Since 2014, Michelle Mason has served as the president and CEO of the Association Forum. Founded in 1916, the organization is a non for profit 501(c)(6), headquartered in downtown Chicago. Its mission is to advance the professional practice of association management. To date, Chicago is the second-largest market for associations next to Washington, DC. With over 1600 associations in the Chicagoland area, representing over 40,000 professionals.
Michelle began her career in association management by as she says, “stumbling into it.” “Early in my career, I didn’t realize that this was a sector. I started in Washington, DC working in associations. And saw this as an opportunity to work for a mission-based organization. Servant leadership is very important to me, while also working for business associations. We’re not for profit. We are businesses. We employ the best to make meaningful contributions to the community through meetings.”
Within her role, Michelle has had many proud moments. One being exposing association management as a career path for underrepresented communities. “We have the opportunity to diversify and make the association community more inclusive. And so what I do is leverage my platform to make that happen”, she said.
“Early in my tenure, I took a different approach to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). I introduced the concept of a welcoming environment to the organization. Which is the creation of a sense of belonging. It connects and engages individuals in an authentic manner. So when creating this environment under my leadership, drives deeper engagement. Further increasing the association and revenue, and building sustainable relationships.”
One of Michelle’s biggest challenges came last March at the onset of the pandemic. With Association Forum focused on meetings, Michelle created a business model redesign process. She says, “We had to have a roadmap for change as we emerge from this crisis. That was completed during COVID while continuing to reposition and grow the organization. I’m very pleased with that because we have a plan to lead the organization through this period of change. As well as be a model to help our members understand how they can emerge from this crisis.”
“What the pandemic has taught us is that the pace of change has accelerated significantly. And for us to maintain a level of relevancy and value proposition, we need to know what our members are telling us. So we have introduced a process called pulse surveys to ask our members how they’re doing. It also provides us an opportunity to ask them, how we’re doing. So we have taken a leadership role in delivering value to members during this uncertain time.”
Given the sudden changes in her role due to COVID, Michelle continues to stay motivated. She says, “I know that this too, shall pass. I also recognize that we’re in a crisis, and my job is more important now than ever before. Because I need to help my members and my team through this. So what motivates me is recognizing that many stakeholders depend on me. And if I do my job extremely well, then we will get through this together.”
“I have an amazing team here at Association Forum. And they’ve appreciated the leadership model, that I have been to them. My staff is 100% female and is a very diverse team. So you can only imagine how some of them are adjusting and adapting to the pandemic. And so I stay motivated by making an impact in their lives, and delivering on our mission.”
Michelle says that having to pivot with the pandemic has made her more resilient. It has also allowed her to develop a better appreciation for the value of relationships. “Being a leader, you don’t have to, or you don’t need to have all the answers. You can work with others to identify answers and solutions. And so my leadership style is evolving. It has evolved throughout this. And I look forward to continuing to experience a leader I’m destined to become. Just when you thought you figured it out, there’s something life-changing. And this pandemic occurred not only to reset my organization but allowed an opportunity to reset leadership.”
For more information on Michelle Mason and Association Forum, visit https://www.associationforum.org/homedec.
Contributing Writer Racquel Coral is a national lifestyle writer and journalist based in Charlotte, North Carolina. Find her on social media @withloveracquel.