successfully conveys the value. You need to start simple, gradually building up and eventually you will find yourself strongly expressing all facets of this value.

Collaboration: Big results come with the collaboration of a whole team and not a person alone. One should have good ongoing communication skills with the team and all relevant stakeholders and provides continuous feedback, support, empathy and appreciation to the team. All members of the team should also be provided challenges adaptable to their abilities so that they feel fulfilled and happy that they have accomplished something on their own and feel a sense of belonging to the organisation.

Nowadays, many associations are working closely with the private sector as well and many businesses have started to be more aware of the themes that associations are advocating and they have started to work together for the well-being of the community.

Perseverance: Last but not least, change results from hard work, perseverance and strong determination to surpass obstacles especially during dark periods. One needs to have a strategic vision and plan, know how to market and sell ideas and bring everyone in the team to trust your vision and leadership.

What should we #ChooseToChallenge when it comes to association work?

Predominantly run as nonprofits, associations sometimes operate with insufficient staff and resources. There are several challenges which one needs to be prepared to and deal with, in a smarter way including:

  • Dealing with various funding strategies, short-term and long-term,
  • Having alternative plans and plan crises mechanisms
  • Invest in the proper tools and resources, including digitalisation instruments
  • Deal in a smarter way with the lack of continuity due to change in staff
  • Dealing with the difficulty in attracting a younger demography
  • Attracting competitive intelligence and talent

When it comes to diversity and inclusion specifically, we have to remember that these are more than just policies: Employees want to feel included and supported, they are looking for places where their creative potential is encouraged and their voice is heard.

Research on company culture shows that when employees feel that they are treated fairly regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation or age, they are more likely to look forward to going to work, have pride in their work and stay a long time at their association. Diverse and inclusive workplaces earn deeper trust and more commitment from their employees. These are competitive advantages in a market where we are all looking for intelligence and talent willing to work for non-profit salaries.

How is the association sector dealing with diversity and inclusion? Has it changed?

Associations today are more diverse and globally connected than ever before. With the complexities of today’s work environment, association leaders must tap into the collective intelligence to maximize the potential of every person to be more innovative and have a competitive advantage in the market.

I would advocate for a proactive approach to promote diversity and inclusion – a “For All” approach: “For All“ is the accumulation of day-to-day experiences that help people feel that their unique talents matter and that their individual needs are cared for by their colleagues and leaders. I believe that the “For All” approach is critical for success.

I believe that there are very few associations nowadays that are “For Some”. Nonetheless, for those associations that are still struggling with diversity, innovation and inclusion issues, I advise a down-top approach for leaders and continuous training and support to the team, be transparent, listen to their goals and give them opportunity to grow in a fair way since unfairness create splits, and focus more on solutions.