Education Deserves Some Respect

Anyone who stops learning is old

In most nonprofit associations, education deserves some respect.

Yet it is frequently treated like the Rodney Dangerfield of the association world.

To paraphrase Dangerfield, “Education doesn’t get no respect. No respect, no respect at all. That’s the story of education’s life. Education gets no respect.”

Members Value Education

Typically, education is one of the top three reasons an association even exists.

It’s why people pay a membership fee to join the association. It’s why people attend the association’s annual meeting. It’s usually even listed in the mission statement and strategic plan.

Yet in a recent survey of association professionals, nearly 75 percent of nonprofit association respondents did not have a senior-level executive dedicated to education or professional development. Education was entrusted to mid-management or entry-level employees.

Why is that?

Part of the reason is that many organizations confuse information with education. They focus on information transfer and training when really what their members want is learning. If we understood the difference between information, education and learning, better, we might actually spend resources on providing better learning opportunities.

Ultimately, education and learning deserves some respect.

This Is A Travesty

Even more disturbing is that associations that have an annual budget of $3 million or more only focus 12 percent of the organization’s employees on education. If education is a primary reason people become and remain members, doesn’t it make sense that’s there’s room for growth in resources devoted to education?

For the majority of the survey respondents, the title of the most senior member of their organization’s education or professional development is a director or manager. Rarely are they involved in the strategic direction of the organization.

Who is driving and steering the organization’s education from the C-suite? No one.

Similarly, how often is that director or manager an education professional? Does that employee have formal education in how adults learn and andragogy? I’ve seen some association employees who have come from elementary or secondary schools. They are usually trained in pedagogy not andragogy.

Pedagogy literally means leading children. Andragogy is the art and science of adult learning. There is a difference!

Frequently employees in the education department have come from another department. They may have succeeded as an assistant or coordinator. Their primary role is to serve as project managers and schedulers. They are transactional task masters.

Would we hire an administrator with no experience in marketing for our marketing department? Would we put a coordinator with no understanding of technology in the IT department? So why do we allow it with the education department?

It’s time for education to get more respect. It’s time our associations put their budgets where their mission statements dictate and give education more resources! It’s time our associations give education more respect.

Why do association leaders frequently discount education? How do we increase the value of education in the eyes of the C-suite?

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  1. Terry Coatta says:

    I think that this problem is not just restricted to the treatment of education at associations. Most associations today create products and/or services. But it is extremely rare, in my experience, for associations to have product managers on staff.

    I think part of the problem is that in many cases, existing association leadership doesn’t understand the role of certain job functions within the organization. Returning to the example of product managers, I think that there is often a lack of knowledge about what a product manager does, how it fits into existing organizational processes, and the skills required to perform that role well.

    Lacking that knowledge, it’s easy to see why there would be reluctance to hire someone for such a role — after all, if you can’t see how a position is going to add value to the organization, its not likely to be high on the priority list.

    1. Jeff Hurt says:

      Thanks for sharing. I like what you said, “…after all, if you can’t see how a position is going to add value to the organization, it’s not likely to be high on the priority list.” Very well stated and sums it up best!

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  3. Tahira says:


    In light of the PCMA’s recent (overall great) Convening Leaders program that saw the leaders in the association world learning together this is very timely. It was clear in their own Town Hall meeting that their primary raison d’etre was education, and arguably they do it better than most for this sector. Now if they could have their members who are key in their associations understand that when education is so important to their members – that as you say, yes, investments need to be made in this area.

    It will remain I think one of the challenges in meetings and associations that working in it is not a career that has a clear path. So it is often administrators or coordinators or logistially minded staffers who are responsible for the progamming – typically a keynote + working through calls for papers as examples we still see a lot of.

    As you said, the ideal is to have education professionals who are pat of the senior team who are clearly looking to drive androgogy / adult education at levels that will drive new applications for their members. We now live in a world where it is recognized that it will be those that seek and undertake lifelong learning that will have greater success as the world changes more rapidly than we can keep up with (ie who heard of hybrid three years ago?) it becomes more incumbent on associations – and provides a huge opportunity for those that do it best – to deliver education that is ahead of the curve. You are correct – it deserves respect. It demands attention.

  4. I couldn’t agree with you more. Personally, I see education even dropping to a lower level of respect/support in the age of social media. I couldn’t agree with you more that information and education have become confused. We are all inundated with information and yet, few people are truly teaching the systems needed to understand the info coming our way. Worse, I fear that we are confusing “do it yourself” and “learn on your own” with formal, structured education. We are treating this as an either/or proposition when, in fact, what we need is to have both formal and informal learning methods. Finally, I think the bottom line is this: people need to be taught HOW to learn and then told that there is never a time that you get to stop learning. The idea that you are done with education when you finish school is as outdated as gold watches at retirement. To stay relevant, you must always be learning.

  5. This article is right on the money – literally. It has amazed me that meeting professionals don’t take advantage of specialists in adult and continuing education and adult and continuing education folks almost omit education in the form of conferences when they teach adult program planning. Most of the adult education books and articles that brought these two ideas together were written in the 1980’s and tend to represent one person’s experience and formula. This is one part of the problem – there seems to be no platform for this conversation among professionals to take place.

    The second problem seems to be this: associations start because someone has a problem and several people get together to try to solve it. Then it turns out that many have that problem and they form an association. Then they get the bright idea to host a conference (and they make money!). Back when many associations started there was no adult education practice to inform it. Today, they plan and execute EXACTLY as they always have, even if it isn’t working. Anyone who tries to help by instituting proven practices is perceived as changing a time-honored procedure.

    This is a difficult problem, and the attendees are the real losers. I have thought about this a lot while pursuing the doctorate in adult and continuing education and the CMM since I am a 20-year planner with experience in university (another forgotten group) and for associations. On a brighter note, in recent research with 40 certified meeting professionals, there was common understanding that there are good adult education practices, and for some, a wish that they had the time to research, learn, and implement them.

    1. Jeff Hurt says:

      Thanks for reading and for sharing a thoughtful comment. I really like your framing of how associations began: several people getting together to solve a problem. So true.

      I’m finding that today there are a plethora of great adult learning books, especially in the fields of cognitive psychology and neuroscience. There’s good reason for all association leaders to pay attention to how our brains operate, for sure.

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