'Creating community - I realised that's what I went to school for, I just didn't know it.'

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Jeanette Gass Jeanette Gass Photo Credit: Supplied

Holly Patrick sat down with Jeanette Gass to find out what a day in her new role as associate director for development and strategic partnerships at Washington, DC-based the Association for International Educators (NAFSA) looks like. 

HP: Congratulations on your new role!

JG: Thank you. It’s a role I’ve wanted for a long time, but I didn’t realise that until I saw the job description. 

HP: How does this new role differ from your previous roles?

JG: My previous role at the American Association for Public Opinion Research was mostly membership focused and there was a lot of database management. My new role is more partnership focused where I’ll be looking at development, fundraising and sponsorship opportunities. 

HP: Who are NAFSA’s members?

JG: NAFSA’s membership are people that work in study abroad offices or international student scholar services and other study abroad consortiums, including English language testing services and those kinds of organisations that help people improve their language competency. 

HP: What got you interested in association work in the first place?

JG: You probably hear this from other association professionals; we all say the same thing. Nobody really graduates from college and thinks, ‘yeah, I'm going to enter the association industry,’ and I didn't either. I came to Washington DC to get my degree in global communications. I thought I was going to be a Foreign Service Officer. Obviously, I'm not doing that but I'm glad I'm not doing that. 

After being in higher education, I had the opportunity to get a degree for free. I got it in non-profit association management, not really knowing what that was. Then I got an association job and I loved it. It was like ‘Hey, this is where I want to be - this is awesome.’ Bringing people together, creating community and making the world a better place. I realised that is exactly what I went to school for. I just didn't know it. 

I'd been part of professional organisations at college, such as honour fraternities and other professional associations. I didn't realise that you could have a career in it. But once I figured that out, it was really helpful for me. This is my third or fourth association job, so I'm here for the long run.

HP: Do you think it’s important for association professionals to be invested in what they’re doing?

JG: I think it's important to not only be interested in the mission of your organisation, but also to be interested in the functional area you're in. 

There are a lot of jobs in association management, there's meeting management, membership, financing and development. If you're not interested in the functional area that you're in, I think that can also make a job difficult even if you love the mission of the organisation. 

HP: Your new role focuses a lot on revenue models. What association revenue trends are you seeing as we move further out of the pandemic? 

JG: A lot of associations that relied on their conference as a major profit centre, suddenly didn’t have that and were left asking themselves what to do. Those associations had to find new ways of generating money. 

I’ve seen associations offer sponsorship on professional learning libraries and other online activities. There are benefits of digital advertising and digital activities and they’re great for year-round engagement, because we shouldn’t just engage with members once a year. But associations must have the services to give them to sponsor. If you don't have programmes to sponsor year-round, you're losing an opportunity, or you're coming up with something very quickly that may or may not actually function the way you want it to because somebody wants to fund it. 

HP: What do you want to achieve in your new role at NAFSA?

JG: NAFSA has a Global Partnership Programme, these are people that are committed to engagement all year long. It’s important to know those people and to provide them with the best customer service possible. They're the major players in the field in general, so it's really important to watch trends happening in their organisations and to understand what the association can do to help them advance further. 

The other part of my job is development. So making sure that we're taking great care of our individual donors as well as the big-company donors. Both the $100 and $50,000 donors matter because both of those people will help sustain your organisation but they matter on different levels and they need different benefits and different fulfilment services. 

HP: Lastly then, who are you when you take off your association hat at the end of the day?

JG: A lot of the time that I spend outside of work is spent volunteering in the association sector. I'm really involved with the American Society of Association Executives. We have a young professionals committee and I'm a second year on that committee. We're very involved in helping young professionals understand more about association management careers and also helping the wider association community understand all the stuff we're doing.

Holly Patrick
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Holly Patrick
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A desire to travel led Holly Patrick to the business meetings and events world and she’s never looked back. Holly takes a particular interest in event sustainability and creating a diverse and inclusive industry. When she’s not working, she can be found rolling skating along Brighton seafront listening to an eclectic playlist, featuring the likes of Patti Smith, Sean Paul, and Arooj Aftab.

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