Most of us don’t have an Ivy League alumni association to attend to our networking needs, and we might not have the pile of cash required to join exclusive clubs. But if you don’t mind inclusive clubs, you can gain access to business contacts, social opportunities, recreation, discounts, and support and services nationwide at budget-friendly prices. This list of recommendations is in no way exhaustive — and we would love to hear from you about other great groups to join — but at very least, these well-regarded organizations provide a standard of value by which to measure other opportunities.
Although the organization is often thought of as purely American, the Young Men’s Christian Association (now generally called “The Y”) is a worldwide organization founded in 1844 in Geneva, Switzerland. Its goal: to develop a healthy body, mind and spirit (represented by the three angles of the group’s logo). Today’s YMCA is guided by four core values: caring, honesty, respect and responsibility. What that translates to in practical terms is a very wide array of facilities, classes and services that vary depending on the community.
Basics of how it works: Everyone is welcome to join the Y and use its services. For those who can’t afford the membership fees (which vary among locations) the organization has provisions for financial assistance. Local YMCAs have their well-known fitness facilities, pools, basketball courts, and day care sites — as well as fitness classes geared to all different needs and ages. Meanwhile, it uses its membership fees and donations to support community programs including education and employment training. The Y also uses its dollars to support local and global communities, provide military outreach and support the arts. Certain memberships offer access to Y facilities to members who are traveling. That’s big — there are some 2,700 Y facilities in the United States alone.
Go to: http://www.ymca.net
Basically anyone who owns or drives a car in the United States or Canada is eligible for membership in the Automobile Association of America, which was founded in 1902 as a roadside assistance service. The members belong to various clubs throughout the United States, and those members comprise the national nonprofit organization AAA.
Basics of how it works: Today’s AAA isn’t your parents’ auto club. Sure, the club has all of the benefits you remember your folks using – TripTik route planning maps, tour books and the association’s various travel magazines – but many of those planning tools are now online for on-the-go use. Other membership perks include discounts at a host of retailers including LensCrafters (up to 30 percent off), the UPS store (15 percent off) and theme parks including Walt Disney World (up to $25 off gate price). There’s even a prescriptions saving plan that saves you 24 percent on medications. Membership is priced differently throughout the United States but, starting at $52 for new Mid-Atlantic region members, entitles members to its popular roadside services that make life oh-so-much easier in the event of a flat tire, engine trouble, dead battery or lock out.
Go to: http://www.aaa.com
The former American Association of Retired Persons, founded in 1958, is a nonprofit organization that has developed into one of the most powerful lobbying groups in the United States. Jokes abound that AARP is one of the first organizations to reach anyone celebrating a 50th birthday, but many celebrate the organization’s diligence – the sooner people join, the sooner they receive discounts.
Basics of how it works: Anyone in the United States age 50 and over can join the group for a $16 annual fee. Although AARP is perhaps best known for its powerful lobbying efforts, most members praise it for the myriad discounts, including on such things as UPS costs (5 to 15 percent off), an array of insurance products on everything from your life to your pets, lodging at Comfort Inn (up to 10 percent) and Zipcars (43 percent savings on annual memberships). AARP provides members with social opportunities – from educational courses to recreational get-togethers. It also organizes volunteer opportunities that range from helping low-income families to career training.
Go to: http://www.aarp.org
PEPS: Community-based parenting programs
Parenting a young child can be a lonely journey, especially for those without ready support systems. Early childhood education and social service workers in King County, Washington, joined in 1982 to design PEPS – Program for Early Parent Support — a system of support and education for new parents.
Basics of how It works: PEPS brings new mothers and fathers together for meetings to share ongoing neighborhood-based resources and peer education, facilitated by trained volunteers. Although PEPS is in Washington state, there are similar organizations throughout the United States, including Parenting Encouragement Program (PEP) in Kensington, Maryland. Although their philosophies and structures vary somewhat, these groups all offer a way for parents to bond within their community.
Go to: the National Parenting Education Network to learn about similar programs in your area.
Business Networking International
Those who start and work in small businesses – painters, decorators, child-care providers, contractors, accountants, hair stylists – are the core of BNI. The nationwide organization is built around the philosophy “Givers Gain” and allows members to build their businesses through structured, positive and professional “word-of-mouth” programs and education.
Basics of how it works: Members are full-time professionals in various industries and must be sponsored to join the group. Prospective members are screened by an ethics committee before acceptance. Only one person per profession – such as plumbing — is accepted into a given chapter. If a plumber wants to join a chapter that already has a plumber member, the prospective member is referred to another chapter. Attendance is critical. Dues vary per chapter.
Go to: www.BNI.com
What organization memberships have paid off for you? Share with us in comments or on our Facebook page.